Is Cryotherapy Better Before or After a Workout?

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Athletes and gym goers have been using ice to cool muscles before and after intense workouts for decades. More often than not, that shows up in the form of a ten- to twenty-minute dip in the freezing waters of an ice bath — though no one is really ever eager to partake in the practice. 

Nonetheless, any form of cold therapy is a good habit for those who are trying to push themselves to their physical limits and reach peak performance. A study conducted by researchers in Switzerland and Belgium stated that intense exercise puts serious strains on the musculoskeletal, nervous and metabolic systems. Cold therapy, they found, “reduces the inflammation reactions through a decrease of the cell metabolism,” helping muscles bounce back from the intense physical strain more quickly. 

What is Cryotherapy? 

Whole body cryotherapy — more commonly referred to as just plain cryotherapy — is a three-minute submersion in liquid nitrogen-cooled air. Compared to the 20 minutes in an ice bath, three minutes in cold air sounds like a breeze for many people, making it an increasingly popular alternative to ice baths for many athletes. 

Still, it’s a commitment to submerge yourself for three minutes in temperatures that can reach well below zero, so it’s important to know what you’re getting out of your time in the chamber. And in the case of this treatment, there can be different results depending on if you have your cryotherapy session before or after your workout. 

Cryotherapy Before Workouts

Getting cryotherapy before a workout can help get your muscles moving and give you the energy to go that extra mile and take on even the toughest leg day.

Pros 

Cryotherapy before a workout is often used to help increase flexibility, range of motion and the flow of blood and oxygen through your body. Many customers of Salvatore Buscema’s Elite Cryotherapy clinic in Texas have reported that after cryotherapy sessions, they feel looser, more flexible, have higher performing workouts and that their joints feel far less stiff. 

A review published in Sports Medicine concluded, “that positive effects by pre-cooling can most likely be expected with endurance exercise.” Therefore, if you want to get the most benefit out of your pre-workout cryotherapy experience, exercises that focus on training and increasing your endurance are best. 

This is likely due to the correlation between the increased flow of oxygen you get from the cryotherapy and the increased aerobic and anaerobic processes that are required for endurance related exercises. 

Cons 

While cryotherapy can help get your muscles open and flexible, getting cryotherapy before a workout cuts out one of the top reasons many people submit themselves to the bitter cold – faster muscle recovery. 

When cryotherapy is performed before your muscles are worked and experience the microscopic tears that cause delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), cryotherapy is not nearly as effective in treating that soreness. If you get cryotherapy before a workout, while you may power through on the extra energy and be more flexible, you’ll likely have similar muscle soreness after. 

Cryotherapy After Workouts

If your goal is to get back to the gym at full capacity as quickly as possible with minimum downtime and reduced soreness, getting cryotherapy after a workout is the way to go. 

Pros 

One of the top reasons people get cryotherapy in general, specifically post-workout, is because of its ability to speed up muscle recovery and quicken soft tissue healing. That same study conducted by researchers in Switzerland and Belgium also concluded that “cooling is superior compared to passive recovery strategies after various exhaustive or muscle-damaging exercise protocols,” and can reduce the symptoms of DOMS by 96 hours when compared to simply waiting it out. 

Joanna Fryben, CEO of KryoLife told Daily Burn, “Muscle recovery is much faster [after cryotherapy] because of increased blood flow and reduced inflammation.” That reduced inflammation stems from how cryotherapy applied directly after a workout decreases the number of white blood cells allowed to enter damaged muscles areas, thus decreasing the chemical reactions responsible for soreness. 

Cons 

One of the biggest drawbacks that people have reported in terms of getting cryotherapy after a workout is they leave the chamber with all this energy and nowhere to direct it. A little bit of exercise after you pop out of the chamber is advised in order to help warm yourself back up, but not enough to burn all that energy you now have. 

Since you just had cryotherapy applied to your already overworked muscles, going back to rework your muscles would defeat the point of those three minutes in intense cold. 

Finally, for the logistics of getting cryotherapy after a workout, make sure you’re sweat-free; hypothermia and frostbite can be a risk for people who still have moisture coating their skin. 

To get the most out of your cryotherapy session, talk to the experts at Courted 

If you’re still not sure about when to schedule your dip into the chamber, the cryotherapy experts from Courted at The St. James are here to help. Book your first introductory session and start getting ahead of the competition. 

 
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