Like all Mudders, you push yourself to the limit in training and on course. You demand a lot from your body, so you've got to treat it with care after a tough workout or obstacle course event. As exercise physiologists learn more about maximizing fitness, they’re beginning to see just how important recovery is to acheiving peak athletic performance.
Proper recovery training will help your muscles bounce back faster after crushing it on the Tough Mudder course and be prepared to push on to the next goal you set. In fact, recovery is so important that gyms and health centers are increasingly offering recovery therapies like cryotherapy, infrared saunas, and float tanks right alongside their treadmills and free weights. There are even boutique fitness studios that solely specialize in the post-workout training, rather than the actual sweat session.
Here’s the lowdown on the latest trends.
Isaac Newton tells us that heat causes expansion and cold causes contraction, so there is a certain logic behind the cryotherapy craze. But the real measure of whether or not you’ve recovered from a hard effort isn’t inflammation or perceived soreness—it’s how quickly you’re able to work at maximum effort again. The cold, hard science is inconclusive on that front, but you'll only know if chilling out makes you feel better if you try it. (Photo: Impact Cryotherapy)
Pros: Before cryotherapy chambers, athletes routinely endured 15-minute bouts in tubs of freezing water during a bone-chilling ice bath. But a cryotherapy chamber can get much colder (-250 degrees Fahrenheit!) than an ice bath, which means you only have to shiver for three minutes to feel better.
Cons: There’s no real evidence that a post-workout chill speeds recovery (though it probably doesn’t hurt). Plus, a three-minute session isn’t cheap; spas typically charge between $50 to $90 for 180 seconds.
Some like it hot—and if you’re not into ice, a few minutes in the sauna can be a nice way to unwind. But be advised that an infrared sauna doesn’t work like any other sauna you’ve ever been in. The blonde wood may look Scandinavian, but these saunas use “far” infrared (invisible to the naked eye) light to heat your body but not the air around you. Your heart rate will climb, and you’ll start to sweat, but most people stay in the pod for about 30 minutes—longer than most of us can stand to sit in a traditional wood-heated sauna. (Photo: NeoSauna)
Pros: Many people rave that they feel as though they’ve worked out (higher blood pressure elevated heart rate, profuse sweat, among other symptoms) after 30 minutes in the pod.
Cons: You’ve already worked out, how much more sweaty do you need to be? And although it’s cheaper than cryotherapy on a per-unit-of-time basis, $40 a session certainly isn’t free.
Also called a sensory deprivation tank or an isolation tank, a float tank is a pod filled with warm, very salty water. No sound, no light, no social media… just you, alone with your thoughts. It’s no surprise that fans feel calmer after a session (typically an hour) in the tank. Many also report decreased muscle soreness. (Photo: Superior Float Tanks)
Pros: A float tank will force you to really, really unplug. And the extremely salty water means you’ll be very buoyant, so your aching joints will get a real rest.
Cons: For some driven, type-A Mudders, the extreme quiet and dark of a float tank may be more nightmarish than any on-course obstacle. That goes double if you’re not wild about small, closed-in spaces.
Daphne Matalene is an NYC-based marathoner and coach who spent three minutes shivering in a cryotherapy chamber in the name of service journalism. She prefers to slip out of her sweaty clothes and into a dry martini after a long run.