A truck pulling a trailer backed into the loading dock outside Alabama's football locker room Monday morning. Round 1 of the final two-a-day was just wrapping up, and the pick-up brought help in a new form.
It was Donny Dockery and his cryotherapy chamber was hitched to the back of his truck. The concept has been used by athletes like LeBron James for a few years is being used by Alabama this August.
Inside the trailer is a one-person pod designed to help the players recover by freezing them faster than a popsicle. According to the Cryotherapy of Tuscaloosa website, a nitrogen mist "gently surrounds the body." Dockery said temperatures dip as low as -166 degrees Fahrenheit.
Players gave it mixed reviews Monday and the verdict is still out for the physical therapy community.
"The science is not clear whether or not it is a game-changer," Dr. Trent Nessler, national sports medicine director for Physio Corp, told AL.com.
The idea is to help recovery time and reduce length of absences from injury.
"You know, I tried it one time," smiling Alabama linebacker Denzel Devall said. "I'm just old-fashioned, you know? Put me in the ice tub and I'm good to go. Cryotherapy does not... I like the ice tub, cold tub. That's me."
The therapy lasts 2-3 minutes and there are a few rules. You must be completely dry before entering. Gloves and socks must be worn. The idea is to lower the skin temperature from about 90.5 to 32 degrees.
Whether it's better than a traditional, Devall-style ice bath is still being debated.
"The science behind those is not as solid because there you're getting a whole-body temperature reduction," Nessler said. "It's not like an isolated whirlpool where you're sticking your leg in ... you're taking your whole body into that. A lot of the science that is typically referenced is typically the science that is associated with cryotherapy in general."
Devall said he stayed in the chamber for the full session, but a few teammates couldn't hang.
"Some guys go in there for, like, 45 seconds," center Ryan Kelly said. "You're supposed to go in there for a minute and a half, or three minutes, whatever. And some guys couldn't last 30 seconds."
Kelly made it two minutes. He knew when it was time to go.
"Some of the side-effects are you start getting light-headed," Kelly said. "So as soon as I started getting light-headed I walked out."
Adrenaline is released, Dockery said, along with endorphins. Effects last from six to eight hours, putting players in better shape for the 7:30 p.m. Monday practice after the first one ended a little before noon.
"As you know, in sports, it is also for the athlete's psyche," Nessler said. "And that, sometimes, can be just as powerful as what it does from a science perspective. If an athlete walks into there and sees something different, there's a little bit of a wow-factor and they get in saying 'it really did something for me' ... It's like the placebo effect."
For Alabama, it's another tool in the ongoing effort to gain an edge and help the recovery process.
"Coach Saban has placed a big emphasis on recovery from practice to practice, so our players can be at their best," Alabama head football trainer Jeff Allen said in a statement to AL.com. "We felt that it was another tool to utilize to help our guys perform every day. Whole body cryotherapy is a great technique to assist in recovery and help improve performance."
Dockery opened his business eight months ago and said it's going well so far. It's popular among cross-fit athletes and people coming off surgery dealing with swelling and inflammation. It doesn't come cheap, though. A single shot in the chamber costs $35 with packages of five for $150, eight for $230 and up to 20 for $425.
After purchasing the equipment, Dockery said he had a week and a half of training to get comfortable with running the unit.
"It's really getting used to the equipment and working with people and finding what's comfortable for them," he said.
But the old-school Devall is sticking with the traditional methods for now.
"I just feel like the cold tub gets me right, I guess," he said with a grin.