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.”