Nike’s new exploration: Cryotherapy

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Alberto Salazar has always embraced new technology as a way to minimize injuries, stay on target, and gain a competitive edge.

The altitude tent (and altitude training in general). The Alter-G treadmill.  The underwater treadmill. Those are some of the examples.

And now, welcome to the world of cryotherapy.

There is a new thing at Nike called a “Space Cabin,” and it is the 21st century’s answer to the ice bath.

Step inside this metallic cylinder and liquid nitrogen-cooled air (say, 170 degrees below zero) rushes in and cools your skin to a chilly 30 degrees, yet penetrates just a half millimeter. You slowly rotate for two and a half minutes, holding your hands up and out of the freeze, wearing socks on your toes, and at least some underwear to cover your privates.

“It feels like walking out into the coldest day of the year, naked,” Salazar said.

Salazar, and Nike, are using this device to cool runners down after workouts. Galen Rupp and Amy Yoder Begley used it last Thursday while I was there. Dathan Ritzenhein (training in Albuquerque last week)  was reportedly the first member of the group who agreed to try it.

Ice baths are somewhat painful and lower skin temperature to usually no lower than 50 degrees, according to Millennium Ice representatives on site to supervise training.

The theory behind the cryosauna’s use is that it tricks your body into believing it is in serious danger of freezing. The brain sends signals to the rest of the body to draw blood from the extremities and rush it to the core for protection. After you step out, the blood rushes back out again. The phenomena is said to cause an energy boost and skin rejuvenation. It is said to particularly effective to help heal after surgery.

For the sake of athletes, the cryosauna helps sore muscles recover much faster.

Last June, Tyson Gay reportedly used one of the devices to help alleviate his troublesome hamstring.

When you stand inside the chamber, your head remains above the cold air. It’s not advisable to breath in the nitrogen, lest it put you to sleep.

Cryotherapy already has numerous medical applications.

Athletes who use it may require less down time after workouts, or be able to work harder on back to back days. And it may prevent, or reduce, injuries.

And while there are currently less than 20 of them in the U.S., devices like this are apparently the wave of the future. They’re more common in Europe, where the technology was developed. But some day soon, I’m told, you might find one at your local spa or country club.

Salazar got linked up with the Millenium Ice folks through Tom Shaw, one of the country’s top speed coaches who help NFL prospects prepare for the combine and draft. Shaw is already a big believer.

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