The ice torture chamber: As a -135c 'evil sauna' helps Wales to the rugby grand slam, Amanda Platell takes the plunge
08:24 GMT, 19 March 2012
What red-blooded woman would turn down a chance to bump into some of the hunkiest men in Britain — wearing nothing but their smalls
That was my first thought when I was invited to try a session of ‘cryotherapy’ after it was revealed to be one of the secret weapons of the Welsh rugby team that stormed to the Grand Slam on Saturday.
The only drawback was that having agreed to give cryotherapy a try, it occurred to me that I really didn’t know anything about it. Was it something to do with getting in touch with your emotions by having a good blub
Ice maiden: Amanda in the chiller as she undergoes cryotherapy in the chamber
I allowed myself idle daydreams about 16st beefcakes sobbing their hearts out while I wiped away their tears.
Unfortunately, the reality, as I discovered in the most painful way, is rather more prosaic — and much less pleasant.
When I arrived at Champneys health spa in Tring, Hertfordshire, there wasn’t a rugby hunk in sight, but there was a well-scrubbed therapist called Renata Zejer, who sat me down and explained that cryotherapy — which costs up to 65 per session — is, in fact, a radical health treatment carried out in what can only be described as deep-freeze torture chambers.
Though it lasts only three and a half minutes, those 210 seconds are likely to be some of the most uncomfortable of your life. During that time, you are shut inside a freezing cubicle, semi-naked, to endure temperatures of minus 135c (minus 211f).
Why Well, cryotherapy claims to speed up the recovery time of injured muscles by as much as one day over the course of a week if it is used once or twice a day, allowing players to get back on the pitch more quickly after taking the batterings that are part and parcel of modern rugby.
The ultra-cold treatment was developed by the Japanese in the late Seventies. According to experts, the extreme cold prompts the brain to transmit messages throughout the body, which mean that the blood is drawn away from the extremities to protect the body’s core organs and muscles.
English rugby players Lawrence Dallaglio (top) and Matt Dawson take part in a recovery session in a cryotherapy ice bath
The result is that when you leave the chamber, all that blood is pumped vigorously back around the body, enhancing the oxygen supply to the skin and extremities, which is not only invigorating, but is supposed to help flush out toxins.
Because the body has such a powerful response to the shock, it also releases ‘feel-good’ hormones called endorphins which serve as almost instant painkillers, which is why cryotherapy works so well for rugby players after a match.
Indeed, the Welsh rugby team is so taken by the treatment that the players have their very own mobile cryotherapy unit, something their captain, Sam Warburton, likes to call the ‘evil sauna’.
But sporting injuries aside, cryotherapy is also used to treat stress, asthma and osteoporosis — and, most interesting of all from my point of view, claims to cure fatigue, dry skin and stress.
It’s even said to reduce the appearance of cellulite, thanks to that vigorous circulation of the blood. The preternaturally youthful Amanda Holden is a fan.
But if those tantalising promises perked me up, my enthusiasm was short-lived.
'Within moments of stepping inside the chamber, I was close to surrender'
Arriving outside the so-called ‘chamber of horrors’, I suffered the humiliation of stripping to my underwear before being asked to put on three pairs of thick white stockings (to keep my feet and lower legs vaguely warm), similar to the kind you wear before and after a major operation — and just as glamorous.
Then came two short, sleeveless vests, cropped to leave my stomach exposed, two pairs of hideous towelling shorts, three pairs of gloves, ear-warmers, a face mask and white bandages to wrap around the rest.
Thus swathed, I felt like Tutankhamun’s mother. To finish the look, there was a pair of clumpy wooden clogs.
But the embarrassment caused by the outfit was as nothing compared to the pain I experienced in the cryotherapy chamber itself.
Renata, a cryotherapy expert who swears by the treatment, let me into the first of the boxes — 6ft square with a door and a window, and cooled with freezing clouds of nitrogen.
Inside it was a brain-numbing minus 60c. Cold doesn’t even begin to describe it.
It felt as if I had rushed outside in
the middle of winter on a sub-zero night, naked and without even the
comforting insulation of having consumed a bottle of red wine first. It
was like being hit by a bus.
Out in the cold: Amanda Platell said she 'can't help but to think theres more research to be done into the field of cryotherapy'
But that was only the beginning. After about 20 seconds, just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, Renata opened the door to the second chamber. The cold was unimaginable — minus 135c.
Inside the wood-lined cryo-chamber, the only way to keep from freezing to the spot was to keep moving.
I was encouraged to jump up and down, swing my arms, anything to keep moving.
I felt utterly ridiculous, a grown woman jumping around as if I’d been electrocuted while dressed as an extra from The Mummy Returns.
Renata had already warned me that if the cold became unbearable, I could signal to her to be let out.
Within moments of stepping into the second chamber, I was close to surrender. But I wasn’t going to be outdone by a bunch of rugby players. If they could survive it, so could I.
I tried to think warm thoughts, to conjure up memories of happier days — sunshine, summers growing up in Australia.
I thought of the first flush of love at the beginning of my last relationship. That got me through about 12 seconds.
And then something extraordinary happened. I began to feel that it wasn’t quite so bitterly cold any more. Bracing, certainly, but endurable.
Suddenly, I began to feel light-headed, almost euphoric. For a moment I thought I might be having a near-death experience of the sort people describe when they have been rescued from drowning at the last second.
Then, salvation was at hand. Beyond the icy mist filling the room, Renata appeared in the window holding up the fingers on both hands.
Ten, nine, eight, seven — she was counting down the remaining seconds on her fingers.
Six, five, four, three, two . . . and I was out!
Back in the comforting warmth of the spa, I felt oddly elated and energised.
My skin, which had begun to look like corned beef while I was in the freezer, suddenly turned a rather healthy-looking rosy pink — the result of all that blood whizzing around my body again.
As I felt the warmth returning, a feeling of relaxation crept over me which I hadn’t experienced for weeks.
And as I sat there in my daft blue outfit, I began to feel pleasantly sleepy — something of an achievement for an insomniac. That night, I slept better than I had in years, though this effect didn’t last.
Now, I can’t help thinking there’s more research to be done into the field of cryotherapy. I propose a repeat visit, but this time to observe the Wales team at first hand in their mobile cryotherapy unit.
All in the interests of scientific investigation, naturally.