Athletes are turning to cryotherapy to increase their endurance and decrease their injury recovery time. The cryotherapy capital of the world is Spala in Poland where scientists have capitalised on soviet-era research to build fitness programmes that live on the cutting edge of sports science.
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Full body cryotherpy began back in Japan in 1880 and further studies advanced the technique in soviet Russia, now scientists at the Olympic Health Centre in Spala have since 2000, developed deep-freeze exposure as part of an elite athlete’s training programme to boost performance and recovery. However, the benefits go far beyond the sphere of high performance and are now being felt in general health and the beauty industry as well.
The Wales rugby team have famously benefited from training in the facility and their improved strength and fitness made them the surprise package of the 2011 World Cup, where they were unlucky to lose the semi-final to France. A relatively inexperienced side played with an intensity that surprised many onlookers and had it not been for some significant refereeing decisions they may well have challenged the All Blacks in the final.
The benefits to rugby players is clear, the game is all about physical intensity, getting up off the ground quickly when you’re out of breath and getting quickly into position before your opponent does. Short periods of sprinting interspersed with intense physical exersion is a specialised and exhausting type of fitness, but as, they say, in the professional era, it’s a game of inches and cryotherapy is proving useful in gaining those all important inches. The Welsh team claim that cryotherapy allows them to fit in three times the amount of training in a day.
How does it work? A athlete enters a holding chamber for 30 seconds at -70°C before entering the big freeze of -130°C for two and a half minutes. All body moisture and sweat must be cleaned from the body to prevent burning and to prevent frostbite you must wear gloves, socks and a facemask. Under extreme low temperatures the body protects the vital organs by drawing blood from the extremities around them, washing limb muscles clear of lactic acid and significantly reducing tissue damage, hence injuries heal faster.
Another benefit is that the body undergoes a massive hormone rush of adrenaline and endorphines boosting blood circulation which increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients and speeds up the removal of toxins. So there are far more applications for this therapy with some exclusive spas offering cryotherapy as a wellness therapy.
France famously brought their own cryotherapy chambers to the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine in 2012 which saw them significantly reduce injury turn around, most notably the photographs of Franck Ribery’s head emerging from the chamber engulfed in liquid nitrogen gas went around the world.
Enjoying something of a boom, cryotherapy has seen athletes from all disciplines from cycling to boxing to track and field, looking to the big freeze to give them the edge. However scientist remain divided over the real benefits of exposing your body to such extreme environments. But with so much money in sport and the scourge of doping looking like it might finally be exorcised from professional competition, athletes are willing to try anything within legal limits to give them more.
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