Developed by the Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof (nicknamed “The Ice Man), the Wim Hof Breathing Method is an extraordinary technique that has gained popularity for its numerous health benefits. Combining specific breathing exercises, cold therapy, and mindset training, you can tap into the incredible power of your own physiology.
Whether you're looking to boost your energy, enhance your athletic performance, or simply improve your overall well-being, this guide will give you all the information you need to try the Wim Hof Breathing Technique for yourself.
Who is Wim Hof?
“The Iceman” Wim Hof is an extreme athlete from the Netherlands who earned this nickname by breaking records related to cold exposure. These records include running a half marathon barefoot in the Arctic Circle, climbing some of the highest mountains in only shorts, and standing in a container while covered in ice cubes for 122 minutes.
What is the Wim Hof Breathing Method?
“The breath knows how to go deeper than the mind.” - Wim Hoff
In addition to his records and incredible feats, Wim Hof has also pioneered a breathing method for enduring difficult conditions. His breathing technique combines the benefits of cold therapy, breathing, and commitment to help him build a tolerance to extreme temperatures.
The goal of this method is to teach you how to develop mastery over your cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems to be stronger, happier, and healthier. You don’t have to be an extreme athlete to benefit from this method. In fact, many practice Wim Hof breathing before bed to improve sleep or in combination with cold therapy to increase their physical endurance.
How It Works
There are three pillars to the Wim Hof Breathing technique — deep breaths, cold therapy, and commitment.
The deep breathing helps to increase oxygen levels and decrease carbon dioxide to improve concerns such as anxiety, mood, inflammation, increased energy, and pain management.*
Wim Hof recommends practicing this breathing method right after waking and/or before a meal, or when your stomach is empty. The steps are easy and the format is flexible enough that the technique can be adapted to fit a certain individual and how they feel on any given day.
* Disclaimer: The Wim Hof Technique of breathing can affect your motor control and, in very rare cases, lead to a loss of consciousness. Make sure you are seated or lying down when practicing the techniques. Never practice in or near bodies of water, while piloting a vehicle, or in any other situation where losing consciousness could cause harm to you or others.
Wim Hof Breathing Technique for Beginners
If you are new to practicing the Wim Hof Breathing Method, use the cue “belly, chest, head” when inhaling to remind yourself to use all of your lungs’ capacity. As a beginner, let go of any competitive mindset and focus on your own body’s response. Finally, relax your jaw, neck, and upper shoulders to avoid tension headaches. It will take practice, but eventually, breathing should feel like a wave flowing through your lungs.
Now that you have a few Wim Hof breathing tips for beginners and you’re ready to begin, this introductory technique is a great place to start. Let’s look at the steps:
- Find a comfortable position, either lying down or sitting up.
- Take in a strong inhale through your nose.
- Let out a relaxed exhale through your mouth.
- Repeat 30 times.
- On the 30th breath, exhale out to 90% and hold for as long as you can.
- Once you feel your body’s urge to breathe, inhale completely and hold for 15 seconds before releasing.
- Repeat steps 2-6 two more times.
Wim Hof Breathing Benefits
According to his website, there are many benefits of the Wim Hof Breathing Method, such as increased willpower and better sleep. There are several benefits that are backed up by anecdotal evidence, but not all of the claimed benefits are backed by peer-reviewed studies. Scientists are still testing the claims that Wim Hof Technique alone improves the immune system, fat loss, inflammation, and pain management. That being said, the following benefits have been shown to be supported by medical and scientific evidence.
Ensuring that your body has enough energy is important for both mental and physical health. In a 2018 study, scientists observed the characteristics and effects of the Wim Hof Breathing Method. The top-reported positive change the participants noticed was in their energy levels. With more energy, you can pursue your hobbies, stress less, and exercise more effectively. When paired with an ice bath, this reinvigoration almost gives a feeling of euphoria — rather than just feeling miserable like your traditional cold shower.
Relieves Stress Levels
One of the biggest mental health benefits of practicing the Wim Hof Technique is a reduction in stress levels. A study from 2022 looked into the stress responses and hormones released in healthy participants during an Antarctic expedition.
The study consisted of eight weeks of Wim Hof meditation, breathing exercises, and cold exposure. The results showed that the training program significantly reduced stress responses during the expedition. Using the Wim Hof Method during difficult situations can help you stay calm and focus on what is important.
Along with reducing stress, the same study also found that when using the Wim Hof Method, their participants had improved sleep. Scientists found that by practicing the Wim Hof Breathing Technique, their test group responded better to circadian rhythm changes related to exogenous melatonin secretion.
Circadian rhythm is the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that occur over a 24-hour cycle. When you have high-quality sleep, it’s easier to stay energetic and alert during the day.
The Wim Hof Method was developed by Hof as his own meditation technique. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation like this can be used to relax by refocusing your attention on something else, such as breathing. With practice, his technique can help individuals focus on only the things that matter, which makes it easier to let go of distracting and exhausting stressors.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Many things, such as diet and stress, can contribute to high blood pressure — but practicing different breathing methods (like the Wim Hof Technique) alongside cold exposure therapy can help you lower it over time. Exposure to cold and deep breathing techniques affect the muscles in your veins, which helps maintain low blood pressure and reduce strain on the heart.
One 2023 study found that slow breathing can be used as an “alternative, non-pharmacological treatment” to reduce blood pressure in individuals with hypertension. In general, high blood pressure can be a dangerous condition for a large portion of the population, so keeping it low is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Importance of Breathing Techniques in Ice Baths
Taking ice baths or participating in cold plunging has a wide range of benefits. When you take a cold plunge, your breathing rate increases, but to get the most from your ice bath, it’s key to control your breathing.
It can be challenging to stay calm and keep your breathing under control while in the ice bath. However, by practicing the Wim Hof Method, you can bring your attention back to your breathing and have more control over it. You can also carry this practice into other areas of your life to improve your mental and physical health.
Improve Your Wellbeing With Breathing & Cold Plunging
From increased energy to better sleep, there are many benefits to practicing the Wim Hof Method — and it’s easier than you think to get started.
Whether you practice Box Breathing or Wim Hof’s technique, combining it with an ice bath will allow you to have the full “Iceman” experience. With Plunge, you can boost the benefits of Wim Hof Breathing while cold plunging, right at home. The Plunge’s powerful cooling, sanitation, and filtration systems make it far superior to any other cold water tub or DIY ice baths available.