Most of the hottest fitness trends—high-intensity interval training workouts, battle ropes, kettlebell training—have one goal: to make you sweat. The latest one, though, will leave you chilled: Cryotherapy, otherwise known as cold therapy, is when someone steps into a special cryotherapy chamber to brave temperatures as low as -110° Celsius. Cryotherapy benefits, according to popular marketing materials, include decreased pain and muscle soreness, reduction of inflammation and muscle damage, and calorie burn.
Cryotherapy for athletes has been a growing trend, no doubt about it—Floyd Mayweather, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and Usain Bolt have all used it in training. But just how beneficial is cryotherapy, really? The jury’s still out. It can be used to reduce pain, according to one study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, but that same study mentions that cold water immersion is more effective.
Dan Giordano, DPT, CSCS, and co-founder of Bespoke Treatments in New York City is wary of any alleged cryotherapy benefits. “I think because we see it on social media and celebrities use it, that’s why it’s become so popular,” he says. “Although there’s plenty of research that shows the benefits of cold water immersion (think ice baths), there’s nothing conclusive about cryotherapy.”
That also means there’s nothing to say that the practice is detrimental. It really comes down to user discretion. “If you try it and you feel an effect, awesome,” Giordano says. “In that case, it doesn’t matter if the cryotherapy benefits are just placebo, as long as you understand that there’s no evidence that it can bring about a physiological adaptation.”
Interested in getting in on the freeze? Here are three important things you need to know before doing cryotherapy.
1. Prepare to pay up: Different cryotherapy centers will offer varying temperatures and durations to their clientele, both of which could impact how much you’re dropping for the treatment. A single session can cost you as much as $100, depending where you’re checking in. “Cryotherapy isn’t covered by any insurance,” says Giordano. “So keep that in mind when you’re booking a session, and know exactly what you’re getting into.”
2. Dress right: Be prepared to strip down! While underwear is totally kosher, everything else comes off. Make sure to be entirely dry before stepping inside, since temps will be literally freezing. The treatment center should offer you thick socks, slippers, and gloves to cover your extremities. If you have any piercings, make sure to remove those before stepping into the machine.
3. Consult with a physician: Just like with a new workout routine or diet, it’s important to consult with an expert before taking a chill. “If you do have chronic pain or an injury, seek out a medical professional opinion prior,” suggests Giordano. “Manage your expectations, and don’t think it will cure everything.”