As I step into the large cylindrical freezing chamber dressed in nothing but a bathing suit, socks, and gloves, I wonder, as I have for the past couple of days leading up to this experiment, What have I gotten myself into? I get the countdown signal and moments later a fog of cold air climbs up my body before cascading over the sides of the chamber. I watch the numbers on the machine get lower and lower before eventually reaching minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is an unusual sensation, but it’s not unbearable. In fact, as I dance around in circles so the cool air can reach every part of my body, I find that my achy joints, bum shoulder, and overused knees are looser than they’ve been in quite some time. Before I know it, my two minutes are up and I climb down from the cushioned inside of the chilly standup sarcophagus eager to see if the remedial effects of Whole Body Cryotherapy were tangible or something I made up in my head.

No More Ice Baths Please

Using cold temperatures to relieve pain and reduce inflammation is something that I am all too familiar with. Traditional ice therapy, commonly referred to as an ice bath, involves stripping down to your skivvies and jumping in a tub filled with ice water. As one could imagine, this is not what you would consider a comfortable experience. After countless injuries suffered throughout my high school and collegiate athletic career, I have come to detest ice baths. That detestation was vindicated less than a week before my scheduled cryotherapy appointment when a certain study came across my desk.

Researchers from Queensland University of Technology and The University of Queensland recently produced evidence showing that post-workout ice baths are not only ineffective for reducing muscle soreness, but they can also hinder muscle development. Findings showed that satellite cells — skeletal muscle stem cells responsible for muscle regeneration — were “blunted” for up to two days after exercise and a post-workout ice bath. Lead researcher Dr. Llion Roberts also identified a reduction of muscle blood flow as a mechanism that may hinder long-term muscle gains.

Now, while there are a number of studies that discredit ice bath therapy as a helpful way to speed up recovery from injuries or overuse, there are only a few recognizing Whole Body Cryotherapy as suitable treatment for pain relief and muscle soreness. It did receive a lot of attention after it got LeBron James’ stamp of approval prior to this year’s NBA playoff run. However, if you’re like me, then all of the studies and celebrity endorsements in the world don’t mean a thing unless you get out and try it on your own. So that’s exactly what I did.

Stepping Into A Cryo Chamber

Luckily enough, Salvatore A. Buscema, managing partner with Elite Total Body Cryotherapy, invited me to Overtime Sports Facility in Wayne, N.J., where I got my opportunity to jump in a cryosauna and feel the effects for myself. I scheduled a grueling two-hour workout that included both strength training and cardio for the day before my appointment to make sure there was ample soreness to reduce and pain to relieve. I also scheduled a workout for after my appointment to see if cryotherapy can be used pre-workout.

Although people come from all over to jump in his full-body Cryo chamber for various reasons, Buscema made it clear that this is not a miracle cure for any ailment or injury. Many of his customers, however, swear by Whole Body Cryotherapy when it comes to pain relief, arthritis, and even weight loss. Even world class athletes Usain Bolt, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Steve Weatherford started adding full body Cryotherapy to their training routine.

How I Felt During

The first thing I noticed was the sub-zero temperatures were different from that of a traditional ice bath. I know what you’re thinking: Minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit is minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit. The surface of my skin did reach around minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit less than a minute in, but those freezing temperatures that are produced by liquid nitrogen as opposed to ice water did not extend to my muscles, bones, or tissue. Staying in the cryogenic chamber for no more than three minutes also ensures the therapy will not result in tissue damage.

As Buscema urged me to keep turning so the cool air could reach my entire body, I noticed a few immediate changes. My heart rate accelerated — the body’s normal response to cold temperatures — and the achy soreness from yesterday’s workout subsided. According to what little research has been done on Whole Body Cryotherapy, the immediate pain relief felt by users is the result of a flood of endorphins triggered by the cold air. Well, I am here to confirm those findings. What evidence do I have that cryotherapy triggered this release of endorphins? Despite being surrounded by vaporized liquid nitrogen reaching minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit, I felt incredible.

Compared to the crippling effects of a traditional ice bath, Whole Body Cryotherapy was a walk in the park. As I try to explain in the video through my incoherent shivering, one word that comes to mind is invigorating. Past the surface of my skin that the cold was hitting, something was going on with my blood vessels that was clearly not visible to the naked eye. My body was forcing blood vessels to constrict in order to keep up a healthy distribution of heat. This effect, also known as vasoconstriction, not only keeps my internal temperature from dropping to dangerous levels, but it also facilitates the delivery of nutrients and removal of waste from my blood supply when blood vessels open back up.

How I Felt After

I knew what unusual sensation awaited me even before stepping down from the cryosauna. At one point Buscema asked me to extend my arms outside of the chamber as cool air enveloped everything below my shoulders. Going from minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit to room temperature left my arms feeling very warm, and the same could be said about my entire body after stepping out of the machine. But that wasn’t my body’s only reaction.

The effect the liquid nitrogen had, specifically the decrease of inflammation around my muscles and joints, continued after I got out. What I can only describe as looseness in my joints and previously injured extremities lasted into my workout later that day. Obviously, muscle fatigue kicked back in after. Placebo effect or the real thing, my two minutes of Whole Body Cryotherapy produced results that I could only dream of back in my college playing days. Namely a speedy recovery from injuries.

One thing any athlete notices as they age is that the time it takes to recover from any type of injury gets longer. If stepping in a giant cooling tank for two to three minutes expedites my recovery time, then I’ll fork over the $65.