Visiting the Cryotherapy Chamber

For the past six years, I have been fascinated by cold temperature exposure. When I left the perfect temperatures of San Diego in 2007 for Seattle, I became uncomfortable at temperatures as high as 65 F. I had gotten way too soft. I wanted to reverse that. Inspired initially by Art De Vany, I set about the quest to expand my temperature comfort zone. I wanted to be cold temperature resilient.

For more background, I put together a Cold Weather Exposure page with links to all the posts and stunts I’ve done on this quest. Today I am very comfortable in cold temperatures. But how cold can I go?

Tony Robbins Raves About Cryotherapy

About two weeks ago I listened to Tim Ferriss interview Tony Robbins. Tony raved about his experience using whole-body cryotherapy chambers. Tony said he learned from his research that cryotherapy did the following:

  1. Takes inflammation out of the body.
  2. Resets your neurological signal.
  3. You get an “explosion of endorphins”.

I knew that athletes, especially older ones, were using cold to accelerate recovery, but I was unaware that units were available to the public.

daniel craig cryotherapy

40-something-year-old actor Daniel Craig used cryotherapy to get in shape to play James Bond.

From the article Cryotherapy: Why Ice-Cold Is the Key to a Hot Body:

Proponents say the cold shock to the system stimulates anti-inflammatory proteins (and blocks the pro-inflammatory type) that reduce soreness and muscle damage, allowing you to recover faster and work out harder and longer. Call it the steroid effect—via a Sub-Zero.

Because of my interest in cold exposure, I had to try it.

Road Trip to Just Outside Sacramento

A quick search pointed me toward US Cryotherapy in Davis, CA, which has whole-body units. I learned from their website that unless you are in a group of 10 or more that no appointment is necessary. Just show up. After completing a quick medical form, I went over to an area where I suited up. Inside the chamber, you wear socks, slippers, mittens, an ear warmer, and a thin mask covering your nose and mouth.

The temperature of the chamber was -115°F (-82°C). This sounds cold, but it was actually warmer than I expected. They explained the temperature in the chamber fluctuated and was on the warm side due to some issue they had earlier that morning. To get the full benefit, I stayed in the chamber for 3.5 minutes, which is longer than what they would for a colder chamber.

First I entered a staging door. Once in there, I closed the first door. From there I entered the cryotherapy chamber and closed that door behind me. The room was big enough that I could extend my arms out and not touch the sides. Two staff members were able to monitor me through a glass window and speak to me via microphone.

It was very cold but pleasant for me. I actually really enjoy the cold. When I go to Costco, my favorite part is walking into that open refrigerator where they keep some of the produce. I find it invigorating. This was an enjoyable coldness. Much different than my experience swimming in the cold Puget Sound, which at times was miserable.

Cold hands and feet are not fun, so thankfully the mittens, socks, and slippers kept my hands and feet warm. Toward the last minute of the exposure, I could feel my teeth wanting to chatter. Had I stayed in longer, I suspect they would have.

When I left the chamber, they measured my skin temperature at 50°F (10°C). At this point, you have the opportunity to use cardio equipment to warm up. I used an arm bike for a minute. Unlike other cold exposure techniques I’ve used, I warmed up very quickly.

I paid for the “Pampered Package”, so afterward I received a localized treatment for my left knee. Using a tube that looked like a shop vac, they went back and forth over my knee with this wand of very cold air. The hair on my knee actually frosted up. This session was equivalent to an icing session. Finally, I rested on the hydro massage bed for a few minutes, which was super relaxing.

Because I was a first-time customer, all this was just $30. The normal price is $45.

My Review

Did I feel any different? Yes, and I didn’t expect to. I felt both alert and calm, which is an odd combination for a coffee addict like myself. I’m usually one and not the other. When I walked back to my car, I felt lighter. And even though it took over 2 hours to drive there, I could sense my posture was perfect. Usually, my posture sucks on days when I spent hours cramped up in a car.

I drove away towards Sacramento. The weather was overcast with a slight amount of fog. About 10 minutes down the road, I noticed I wasn’t wearing my glasses, yet my vision was perfect. I was able to read the license plates of other cars with no problem. How that was even possible given the overcast nature stunned me.

The localized treatment on my knee didn’t do anything but based on my new understanding of icing, I think it could provide preventative help if done frequently enough. I’ll cover that more in my upcoming knee post.

How did this experience differ from other cold exposure experiences I’ve had over the past 6 years? Cold exposure is a combination of positive endorphins from the exposure, getting the duration right, and warming up quickly. Going outside in shorts on a cool fall day can pep you up, but it can take a while. If it starts to rain or get windy, the pleasantness can quickly turn into feeling miserable. With cold water, being able to quickly warm up determines everything. It could take 5 minutes, which is fine, or an hour, which is hell. Cryotherapy solves all those concerns. You quickly get very cold and then rapidly warm up.

Last year I was completely underwhelmed by my experience in an Isolation Tank. Cryotherapy was definitely money better spent. I would like to try it again, especially if I can go in at a lower temperature. If I lived in Davis, I’d spring for the $99 monthly pass.


Add yours

  1. Man, this sounds cool. I’ve tried cold at the end of showers, and an ice pack, but it doesn’t seem to really work well, although I’m sure it’s pilot error.

    I so wish there was something like near San Diego. All I can find is a chiropractor with an ice bath. 🙁

  2. @Nick – I believe the guy told me they cost $300,000. I also wonder what the power costs are.

  3. Ornny, just as your reporting on cold therapy I’m getting more interested in heat, which Timothy Ferriss also reported on an extensive blog post. Hot yoga styles are generally more accessible than saunas around here (and has been good self-directed physical therapy for my back also) so that’s the route I’ve been going.

    I think I’ll save cold therapy for the summer! those ice vests for stoking brown fat are probably the way I go about it.

  4. @Alison – I too am currently more interested in heat. Yesterday I did both a steam and sauna.

    They key IMO to cold exposure is to be able to quickly warm up. Get the adaptation, but then end the stressor as fast as possible.

    I haven’t read Ferriss’s post on the topic. Just found it. Reading now.

  5. Why is that temperature extreme tolerable? -115°F sounds really problematic in terms of contact with the materials of the chamber. You say you wear socks and mittens but it still sounds fantastic–as in, that sounds made up.

    In any case, this is fascinating! Thanks for sharing it.

  6. @Joe – Because it is brief and dry.

    From their site:

    …dry, colder temperature helps sustain reduced muscle temperature without compromising the skin or core temperature and allows the superficial skin temperature to return to normal while deeper tissue and muscle temperatures remain cold for increased results.

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