Plunging yourself into minus 85-degree cold is always going to be a shock to the system, but there’s something adrenaline-inducing about plunging there straight from a sizzling 90 degrees.
Not that shocks are always a bad thing. For the skin and muscles they can work wonders — which is why I’m spending my Thursday afternoon flitting between Harvey Nichols’ ice-cold cryotherapy chamber and its new heat pod: a full-body, infra-red cocoon designed to make you sweat.
This exercise is known as biohacking: a process of “tricking” our bodies into implementing the same responses it would if you were freezing cold or hot and sweaty. Or for maximum results, both in quick succession. Experts say the two together will burn calories, boost muscle recovery and leave skin glowing. “It’s about creating maximum impact in minimum time,” says Dr Yannis Alexandrides, founder of cryotherapy brand 111Cryo, which runs its chambers across the capital.
The treatment is popular with athletes and A-listers looking for instant results: subjecting the body to -90 degrees Celsius for two or three minutes constricts blood vessels, producing a fight-or-flight response in the body.
Circulation and collagen will increase, inflammation will reduce and muscles will relax — plus you’ll get a rush of endorphins. Everyone from Kate Moss to Cristiano Ronaldo has given it a go.
Last week Alexandrides launched Heat at Harvey Nichols, a dry-heat, infrared sauna body pod set between 30 and 90 degrees C, the first of its kind in the UK. It’s designed to make you sweat, and even at 65 degrees I’m dripping within minutes. The 30-minute treatment has me lying in a space-like machine, head peeking out, in front of a touchscreen. From there you can adjust settings to suit your mood: to up the sweat count, you can do a HIIT class with resistance bands or some (really) hot yoga — the screen shows your calories burned and experts say you can burn up to 600 calories in one half-hour session.
There are also meditative options. The pod comes with a choice of aromas and LED light colours, a massage option using vibrations. You can have also a facial in there. “Sweat produced during our Heat sessions promotes detoxification of cholesterol, heavy metals and other toxins,” Alexandrides tells me as I prepare for the cryo chamber.
He insists using the two chambers in tandem is the “ultimate” form of contrast therapy, a technique known for stimulating metabolic activity and circulation without putting it under stress. This makes it a popular injury-recovery method but it’s not just for athletes, says Alexandrides. Going hot and cold has known benefits — results include improved cardio fitness, muscle recovery, cellulite loss and better sleep.
Order is important. “Thermotherapy causes the blood vessels to open, allowing for oxygenated blood to reach injured tissue. Cryotherapy constricts blood vessels and reduces metabolic activity, as well as alleviating pain.
It’s a wonder treatment for skin: heat makes your blood rise to your body’s surface and opens pores. Cold brings the blood back to vital organs and contracts pores to regular sizes, reinforcing your body’s natural defence system, Alexandrides continues: “Sessions have also been proven to increase endorphins.
“In less than 45 minutes you can feel like you’ve had an intense spa experience or an extreme workout” — which explains my endorphin high.