What Is the Wim Hof Method of Cold Water Therapy?
The Wim Hof method is an approach to health and wellness which is growing in popularity, involving a combination of breathing exercises and cold therapy. The concept behind the Wim Hof method is based on a reconnection with our natural environment and our own internal survival mechanisms.
So what is the Wim Hof method and what are the benefits?
- What is the Wim Hof method?
- The three elements of the Wim Hof technique
- What are the benefits of the Wim Hof method?
- Wim Hof breathing techniques
- Wim Hof cold water therapy
- How to do a Wim Hof cold shower
The Wim Hof method is a combination of breathing exercises and cold therapy which when practised consistently, are believed to improve our health and wellbeing in several ways.
1. Breathing techniques
Connect with your breathing using the Wim Hof breathing technique. The technique is designed to increase the oxygen in your body by breathing in specific ways, whilst also practising a mindful approach to breathing.
2. Cold therapy
Full exposure to the cold using a range of different methods. Many people choose cold water therapy for simplicity (ice baths or cold showers) but it doesn’t need to involve water. Celebrities have been known to use cold air chambers, or it could simply be going outside in the cold in just a t-shirt.
The third part of the Wim Hof method is commitment to it. The method won’t work overnight and requires a longer dedication to the breathing and cold therapy to truly feel the benefits of this approach to wellness.
Scientists are still learning about the true benefits of the Wim Hof method and how it is thought to improve metabolic rate, physical endurance, immune system as well as reducing inflammation and pain. According to the Wim Hof website, the benefits include:
- Increased energy
- Better sleep
- Reduced stress levels
- Heightened focus & determination
- Increased willpower
The breathing practice is a crucial component of the Wim Hof method. Below is an example of a round of breathing exercises which are included in the Wim Hof approach. For beginners, they should be practised with caution, and it is recommended that you are lying down and comfortable before beginning.
Over time, you can adapt the technique to suit you as you will likely find you can hold breaths for longer, as you become more accustomed to the practice.
- Close your eyes, get comfortable, try to clear your mind and connect with your breath.
- Inhale deeply through the nose or mouth, and exhale through the mouth in an unforced way.
- Inhale through the belly, then chest, and let it go unforced.
- Repeat 30-40 times in short but powerful bursts.
- After the last exhalation, take one final deep breath as deep as you can. Let the air out fully and stop breathing, holding for as long as you can until you need to breathe again.
- When you feel the urge to breathe again, inhale deeply and hold for 15 seconds, then let go.
- Repeat this cycle 3-4 times.
The purpose of these exercises is to release more oxygen and energy into your body, influencing your nervous system. The idea centres around controlling aspects of the autonomic nervous system which is usually thought to be out of your conscious control e.g. your ability to automatically breathe, digest and regulate your temperature.
This induces a voluntary short stress response which with practice, you become more resilient to. This resilience is thought to make you more resilient to everyday stress, both mentally and physically.
Cold water therapy is an increasingly popular practice in its own right, with growing evidence that it might help with injury recovery, inflammation, circulation and high blood pressure. We have written a detailed guide to contrast therapy which utilises hot and cold water plunging to generate better health outcomes.
Hof encourages beginners to start off with cold showers and spending time in cold air to begin the cold exposure. Over time, you can build yourself up to more extreme cold exposure such as cold water plunging and ice baths.
Combined with the breathing exercises, Hof’s technique is designed to give you more energy, reduce stress and to feel better rested.
One of the cold water therapies many people use in the Wim Hof method is cold showers.
It is thought that 1-3 minutes of cold showering per day, or 11 minutes per week, is enough to feel the benefits.
Beginners can start off small – just 10-15 seconds. Build up the time you can stand in the cold shower until you can reach 1-2 minutes per day.
Don’t try to wash as part of your cold shower. Get your washing out of the way before you start the cold water exposure so that you can focus on breathing and how the water feels on your body.
How to do a Wim Hof ice bath
Ice baths have been popular with athletes for a long time due to their ability to help with physical recovery.
For those that are new to the method, ice baths can be built up to after a period of daily exposure to cold showers, building up the exposure time until you can stand a bit longer.
The idea is not to plunge quickly into an ice bath. Instead, you enter gradually, taking your time to move deeper into the ice water. Move mindfully, being aware of your breathing and the power of the cold water against your skin. Get out of the water as soon as you feel ready – you don’t want to push yourself too far or send yourself into shock.
If you are struggling to warm yourself afterwards then enjoy a warm shower or a hot drink. You don’t need to be uncomfortable.
Is the Wim Hof method safe?
The Wim Hof website lists a range of health benefits that would be beneficial to just about anyone. However, we should note that not all of the listed health outcomes have been backed by scientific studies and there is still lots of research to be done here.
The Wim Hof method is not for everyone. There is a list of people the Wim Hof method may not be recommended for including pregnant women and people with a history of fainting. The breathing techniques can commonly cause dizziness which, whilst listed as a safe side effect on the Wim Hof website, should be performed with caution.
It is advisable to consult with a doctor before commencing the Wim Hof method.