Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve been dealing with knee soreness (and if you’re like plenty of gym-goers who play basketball or hit the weights hard, you’re almost certain to deal with this at some point). To combat the problem, you might put a messy ice bag on your knee to dull the pain. Or maybe you’d put a heating pad on your knee to help drive blood flow.
Or, you might grab a sleek-looking black sleeve called a Hyperice X, strap it to your knee, connect it to your phone via Bluetooth, and enjoy a unique blend of heat and cold designed to drive blood flow and healing into your knee. And suddenly, the headache of recovery is just a bit easier.
The Hyperice X is the latest recovery device from a company that’s at the very forefront of recovery and wellness. A few years ago, Hyperice was leading the vibration therapy revolution, delivering vibrating foam rollers and massage guns, and last year, Hyperice added NormaTec, which makes air compression boots, to the fold.
The X is the brand’s latest innovation—and it pushes the entire recovery industry in a new direction. It’s meant to simulate “contrast therapy,” a unique recovery therapy used by top athletes, one that has them alternate between extreme heat (via a sauna or hot tub) to extreme cold (ice bath or cold tub) for several cycles, each just a few minutes long. It’s a process that you once couldn’t really experience in the comfort of your home unless you had, well, a sauna and a cold tub. The X is about to change that.
Why Contrast Therapy Works
The process of contrast therapy doesn’t seem fun, and yes, it is pretty cumbersome and uncomfortable. Traditionally, you’d hang out in a sauna for a few minutes, then run straight into a cold plunge. And yes, that’s as jarring as it sounds. You’d do this for 8 to 10 minutes at least, working these tight cycles, and essentially struggling against extreme hot temperatures and cold temperatures.
I’ve done it, and I can tell you that it’s not fun. I like my body in ideal temperatures—I’m not one who loves hanging in the sauna, and I struggle through treatments like cryotherapy and cold plunges. But when I’ve worked through contrast therapy, I’ve enjoyed the results the next day.
Essentially, each trip to the cold tub pushes your blood vessels to constrict, limiting blood flow. Then, you head to the hot tub or sauna, and the extreme warmth leads your blood vessels to rapidly expand, allowing for greater blood flow throughout your entire body. Alternating these two processes stimulates tremendous circulation, and that circulation and blood flow help drive nutrients, metabolites, and healing factors throughout the body.
You may have felt this at times, too. Ever go shovel snow in freezing weather, then come back in the house and run water over your hands to warm them up? And you feel a massive blood rush to your fingers? That same idea is occurring during contrast therapy.
The challenge of course: You just need to survive it. And you need to have time for it, too. Contrast therapy isn’t something you can do while playing video games or watching TV: It’s 10 to 15 more minutes out of your busy day where you’ll need to focus on, well, not fully relaxing. It’s work.
The Hyperice X Makes Contrast Therapy Accessible
That’s where the Hyperice X comes in. The tiny device looks like a black sleeve with tiny fans attached to it, and my comic book fan side could very easily see this sleeve on, say, the bionic right arm of Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier.
The simplicity of the appearance belies how it works. Once powered up, it’s capable of cooling to as low as 35 degrees, or heating to as high as 113 degrees—and it can do so quickly. You simply slip the sleeve on your knee, and open Hyperice’s base app (which has a treasure trove of other recovery goodness in it these days, by the way). Pair the device with the app, and you can head to the library of Hyperice X preset programs.
Select “contrast therapy” and your X silently gets down to business, alternating heating and cooling intervals along your knee. It’s gentle and exceedingly simple, a key strength for the X.
You don’t need to work through a complicated process. For the past few weeks, I’ve been using it on leg days, several hours after training. I’ll strap the X onto my left knee (I tore my ACL in that knee in college), kick my feet up onto the couch, and start up NBA 2K22 on the Xbox. Midway into the first quarter (I play full 12-minute quarters, by the way), the program will have finished and I won’t even realize it (that’s how subtle the device is).
Partway through the game, I’ll switch the X to my right knee and do the contrast therapy program again. No, I haven’t injured my right knee, but this is more than a pain management device; it’s good to get quality recovery work done whenever you can.
And I can do that with the X very easily, without disrupting the rest of my evening, so I run the program on my right knee, and continue playing 2K22.
How the X Feels
Traditional contrast therapy is generally a full-body therapy. It’s not as if you put, say, your knee, in a cold tub, and then put your knee in a sauna. And because of that, I was a bit skeptical of the X. Would it actually do anything for my knee?
And no, the device doesn’t really feel the same as classic contrast therapy. This, of course, is a strength. Contrast therapy takes work and focus and a little mental toughness.
The Hyperice X requires none of that, and yet it still feels pleasant. The heat it delivers is gentle; the 113 degrees is enough to create a pleasant warming sensation on your knee. The only time you realize the X is on is when it begins cooling. The 5 tiny fans on its surface begin lowly humming, spinning to cool your knee quickly. It’s a near-quiet hum. Initially, as I described in the video above, I was nervous that the hum would get “annoying.” But it’s far quieter than many massage guns, and it never rises to a level that disrupts my gaming or movie-watching.
When the X cools your knee, it feels cold but never unbearable, despite the fact it’s just 12 degrees above freezing. This is unquestionably a strength of the X. You don’t want to come home from a long day of work or a workout and suffer through your “recovery”.
With the Hyperice X, you’re not suffering. You just come home, kick back, and enjoy the blend of hot and cold. And when it’s over—when I’m done with each session and I unstrap the X—my knee feels just a bit more relaxed, a little less tight.
The X Will Keep Growing, Too
That, of course, is just how I’ve been using the X, but it has multiple other uses too. And that’s part of what makes the device so special.
Sure, it’s built for contrast therapy, but since it can also heat and cool, it can easily serve other purposes too. Storing ice packs in your freezer? Throw those out, because the X can handle that task too. Heating pad? The X can serve that role as well. In addition to contrast therapy, it’s an all-in-one device for heating and cooling, and Hyperice is gradually releasing more programs on its app to facilitate that, from Pain Relief to Relaxing Heat to Pre-Exercise Warm-up programs.
The technology that drives the X can also work on far more than your knee; remember, classic contrast therapy is a full-body treatment. The X is designed specifically for your knee in terms of shape and fit, but I’ve also experimented with it on my shoulders after tough chest workouts, and I’ve been placing it on my quads as well. This allows me to get that contrast effect in other areas, and while the X isn’t specifically designed for these placements, it’s been effective so far.
No matter how you use it or where you use it, you’ll almost certainly enjoy the experience—and the ease of use, too. This is a device that travels well, meaning you can take it on a trip or break it out on the sidelines of a pickup basketball game. It replaces your ice pack, a heating pad, and (most impressively) a sauna and a cold tub.
It’s hard not to love that.
Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.Ebenzer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is the fitness director of Men’s Health and a certified trainer with more than 10 years of training experience.
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