I lean back in a chaise lounge while what look like the world’s largest blood pressure cuffs slowly inflate around my legs. But this is no medical test: This is the future of active recovery for amateur athletes.
Professional athletes have for years had access to better training tools and techniques than us workaday amateurs. They benefit from more sophisticated approaches because the price, complexity, or simple rarity of many of these modalities puts them out of reach of the rest of us.
Josh Shadle hopes to change all that. A longtime massage therapist, Shadle earlier this year opened AllSports Recovery Club, which he believes is the first open-to-the-public recovery center in the world. And while his clientele includes pro athletes, he’s targeting amateurs, giving them access to the same tools as elite competitors.
“I’ve been doing massage for five years,” he says, “and the next step, to me, was a walk-in recovery center where people could go and use these tools themselves, without anyone having to do it for them.”
AllSports is focused on FDA-approved products that you can use without medical supervision. The suite of tools runs a broad range, from cold lasers to a custom temperature-controlled ice bath that circulates saltwater at a constant 50 degrees. One ingenious hack is a $25 Ryobi six-inch orbital buffer, perfect for self-massage.
But the star of the show is clearly the NormaTec MVP boots, a compression therapy that Shadle likens to an extremely effective massage. You can buy static compression clothing, but the research on its effectiveness is mixed.
The NormaTec system, by contrast, uses dynamic sequential gradient compression, which is a fancy way of saying it pressurizes five separate chambers in sequence; you can control intensity and duration to match your needs.
Clinical research in sports recovery hasn’t caught up to use yet, but the system — invented for hospital patients — has been shown effective in medical settings at counteracting lymphedema, the painful and dangerous pooling of lymphatic fluid in tissues.
Dynamic compression’s action mechanism for sports recovery is unclear. It may help speed toxins and promote circulation; it may enhance muscles’ thixotropic properties — their ability to become more flexible when used.
Mesa State University’s Bill Sands, a physiologist who formerly ran the United States Olympic Training Center’s recovery facility, says compression — particularly dynamic compression like the NormaTec system — is one of the few recovery modalities he’s studied that show clinical promise for producing an actual performance benefit.
Anecdotally, results are more emphatic. Mirinda Carfrae, the reigning Ironman World Triathlon Champion, and an AllSports client, says that ice baths AND NormaTec boots are her top choices for post-workout recovery.
So what’s to stop you from getting this stuff yourself? Well, a pair of boots is $5,000, for one. An ice bath from iCool, one of the cheapest available, will set you back another $4,990 or more. Cold lasers are cheap by comparison, starting around $300 for a basic model.
Shadle’s club offers unlimited walk-in access to all that for $60 a month, plus discounted à la carte services like chiropractic, massage and Graston technique. “I’ve been to the USOC’s recovery room,” says NormaTec vice-president Gilad Jacobs, “and what Josh has going is every bit as good as that.”
For a retail model, Shadle is less focused on the gym or yoga studio model and more on an icon from the tech industry: Apple. “I envision it like the Genius Bar,” Shadle says. “You come in and tell us what problems you’re having and we set you up with the tools and a recovery protocol to help. It’s free advice, so that we can help educate people to get the kind of help they need to be healthy and improve their performance.”
That’s great, I think, but I still have two questions.
First, do amateur athletes really need all that? After all, we don’t work out as hard as pros.
Sure, replies Shadle. “In fact, we think amateur athletes have more to gain here. Pros are already focused on recovery and are looking at single-percent performance gains. But amateurs often don’t have time for recovery workouts; when they work out they go hard every time. So muscles get tight from all that metabolic waste, and it builds up and people never really recover. With amateurs, the room for improvement is so much bigger.”
Second, right now the only location is in Boulder, Colorado, a town known for being packed wall-to-wall with endurance athletes at 4 percent body fat. Will it play, as they say, in Peoria?
Shadle hopes so. He realizes not every city could support an AllSports, but that’s part of why the price is set where it is. “This is the same price as a one-hour massage,” he points out, “but you can come here every day if you like.”
And because everything is in one place, AllSports might be all you need. Carfrae has a set of NormaTec boots at home, but comes in anyway, she says, because of what else AllSports offers. “I can go in for a massage, do some Graston, or jump in the ice bath and use the boots,” she says of the range. “It’s a one-stop shop.”
Carfrae defends her title on Oct. 8. You can bet Shadle will be watching closely.