The Wim Hof Method 10 Week Course — My Experience
The “Iceman” Wim Hof is an athlete and daredevil from the Netherlands that is able to withstand extreme cold and allegedly prevent disease through his self-designed breathing techniques, exercises and meditation. Hof says that everything that he can do everybody can so and has designed a course to teach his methods appropriately named the Wim Hof Method.
I first heard about Wim Hof from Kevin Rose who excitedly talked about his experience with the course on the Tim Ferriss podcast. If you have never heard of Wim there’s a pretty cool Vice Documentary that follows a couple of Vice staff along for his in-person course that finished with a run on a snow-topped mountain in Poland just wearing shorts and shoes. It also shows Hof and some of his students getting injected with a e.coli bacteria that their bodies fight off. Thankfully, that part wasn’t part of the course.
Almost everyone hates the cold. When I tell friends about the showers and ice baths the #1 reaction is “I could never do that, I can’t stand the cold.” My feeling is that technology (primarily the conditioning of air, both hot and cold) has made us soft. We’re kept in constant comfort. I try to incorporate practices in my life that mimic our ancestors’ environments and their daily challenges. This can be simple things like walking in the rain without a jacket or wearing my sandals in the December snow when I take the dog out in the mornings. — — Kevin Rose
What did I want to get out of this course? Growth requires overcoming adversity. I took this course to challenge myself to see if I could get through it entirely and to realize the benefits of getting through each session. It was quite a journey and I was certainly challenged every day and week throughout. It was fun, but it was work. I loved it.
There are a eight short videos totally about 25 minutes that prepare you for what the course is about. It shares the techniques for the breathing exercises, stretching and how to cope with the cold in short iterations and help build towards your goal over time. These videos also include instructions on how to do the course safely. If you’re going to take this course I’d recommend spending the time to watch these thoroughly.
The course is broken into the 10 videos each of which is done for 5–7 days. The platform only grants access as the weeks go by so you can’t see what coming. Probably a good idea.
Note: I’ve deliberately left out most of the specific exercises in order to not complete undercut the program itself so please don’t just jump in and try what I’ve described without taking the course. Some elements may be dangerous if not followed correctly.
The first week’s exercises included breathing, stretching, and final 30 seconds of my shower on the coldest setting. The breathing was dizzying, as it’s supposed to be, and on my first day I was able to hold my breath for 2:25 mins. I was surprised that it wasn’t forced. I was simply relaxed. The rest of the week I was able to get my withholding the breath for up to 2 minutes, 58 seconds! Almost three minutes! The breathing really got me energized first thing in the morning. This is without forcing or convulsing back into breath it’s simply over oxygenating my blood and letting my nervous system dole it out as needed.
The stretching was much needed. I wasn’t very flexible. I had been doing a lot of running and I wanted to keep on my hamstrings as much as I could. It wasn’t so much challenging as it was preparing for the weeks to come. It felt great!
The third component, the cold shower, was pretty easy. We’re asked to take a normal shower and the last 30 seconds turn it completely to cold. The first day I used a shower I have in the master bedroom, but quickly realized that it just didn’t get cold enough. On the second day I used another shower that did not have any limitation. It was fucking cold. It was 15° Celsius! I decided to use that one for the duration of the course.
I did fit in a workout after the videos and before the showers. I don’t think it’s too much of a deviation. The workouts would have been lifting weights, 6Km run, or a 10–20KM bike ride. I know my body temperature will be raised by this point, but I’m not sure if this makes the cold easier or more difficult. I still found it pretty challenging.
All in all it was a great first week. I began to look forward to the cold showers even though they were a bit painful and uncomfortable. I think I was more looking forward to the feeling right after. A small, but meaningful feeling of accomplishment. Each day when I turned the water off I actually did a little fist pump in celebration. Kevin Rose knows what he’s talking about. Simply overcoming this small challenge first thing every morning can really set the tone for the day.
Brand new week, brand new video! The first thing I’m told to do is as many pushups as I can and to record that number. The week’s course includes the same breathing exercises with an additional set where I hold my breath and hammer out as many pushups as I can to see how many more I can do without air. It’s followed by more stretching exercises and of course the wonderful cold shower. This time however I am to start the shower in cold for 30 seconds, turn the water to warm for as long as I want and repeat this process three times. It sucked, but was able to do it. Occasionally, right after I started to shiver and warm up in the towel for a few minutes. Thoughts like “is this worth it?” did make brief appearances.
The non-breathing times hovered around two and half minutes. It was hard to not feel discouraged by the lack of progress, but I did want to trust the process and not force anything.
I was able to do about 20%-30% more pushups without the breath. It’s interesting experience. I just didn’t feel tired or out of breath and was able to focus on the muscle as it contracted. Could it be that what we learned in gym class was wrong?
The showers were horrible at first, but by the time I was in the third cold shower I was actually calm and fine with it. I could even go longer, though I didn’t. By the end of the week the shower experience felt like a huge leap forward. I went in as calm as I could possibly be and while the first session was tough I decided not to tense up or breathe too erratically and it worked. My body wanted to react, but I kept it very relaxed and calm and by the third session I was able to withstand the cold for much longer than the 30 seconds. Feels like a small breakthrough!
This week’s course we’re asked to do four rounds of breathing exercises with a fifth doing as many pushups as I can exhaled without any breath. The shower is now starting with one minute freezing cold, warm shower as long as I want and ending with another one minute freezing cold session. On the day before the course after I went on a 18.5KM bike ride I showered in a my old shower and the coldest setting felt warm to me. Anything much warmer felt almost uncomfortably hot. Looks like I acclimated to the cold in a very short period of time.
The withholding breath still stayed at around two and half minutes. I still didn’t want to push it and let it come naturally. I feel that the physical position and my frame of mind were affecting my times without breathing. I believe my mind was telling me that I needed to breath when my body seemed to not need it. It was a mental hurdle I had to overcome. On the pushups, I varied the types of pushups from wide, normal and closed grip. I always felt much stronger without breathing.
The showers got easier every day and I was definitely feeling more alert and even cheerful throughout the days.
This week brought with it more intense exercises and a challenge. The challenge was to be in the cold shower for 10 MINUTES STRAIGHT! Have I mentioned how cold my shower was? I waited until Thursday to do it. I wasn’t sure about it, but when I stepped into the cold for my one minute session I felt I could just tough it out. I was calm and I was using the breathing techniques to get me by. By minute four the cold shock had worn off and it was becoming more bearable, but it was still very challenging. At minute seven I was still breathing heavy and anxious for it to be over. When it was finally over I changed the temperature to warm and then stepped out of the shower. I was a bit dizzy and I sat on the edge of the tub wrapped in my towel shivering for a few minutes. I continued the rest of my morning feeling freezing. The shock of this affected me for a few days.
On breathing I seem to be holding my breath comfortably at around two and half minutes. I haven’t been close to the three minute mark since the first week, but that’s supposed to be normal according to Wim as he points out we all have different physiologies.
This week also introduced a simple 10 minute relaxed breathing meditation. I love meditating so this was a welcome exercise. Another exercise was a head stand which I didn’t feel comfortable trying. Luckily, there was an alternative that suited me fine.
So I do headstands now. I didn’t even attempt it last week, but I thought I’d give it a go since it was part of this week’s exercises as well. I laid out a folded yoga mat to cushion my skull and lifted body up against a wall. I was totally fine and I was even able to balance without having to lean against the wall on the second day. I wouldn’t have even tried this on a dare before, but now I kind of like doing it. Who knew?
The new challenging pose is what Wim calls the Shelf, known as the Peacock Pose in yoga. I never knew how often I could wipe out and/or smash my face into a yoga mat while lying down before. About 10 times if you’re interested. I was determined to get this so I persevered.
I have broken the three minute barrier! It surprised me on the Monday when I held my breath for 3:09 minutes and kept it longer than three minutes every day. I can definitely feel the oxygen in my chest and hands during the holding of the breath. I feel my body changing every week.
Remember that 10 minute cold shower that messed me up for days? Time to do it every day. The instructions were to only do it if I felt ready and if not to continue the beginning and ending cold one minute sessions. I wanted to progress, but the first 10 minute experience was so jarring I decided to compromise. I entered the shower on moderately cold and every minute made it a little colder until the final two to three minutes on full cold. I worked my way up to the full ten minutes.
In this week’s video Wim suggested that we used to have a natural ability to control our inner heat and that our bodies have gotten “lazy” from being clothed and warmed from external sources. I couldn’t help but think that there might be truth to that though I would use the word “evolved” rather than “lazy.”
This Shelf pose is kicking my ass! On Tuesday I got it for about 5 seconds, but controlling it continues to elude me. Week six’s exercises were more transformational than difficult, save the Shelf. I progressed to an upside-down stance as well as a headstand in order to get the blood moving and the stretching feels wonderful. I don’t think I have ever been this limber in my life.
I noticed in the video that some of the students were sitting up whe doing the breathing exercises where I was laying down. I decided to do the same. This changed the holding the breath times dramatically. I could barely hold for more than 2 minutes. I kept at this new position for the rest of the week.
We went back to the one minute cold shower at the beginning and end, but the first 30 seconds is the breathing and the second half is holding the breath. It warns to make sure that it’s safe and to hold on to something in case of dizziness which did happen. What’s interesting is that the 30 seconds was almost as difficult as the three minutes during the regular breathing exercises. It does feel like there is a transformation occurring in my body. My breathing during training as well as my regular breathing has improved.
This week’s exercise were incredibly challenging. No more headstands, but the I am able to do the Shelf/Peacock pose for longer now and I can lift one leg during a Crow pose. The biggest challenge was that every day we had to stand in a spread out horse stance position for 10 minutes. The exercise uses breathing and movement to relieve the lactic acid, aka pain, formation.
Wim describes this week as the “fusion” of our breathing and ability to withstand the cold. The shower exercise we execute our breathing technique and hold our breath when we get into the freezing shower for the first full minute. This is harder than it sounds and comes with a litany of warnings of holding on to something in case of dizziness. I needed it.
I had minor surgery at the end of week seven causing me to miss the last day and take four days off. I decided to do the same week again before moving to week eight.
Joke’s on me. After two weeks of the same exercises from week 7, week 8 is the same. This time with a challenge. I was to submerge myself in freezing ice bath! I decided to wait for the end of the week to do this. I filled the tub with the current 15°C cold water and added a few bags of ice to see how cold I can get it. It was 8 degrees Celsius and it was surprisingly easy. I generally abhor being immersed in cold even in a pool and as I mentioned earlier hate the cold. The ice bath was different. I mentally prepared and executed my breathing. It was as if I was in a regular bath. My body didn’t tremble and I was relaxed. The goal was to make three minutes which I did with ease. I got out slowly and didn’t even goose bump. It was an enormous boost in confidence and felt incredible!
This week, and for the foreseeable future, the breathing exercise, exercises and shower sessions remain the same. They are now a part of my morning routine and I’m even voluntarily staying in the cold longer. I’ve come a long way from the guy who was shivering beside the shower after my first session. Week 9 introduced the practice of deliberately triggering of our nervous system in order to heat our body. I was skeptical as I watched the video, but when I tried it started working. I can generate heat with my breathing and focus. I pretty much have the force. If the force were generating heat in my own body. OK so it’s not the force, but it’s pretty fucking cool. Next stop, cold bath. Wait, why didn’t Wim introduce this BEFORE I had that first ice water bath? Likely so we can experience the before and after.
It’s over! Nothing new this week except another ice bath challenge.
I embarked on this course out of curiosity and to enjoy the experience. It was challenging at times and it definitely altered the way I feel about the cold, my body and how I can control it. I feel I can heal myself a little during a run which enables me to go longer. I can definitely generate heat when I focus and endure ice baths on demand.
Like many other activities in the routines we have, the Wim Hof Method fosters the discipline to keep doing them. Every day had in it challenges that even though I didn’t want to do them I didn’t want to miss and every week brought forth new challenges. I’ve continued most of the exercises in my daily routine. I enjoy the breathing exercises as they seem to bring clarity to my mind for the day and the exercises keep me limber and I still want to master some of them that I wasn’t able to get throughout the course. I’m also keeping the week seven cold shower exercise as it’s still shocking and uncomfortable and who wants to be comfortable? Now if you’ll excuse me there’s an ice bath with my name on it.