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“It was pretty cool.”
With those words, backup kicker Alex Faoro uttered perhaps the biggest understatement in the history of SMU football.
Athletes often follow games and practices with a dip in a cold tub in the training room, a not-so-pleasant plunge into a pool of water that hovers between 40 and 45 degrees. Athletes usually stay in the pool for 10-20 minutes in an effort to rejuvenate their legs for their next practice or game. When they emerge, they often hobble, stiff-legged, back to their locker room, seeking warmth.
|SMU senior Kenneth Acker and his teammates spent a couple of minutes of Whole Body Cryotherapy, in which the temperature got as cold as 220 degrees below zero (photo by Steve Stigall).
But after Saturday’s preseason practice, SMU’s football players were offered a chance to crank the process up — or down — in time and temperature. Player after player climbed into a “cryosauna” inside an RV that was stationed outside SMU’s Gerald J. Ford Stadium for a couple of minutes of Whole Body Cryotherapy, in which air that got as cold as minus-220 degrees (Fahrenheit) was sprayed on the players.
“This is a state-of-the-art service,” SMU director of sports medicine Mike Morton said. “When the body temperature drops like that, the blood rushes back to the core. It’s basically tricking the brain, because the brain is always going to protect the core of your body. So this vasoconstriction — where the body constricts blood vessels — forces the blood back to the core, where it goes through the body’s filtering system to get rid of waste material like lactic acid. Then, when they step out into warm air, the body goes through vasodilation — opening of the blood vessels. The cleaner blood rushes back to the extremities, and helps accelerate the healing from certain injuries and to get rid of soreness faster, so they can get back on the field more quickly, and work out more effectively when they do.”
The RV was provided by CryoUSA, located in Snider Plaza off the northwest corner of the SMU campus.
“We have had a great relationship with SMU for more than a year,” CryoUSA managing director Eric Rauscher said. “We have had some athletes come over to work with us — we had Margus Hunt and Zach Line last year, and we have worked with some basketball players and volleyball players.
“The way this works is pretty remarkable. When you say ‘minus-220 degrees,’ it sounds like you wouldn’t be able to stand it … and that’s exactly why it works. Your brain knows how cold that is, and when that cold hits, the brain thinks your body can’t keep up with the exterior conditions. We’re not putting the athletes at any risk at all — you’re only in there for a couple of minutes, you’re moving the whole time and we monitor everything. But when the brain realizes how cold it’s getting, it brings the blood into the core and flushes the harmful materials out of the blood.”
“It was crazy — it was awesome,” quarterback Garrett Krstich said. “It was kind of like dry ice — there was all this smoke blowing around. When you come out of the cold tub, you’re all stiff, but I feel really good. I feel like I’m ready to run right now.”
Many players have never experienced negative temperatures in their lives, and obviously none have been in anything so cold while stripped down to shorts, with insulated gloves and slippers. One player who is familiar with cold weather, running back Prescott Line, echoed his teammates, suggesting the temperature was nowhere as uncomfortable as the thermometer would suggest.
“I’m used to cold weather,” said Line, who grew up in Oxford, Mich., which is about 45 miles north-northwest of Detroit. “I played games in maybe 20, 25 degrees. This is nothing like that, obviously, but it doesn’t feel that bad. I had a couple of shivers, but after a little while, I guess my body got used to it. I would definitely do it again.”
Players said they could not yet determine whether the process was more effective than the cold tub, because they were waiting to see how their bodies reacted. At least one, however, said the new technique holds a lot of appeal because he finds little benefit in the cold tub.
“I always have tight hamstrings, anyway, so I don’t really like the cold tub,” receiver/running back Colin Lagasse said. “My hamstrings get sore a lot at practice, but they feel good now. I always have to warm up a lot, and I don’t feel stiff at all after this.”
“I feel fine,” defensive end Zach Wood said after receiving the treatment. “I feel like I could go lift weights right now. I’m not going to … but I could.”
How the relationship between SMU and CryoUSA (cryousa.com) progresses remains to be seen. Morton said he and his staff will evaluate how the players react to the treatment, and get feedback from the athletes and a couple of assistant coaches who also tried it. If enough people like it, and if the treatment proves helpful enough, Morton said the school might consider acquiring a unit to have on-site in the training room.
“Today is a trial run as the guys get ready for the final push for the end of camp,” Morton said. “With (Sunday) off, this was a great chance to get the guys in here and then get them off their feet for a day, to see how they recover.
“A unit costs about $50,000. I have talked to some colleagues who have seen great benefits from using it. The point of today is really two-fold: we want to get responses from the players and coaches. If they like it, maybe we’ll look into getting one. Until then, it’s a great benefit to our student-athletes to have CryoUSA so close by in Snider Plaza.”
“If SMU wants to buy a machine, we can certainly do that,” said Rauscher, whose client list includes several members of the Dallas Mavericks since their run toward the NBA championship in 2011. “If not, we’re glad to help their athletes in our facility. We have two cryosaunas, two hyperbaric chambers for pure oxygen therapy, NormaTec compression therapy for legs, arms, shoulders …
“A lot of people work out recreationally, and after that, what do they do to recover? Some people might put ice in the bathtub, and some might drink a protein shake, but for most people, that’s it. Most people recover by putting their feet up and resting. That’s good, but we give options that help you recover from injury and soreness, and accelerate the recovery time. It’s pretty amazing what this does.”
“I have barely been out of Texas, except when we go play someplace and come back,” senior receiver Jeremy Johnson said. “The coldest game I ever played was probably about 40 degrees. So I’m not used to anything cold. But this was pretty incredible. If it helps, I’ll definitely do it again.”