Hot and cold, all for health

Ajax Fitness owner David Mills showed off the gym’s new cold plunge at an event Tuesday night. The plunge, set at a freezing 52 degrees for the event, is accompanied by an infrared sauna in a private room for thermal recovery.

Ajax Fitness is looking to get locals shaking and sweating for better health.

At an event at the fitness center Tuesday night, founder David Mills introduced the facilities of the new cold plunge and infrared sauna recovery room, tucked away in a private corner space with its own door and curtains, in what he believes a unique Aspen offering.

The event was anchored by a discussion on the effects of thermal extremes, particularly cold, on physical fitness and aging by local physical therapist and performance coach Bill Fabrocini.

Ive been pushing Dave (Mills) to get these things for a long time, said Fabrocini. I find the science fascinating that goes with it and how we fight the progression of age but also improve your athletic performance, reduce injuries and all those areas.

Cold therapy was popularized by Wim Hof, a Dutch athlete known as The Iceman for his extreme endurance of cold temperatures, who achieved feats such as climbing Mount Everest in shorts. Much of Fabrocinis discussion of cold plunges centers on one of Hofs basic principles of controlling breathing and subsequent oxygenation in a sympathetic a dangerous or distressing situation.

A cold tub is a great way to create that environment, says Fabrocini. You go in there, you go into sympathetic drive, fight or flight, which has all these positive biological reactions: the thermogenesis, the growth hormone, the reduction of cortisol.

On the hot side, higher temperatures generate heat shock proteins that can aid in neuroplasticity and cognitive function, in addition to other benefits such as cardiovascular improvement and white blood cell formation, says Fabrocini.

An infrared sauna, unlike a typical steam sauna, uses lasers to supposedly gain deeper penetration into the body, heating more than the skin and just the subcutaneous tissues. It is also more focused and therefore does not raise the temperature of the entire room to the same extent.

Bill Fabrocini

Renowned local physical therapist Bill Fabrocini leads a discussion on thermal extremes to increase fitness and recovery at Ajax Fitness on Tuesday.

The discussion also covers how to effectively use cold and hot therapy together, with Mills chiming in and saying he’s found going from cold to hot seems more sustainable than the other way around.

I find doing the cold with the reward of the hot, it just seems I can last longer, said Mills. On the other hand, I jump and I’m like, Oh go back to the sauna where it’s comfortable.

Fabrocini noted that most of the data he’s read suggests that order has better health outcomes, as well.

The new recovery room offerings are not exclusive to Ajax Fitness, one can achieve temperature shocks with a cold or hot shower, or both, or jump into the river for a winter spell. And other facilities around the area list on their websites either a hot tub, a cold plunge tub or a sauna, but there is no indication of another currently operational outlet serving both. The AspenHaus, slated to open in 2024, lists a cold plunge and sauna among its upcoming amenities.

What Mills said Ajax Fitness offers is the opportunity to get cold and hot in a private, controlled environment including setting specific temperatures of both the cold plunge tub and sauna along with some knowledge on how best to apply it to fitness, although neither Mills nor Fabrocini claim to be experts on the subject.

We don’t want someone to walk in our door and just forget about them, Mills said. It’s like, Let’s talk about this. When should I do my exercise? That kind of thing, as opposed to, Hey, just take the cold plunge.

He added that this is part of their more inclusive approach to fitness, which includes other specialized equipment such as a body scanner and a VO2 Max Testing machine, which measures oxygen consumption.

In a high-performance fitness environment in a town like Aspen, attention tends to be needed, with some athletes willing to push themselves beyond what’s safe. Cold plunges and saunas introduce extreme temperatures and pose a risk of hypothermia and hyperthermia, respectively.

Because of this, Mills said Ajax Fitness conducts a consultation with all users before their first plunge or sauna sit, and a liability waiver is required, he said.

The recovery room is open to both gym members and the general public, with a 30-minute session for a non-member costing $30 on its website.

Mills said the installation was completed Friday and the equipment cost about $30,000.

What I always ask about all these things that people ask me is, Is it worth it? And can you be consistent with it? Fabrocini said. If you can try to convince yourself two to three times a week, that half an hour can make a big difference. I think (cold and heat) are amazing and I’ve only scratched the surface of the benefits of these things.

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