On hunting for the best supplemental therapy options currently available to your modern BJJ practitioner, cryotherapy for recovery is VERY popular these days. In our last BJJ recovery blog, we took an in-depth look at floatation therapy as a method of soothing your body and mind, while giving you an incredibly beneficial dose of often-needed magnesium. Cryotherapy for recovery is a much more aggressive approach in many regards.
Recently, I was lucky enough to meet with Dr. Charbel Harb, owner of Cryotherapy Indy here in the hometown of A-Game BJJ, Indianapolis. Having never tried cryotherapy in the past, I wanted to pick his brain a bit about the tangible medical benefits of cryotherapy for recovery, and what his regular customers reported back to him. When asked to describe cryotherapy for recovery, he had this to say:
“Cryotherapy is the process of exposing your body to hypercold temperatures; ranging anywhere from negative 200 degrees Fahrenheit to negative 240 degrees Fahrenheit. This triggers the body’s natural healing mechanisms. Cryotherapy is used for accelerated recovery, improved healing, and rejuvenation.”
He related to me many stories from his patrons, who, with regular use, reported things like pain loss/reduction, more energy, and even improved sleep patterns. It’s anecdotal, sure, but when you start looking into some of the science behind why temperature-stress therapies work, it makes a lot of sense.
The primary function behind cryotherapy for recovery (as well as heat-based therapies like hot yoga for active recovery or, more passively, sauna for recovery) is a process called mitochondrial biogenesis. In layman’s terms, at least to the best of my understanding, this process is basically the body’s way of keeping a fresh supply of little energy-generating warriors parading through your body. Healthy mitochondria and mitochondrial function are critical for, well, basically everything, but especially in the areas of your body’s natural Wolverine-like ability to heal itself efficiently and quickly, as well as fight off illness.
How cryotherapy really works is quite interesting. It’s almost like you’re creating a forced placebo response through what’s known as hormesis
– essentially tricking your body into thinking it’s dying for one reason or another. Shocking your body with this type of stress seems to activate your body’s “internal pharmacy”, just like when a placebo does its job. “Cold-shock proteins” are rele
ased, which literally keep your DNA in check, helping prevent things like abnormal DNA methylation
, which could have heaps of negative repercussions.
The facility at Cryotherapy Indy
is quite nice. The single cryo machine they currently use is fueled by liquid nitrogen, keeping the ambient temperature inside the chamber somewhere between -110C and -152C. That’s stupid cold. The machine itself is super impressive when you’re standing in front of it. It seriously looks like it’s straight out of the future. Their unit has an internal platform elevates you to the correct level of immersion while keeping your head clear of the thick cloud of nitrogen gas roiling just below your chin. It’s pretty cool, though NOT a good idea to inhale a big whiff of it. Gloves, socks with furry clogs, and skivvies are all a requirement inside the chamber, to prevent frostbite on any undesirable areas, of course.
The experience itself wasn’t really as bad as I expected it to be. Don’t get me wrong, it was about as cold as cold gets, but three minutes goes by remarkably quickly when you’re chatting with a technician or focusing on Wim Hof’s famous breathing technique
. Between the focused breathing and talking to Andrew, the cryo tech at Dr. Charbel’s facility, I never got anywhere close to the point of feeling like it was too intense. It was way easier than I expected, really. Truthfully, the extremist in me wished they would’ve cranked the sucker to 11 and kept me in until I tapped. I’m probably lucky they wouldn’t.
After it was all over, I definitely felt pretty great. My body felt relaxed, energy levels were relatively high, and everything seemed to be functioning very well. The effects were fairly short-lived, but I only went the one time. This is the type of therapy that yields more of a chronic benefit than one that’s immediately recognizable, despite having some minor immediate aftereffects.
As an option for BJJ athletes, cryotherapy for recovery seems to have lots of medically-substantiated benefits, though it is sometimes debated for its usefulness. While I absolutely had a positive experience my first time, and Dr. Charbel’s staff and facility at Cryotherapy Indy are nothing short of stellar, I’ll reserve any judgment or opinion of my own until I’ve had a chance to get a few more cryo-notches on my belt. Check it out for yourself, and see if it helps! Remember, we aren’t doctors, and there’s risk involved with everything….especially when dealing in extreme temperatures. If you’re pregnant, have a heart condition, or have any other serious internal ailment, perhaps this isn’t the recovery therapy for you. ALWAYS consult with your primary doctor prior to beginning any sort of recovery therapy program!
If you’ve personally had experience with cryotherapy for recovery, or you’d like to recommend a new recovery therapy for us to try and write about, let us know in the comments! As always, thanks for reading, and be sure to let us know how we can help you Plan, Focus, and Evolve your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game!