After years of cold training in cold showers, ice baths, frozen over lakes, snow walks, and just good old fashioned midwestern winter air, I finally got the opportunity to try Cryo. It was all thanks to my wife, who for my birthday, made me an appointment for a full day of cryo, sauna, and float tank.
Cryotherapy is something very near to my heart. As a Wim Hof Method practitioner and instructor of many years, I am a firm believer in the power of cold therapy on the body and mind. I firmly believe that some degree (pun!) of cold therapy is right for everyone, and it is one of my greatest thrills to guide people who attend my workshops and one-on-one sessions through their very first ice bath. One of the most common questions that I have gotten in this time is about “cryo,” and until today, I have never been able to provide an answer from experience. I have heard top athletes and health professionals sing its praises, and since it does involve using cold exposure as a stimulus for recovery, I assumed that it was at least a good idea.
But the question that people asked me wasn’t whether it was a good thing or not. The questions has always been: “How does (ice bathing, cold showering, etc.) compare to cryo?” Until now, I couldn’t say. But today I can give you may verdict.
My cryo experience was a three minute session. I was required to wear protective thermal gloves and socks in the cryo chamber the entire time. Other than this, I only had my underwear on. I was actually kind of nervous about this experience because of the reported temperatures that the chamber can produce. The operator told me that the cryo tank would go down to – 240F (-150C). Wow! That is really cold, right! And let’s face it, that is really cold. That is the thing that you can only get from cryo- an exact measurement of the air temperature that is colder than anything that one can naturally experience on the planet.
I got on the platform and was raised so that the cold air would only reach up to my neck. I was kind of hoping for a frosty beard, but oh, well…
The operator activated the cold and watched my reaction to gauge how cold he should go. The temperature did not instantly go to -240F (-150 C). It was gradual. The temperature did become unnaturally cold within the first few seconds, however. The last minute was at the full coldness of -240 F (-150 C).
I got out feeling great, and I was really pleased with the experience.
So, how does Cryo stack up against everything else?
First of all, I think cryo is great, especially for people who live in cities who might not feel comfortable going outside in the winter time. It’s especially good for people who live in warm climates so they can get a taste of what the rest of us feel during the winter months. Having said that, here is what I think about cryo compared to everything else:
I am speaking completely from experience here. I didn’t take blood samples to test the affects or do anything scientific, but if you have taken a 3 minute bare-chested walk in 20F (-7C) in a moderate breeze, you have experienced the natural version of cryo. Pretty awesome, right?
If you come to one of my workshops, I provide an opportunity to get into an ice bath. Lots of athletes tell me that they are used to taking ice baths, but they always notice that mine are colder. Why is this? It’s because athletic ice baths are generally around 40F-50F (5C-10C). That’s still very chilly, but it’s not what you would find if you went out on a cold winter’s day to have a dip in an iced over lake. A taste of “hard nature,” as Wim Hof calls it, is what I am shooting for with my ice bathing, but since I can’t bring a frozen lake to your gym, I do the next best thing.
Cryo is the next best thing to walking outside in the freezing cold. Having said this, I think the draw to cryo comes from the sci-fi-ness of it. It’s in a “chamber.” There are visible gases swirling around your body. There is even lighting that accentuates the experience! The fact that the air reaches such depths IS unlike anything you can find in nature… unless you are walking in hard nature for a little while, and the breeze finds you.
I am not saying any of this to knock cryo therapy. I really liked it. However, I want to let you know, from a guy who has spent a lot of time in the cold, that you can get the same benefits for free if you find yourself free for a few minutes on a cold day in the winter. You might have to walk a little longer, maybe 10 minutes instead of 3, but that is about it. Again, this is just my approximation from 1) the way I felt in the cryo chamber 2) how I felt when I got out of the experience 3) the way I felt in the minutes and hours that followed.
So what does this mean for me, Jesse? Should I try cryo? And will you ever do cryo again?
I like cryo, and I will likely do it again. I think you should try it if you live in a place where walking in the cold air is not possible or practical. Here are some things to consider:
Cold showers and any really cold water cold exposures are more intense than cryo therapy. This makes cryo therapy great for people who are afraid of taking a cold shower or an ice bath. Again, there is also the added feeling of safety because someone is guiding you through the experience. However, if you want to experience the benefits of cold exposure, you only have to look to your shower or the great outdoors. If you have been taking cold showers in the northern half of the USA during the winter time, you are experiencing a more intense cold exposure than a 3 minute cryo session. Not even close!
With regards to ice baths vs cryo therapy, think about this- If you come to one of my Wim Hof Method Fundamentals Workshops (for beginners to intermediate practitioners), I will only let you sit in the ice bath for 90 seconds. That is it! I often ask people to exit the ice bath early if I believe that they are cooling too much. Those of you who have come to one of my workshops also know that I ask you to take cold showers regularly in the weeks leading up to the workshop. I generally ask for people to shoot for around 5 minutes of straight cold water to be fully prepared. Not everyone gets to that level before the workshop, but that is the goal. However, there is no prep at all required for cryo therapy. You can just show up and do 3 minutes. Granted, not everyone goes to the coldest setting on the first try, and not everyone makes it to 3 minutes. But I would never let anyone do 3 minutes in a Wim Hof Method style ice bath unless it is at an Advanced WHM Workshop, reserved for those who have already done significant training.
So, what do I think of cryo? I like it, but it will not hold a place on a pedestal in my book. I will likely do it again, but not because it is better than my regular ice bath. I just like variety, to be honest! If you have been wondering about cryo, just know that, while it is nice, you don’t have to go to a cryo provider to experience the benefits of cold exposure training. Take cold showers. Walk outside. Those things are free. If you want to step it up, go to a Wim Hof Method workshop, take an ice bath, hop in a iced over lake. And if you really want to experience cold that I don’t believe anything can compare to, try finding a stream in the dead of winter. Most of all, be safe and keep it fun! Cryo is great, but there are many other options -and most of them are free!