Ag2r’s recovery secret: -170°C ice baths

Sunday, 5 June 2011

cryotechno sauna

I wrote a quick piece last summer about Ag2r La Mondiale’s use of ice baths. Many teams use these for recovery, the basic idea is that the cold water helps reduce swelling in muscle tissue. But there are varying degrees of sophistication. You’ll find some teams using Oscar-The-Grouch technique, a trash bin half filled with water and then topped up with ice. A couple of teams use the same bins but have special machinery to cool and pump the water, saving the soigneurs from freezing 20 litres at a time.

But Ag2r are using far more sophisticated means. Forget climbing into icy water, they simply walk into a “cryo sauna” booth as depicted above. This is transported on a team truck. Operated by trained personnel, it allows the athlete to momentarily experience temperatures of -170°C (-270°F). Instead of the gradual cooling via icy water, this is meant to be a faster and more direct method. Dressed in cotton shorts, as well as gloves and socks to cover the extremities they climb into the booth, close the door and stand upright. The super cold air is quickly channelled inside.

It’s based on the use of liquid nitrogen and apparently without danger as the exposure is so short, there is only time to cool the skin and no worries for the internal organs. But even the quick dip in the cold reduces core body temperature a touch. The “sauna” booth is made by French company TEC4H and whilst the company is exploring the sporting benefits, apparently there are many medical uses for cryotherapy, from treatment of muscle injuries to skin disease.

FDJ were using the same technique during their recent mountain training camp. Apparently the riders aren’t sure if it works, it’s probably not the reason why Ag2r saw several riders doing strong rides in the Dauphiné prologue. When interviewed about it, FDJ riders seemed keen to try it but cautious on the results, a similar view was expressed by Nicolas Roche on Twitter.

Indeed the whole subject of ice baths seems confusing, with some academic studies saying the technique work but others claim the contrary. It’s not new though, old hands in stage races knew the benefits of filling up a bath with cold water.

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GreaseMonster June 5, 2011 at 9:01 pm

“Oscar the Grouch” technique, brilliant name for it.

Electro June 5, 2011 at 9:44 pm

I thought a cold shower was good. If the booth works like you say then it cools the whole body when the ice bath just lets you dip the legs in.

Alex June 6, 2011 at 12:22 am

-170°C! just the thought gives me the shivers.

Nathan June 6, 2011 at 1:02 am

Last I heard, there were some studies done recently that showed ice baths actually can negate the training effect. Not really an ideal thing to have happen after busting your ass for several hours.

Tom from Raleigh June 6, 2011 at 2:52 am

Why is it called a bath if you’re standing up in a boothand there’s no water?

ColoradoGoat June 6, 2011 at 5:32 am

At some point, this sport crosses the line into ridiculousness. This is one of those times.

Sam July 12, 2012 at 3:23 am

Umm, yeah, especially given Ag2R’s kinda mediocre results.

Rider Council June 6, 2011 at 10:47 am

I’m wondering if this resolves the shrinkage problem?

Perspective June 6, 2011 at 11:53 am

It’s not new technology, they were using this stuff way back in 1992, as clearly demonstrated by Dolf Ludgren in the ‘universal soldier’ documentary ;)

The Inner Ring June 6, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Apparently it’s not painful. And Perpsective, it’s been used in Japan since 1978.

Seis_Pendejos August 22, 2011 at 5:18 am

Frostbite: a quick Google search shows that everyone seems to reference the NWS windchill chart. It only goes to -45 deg, about 225 degrees warmer than the exposure of the cryo-sauna, and frostbite occurs within 10 minutes. I can only imagine that exposure to -270 deg F would have to be on the order of a handful of seconds to avoid frostbite. And accordingly, “It’s based on the use of liquid nitrogen and apparently without danger as the exposure is so short, there is only time to cool the skin” who gives a hoot about the skin? It’s the muscle that needs cooling, not the skin.

Is this an April Fools joke?

Harri January 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Here’s a link to a study/dissertation from Finland about the subject. In case someone’s really interested. This treatment has been used on rheumatism patients. Here’s the temp -110 C.

jmgc April 25, 2013 at 10:22 am

…and how is this not artificially performance enhancing?…
together with hig hypoxic air generators and tents, air foil helments, and professional massage every day, etc. etc. …

The Inner Ring April 25, 2013 at 10:58 am

Probably because it is an exogenous factor, ie you are not injecting, infusing or swallowing anything. Using cold temperatures on the skin or tissue has been used for a long time.

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