Royals

Cold truth about cryotherapy: Holy %#*&, the longest three minutes of my life

See what it's like to freeze inside the Royals cryotherapy chamber at Kauffman Stadium

Kansas City Royals players spend several minutes inside the cryotherapy chamber before and after baseball games. With the help of Royals head trainer Nick Kenney, Lee Judge finds out first hand what it's like inside the chamber at Kauffman Stadium.
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Kansas City Royals players spend several minutes inside the cryotherapy chamber before and after baseball games. With the help of Royals head trainer Nick Kenney, Lee Judge finds out first hand what it's like inside the chamber at Kauffman Stadium.

In order to show fans what big-league players go through, I’ve been hit by a 92 mph pitch, put on catcher’s gear and blocked pitches in the dirt, and had my hair cut by Eric Hosmer’s barber — basically, anything for a laugh.

So when Royals head trainer Nick Kenney asked whether I wanted to try out the team’s cryotherapy chamber, of course I said yes. I then went on the internet to find out what I had just agreed to.

Turns out you climb into something that looks like a cross between a phone booth and a time machine and expose yourself to nitrogen vapors and incredibly cold temperatures — like 180 degrees-below-zero temperatures.

That makes your body think you’re freezing to death (mainly because you are, but you're doing so under controlled conditions), so your body says the heck with your fingers and toes — let’s save the important stuff in the body’s core. The blood then leaves your extremities and heads for your torso.

When you come out of the cryotherapy chamber, the blood returns to your extremities, but now it’s enriched because it’s got extra oxygen in it, or special sauce, or 11 herbs and spices (I’m a little fuzzy on the scientific details). And that makes you feel better in general. Personally, I think you feel better because you’re no longer freezing to death, but that’s just a theory.

In any case, apparently cryotherapy fights inflammation, reduces chronic pain and deepens your sleep.

Your head needs to stay clear of the chamber because you don’t want to breathe in the nitrogen vapors; bend down to scratch your knee, and you might pass out — which is why you hear Kenney telling me to keep my chin up.

I knew my head would stick out of the chamber — thank the internet again — but at first glance, the Royals' cryotherapy chamber seemed too tall for me, and that’s the fault of ex-Royals pitcher Chris Young. The Royals had to buy an extra-tall cryotherapy chamber so the 6-foot-10 Young could fit inside. So if you’re not 6-foot-10, you stand on risers to keep your head clear of the freeze.

Kenney supplied me with gloves, socks and booties, and, wearing nothing else but shorts, I jumped into the chamber. The standard treatment lasts three minutes. Kenney had me rotate a quarter-turn every 15 seconds. There are two nozzles at the back of the chamber pumping out the nitrogen vapors, and the quarter-turns make sure your body gets frozen evenly — kind of like a polar rotisserie.

Ninety-five degrees below zero for three minutes while wearing nothing but shorts is a long three minutes.

I was surprised to learn that a lot of Royals players are jumping into the cryotherapy chamber twice a day: once when they arrive at the ballpark and once again before they leave, which, if nothing else, got them ready to play baseball in this spring’s weather conditions.

The next day, I told Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas what I’d done, and he started laughing. Then he asked what setting I’d been on.

Wait a minute … there are settings?

Three of them, as it turns out, and those settings regulate how much pressure is used to shoot the nitrogen vapors out of the nozzles; the more pressure, the colder it feels. When I asked Kenney what setting I’d been on, he said three — the coldest setting possible. But he also said I was lucky: I was the first one in the chamber that day, and the chamber gets colder the more it’s used. Some players have endured three minutes at 180 degrees below zero.

For the most part, the players I talked to said they’d rather do three minutes in the cryotherapy chamber than five minutes in a tub of ice water, and I can’t say I blame them. But neither one’s a walk in the park — unless you’re walking in the park in January wearing nothing but a Speedo and galoshes.

Catcher Drew Butera asked whether I felt any different after using the cryotherapy chamber, and I said I hadn’t noticed anything specific. But I did sleep like a baby that night.

A baby who was very glad it was no longer 95 below.

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