Poor Wales. Not only have they undergone the misery of losing
their opening two tests of the autumn series against
Argentina and Samoa, they face the world champion All Blacks
this weekend and many would say they have suffered enough in
In a bid to improve their fitness during the Six Nations this
year, which they won, the team travelled to Poland for an
intensive training camp which included cryotherapy sessions
where they were subjected to temperatures of about minus
The freezing temperatures are said to prevent inflammation
and subdue pain - an extreme version of the ice baths which
are fashionable in professional sport - although the process
itself is not for the faint-hearted.
Before entering the chamber players are given socks, gloves
and a sweatband to prevent frostbite. They must completely
dry their bodies otherwise sweat or other moisture could burn
their skin. They spend 30 seconds in a holding chamber at
minus 70degC to give their bodies a chance to adjust before
entering the second chamber for two minutes and 30 seconds at
A reporter from the United Kingdom's Daily Mail took
part in one session and said when the time was up he was so
disoriented he couldn't find the door.
The theory behind the treatment is that in extreme cold the
body tries to protect vital organs by withdrawing blood from
the limbs, taking lactic acid and muscle damage with it. The
science suggests the body recovers quicker from training,
which means more training can be done, with players becoming
fitter as a result.
Wales are said to be the only international rugby team to use
cryotherapy as a training tool
Coach Rob Howley, Warren Gatland's assistant at Wales, told
the Daily Mail of the gruelling training and
cryotherapy sessions: "As a coach, you need to see players
under these conditions before you select them. You'd rather
find out before a test, so we manufacture those conditions
here. This facility is unique. It allows us to put those
players under pressure, not only from a physical perspective
but mentally as well."
The bad news for the Welsh players is that all the hardship
counted for little in their disappointing performances
against Argentina and Samoa. Against the latter they were
submissive and appeared to lack stomach for the fight against
a team well-known for its hard-nosed approach.
The other bad news is that they will have a cryotherapy
chamber built at their training base outside Cardiff in time
for next year's Six Nations. The project will run into
hundreds of thousands of dollars; their own torture chamber
won't come cheap.
Wales aren't the only team to go down the scientific route in
a bid to eke out marginal improvements.
England coach Stuart Lancaster has signed sports scientist
Matt Parker, who helped British cycling to success in Beijing
and London, to the management team.
Parker was involved in paving the way for Bradley Wiggins'
Tour de France triumph this year - he worked with the former
track cyclist ahead of his unexpected fourth place finish in
the 2009 race, changing his body as well as his mindset.
Parker is said to be an expert in seeking out marginal gains,
telling the media during the London Olympics: "We are
obsessed with getting the details right; we are relentless in
pursuit of it. It's not easy for other federations to do,
because of the details involved. It's about everyone being
the best they can be - the carer not leaving anything behind,
the mechanic testing everything - but it's not just two
weeks. It's two months, two years. When you put that in
place, your chances of success are higher."
Of course, rugby players could just go out and run a bit.
After all, the countless hours All Blacks captain Richie
McCaw puts into that old-fashioned approach appears to have
worked well for him. His side is regarded as one of the
fittest in world rugby and, while Steve Hansen and Co are
always on the hunt for advantages, there is no substitute for