The optimum exposure times for elite male rugby league athletes to spend in a whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) chamber is two minutes, according to pioneering international research by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
Published in the peer-reviewed international journal PLOS ONE, the study is the world’s first research into physiological changes in the athletes’ muscle oxygen flow, skin and core temperatures, inflammation, thermal sensation, comfort and subjective feedback in collaboration, when exposed to WBC. This landmark in whole-body cryotherapy research and findings applies to male athletes taking part in land-based team sports.
Working in conjunction with BOC, the UK & Ireland’s leading industrial and medical gases company, and Rugby Super League club Wigan Warriors, UCLan researchers investigated the optimum time for the players to spend in the WBC at -135ºC following a competitive rugby league fixture the day before.
WBC is an increasingly popular recovery method for elite athletes but to date there has been little research into the amount of time they should spend in the whole-body cryochamber.
BOC, a member of The Linde Group, supplied its mobile cryotherapy chamber for the study. The mobile unit consists of two chambers: a pre-chamber at -60°C and an interconnected chamber at -135°C.
A mini lab was set up at Wigan Warriors’ training ground to conduct the data collection and 14 first team Wigan Warriors players took part in the testing.
Blood samples and measurements of skin temperature, core temperature and muscular blood flow were taken from the players who then spent a randomly-selected period of 1, 2 or 3 minutes in the chamber.
The researchers compared all three exposure times and found that a 2-minute WBC exposure at -135°C demonstrated significant findings related to decreases in muscle oxygen flow in lower limbs, decreases in skin temperature and subjective thermal sensation feedback. They concluded that this was the optimum exposure length at this temperature to influence physiological changes in elite rugby league athletes.
Jill Alexander, UCLan Sports Therapist and lead researcher, conducted the study. She commented: “We now understand some of the effects of whole-body cryotherapy and have an optimum WBC exposure length for male, land-based, team sports and now have a great platform in which we can take the research forward. The key to the success of the study protocol was the fluidity of the data collection by everyone involved at UCLan, Wigan Warriors and BOC.”
Mike Toole, BOC's Cryotherapy Business Development Manager, said: "This is great news. Working with Wigan Warriors, Jill Alexander and the team at UCLan have produced scientific evidence that adds to the extensive anecdotal evidence on the benefits of BOC’s Mobile Cryotherapy chamber. This research further underpins BOC's work in helping elite sportsman improve their recovery times and supports more intense training regimes. We welcome the results."
Director of Performance at Wigan Warriors Mark Bitcon said: “We jumped at the chance to work with UCLan on this piece of research and it’s fantastic to know what we’re doing is right and have the hard evidence to support it. At Wigan we use a variety of recovery methods as part of our training and being able to tap into research like this allows us to tailor programmes accordingly for maximum performance.”
About BOC’s Mobile Cryotherapy Chamber
Reported physical benefits of BOC’s Mobile Cryotherapy Chamber include significant reductions in rheumatic, muscle and joint pain and reduced inflammation, as well as improved sleep and higher energy levels. Wider physiological effects can induce beneficial chemical reactions in the blood to speed up recovery after intense exercise.
Key features of the cryochamber include:
A two-person chamber, large enough to allow athletes to walk around during the treatment, further improving the comfort of the experience.
A -60ºC ‘pre-chamber’, which athletes spend 30 seconds in before entering the main -135ºC chamber for two minutes.
A robust air monitoring kit and a BOC onsite expert operator fully trained in cryogenic gas handling who ensures user safety at all times.
A specially designed BOC Cryotherapy trailer to allow the chamber to be taken anywhere in the country.
The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has developed an enviable reputation as an institution that innovates, evolving its course portfolio to over 350 undergraduate programmes and nearly 250 postgraduate courses. In the latest Research Assessment Exercise, all 17 subject areas submitted were rated as containing research of international excellence while 11 areas were assessed to be undertaking research which is world-leading. With a staff and student community of 38,000, the University indirectly contributes close to £300 million into the regional economy every year. Recently UCLan was awarded four stars in the QS Stars Development Road Map, indicating a University that is highly international with excellence in both research and teaching. Over the past five years UCLan has invested more than £100 million on new buildings and facilities to support teaching, learning and leisure activities.