Getting Friendly With Cold

The life-changing experience of diving into the Wim Hof Method.

Posted by Gergely Szabo on March 6, 2018

Intro

In the last two months I have learned more about cold, nature and my body than possibly ever before. So what happened?

Almost two years ago I have seen a Vice documentary titled “Inside the Superhuman World of the Iceman”, but somehow managed to not jump right into it and eventually mostly forgot it even existed. However, It was enough to push me into buying the audiobook version of “What Doesn't Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude and Environmental Conditioning will Renew our Lost Evolutionary Strength” when it was on sale last summer. It took over six months for it to be pushed on top of my reading list, but only three days to actually read it.

In those three days I managed to:

  • Hold my breath for over 3 minutes
  • Have my first ever cold shower
  • Run a 5k shirtless in subzero temperatures
  • Broke my push-up records without taking a breath

Impressive? I guess so, but not in hindsight. In retrospect they all seem laughably easy and trivial, barely worth mentioning. Nevertheless they show how easily and quickly one can get into this.

On the peak of Sant Jeroni during my trip to spain in February of 2018

But What is this and what's the point?

But what is “this” and what is the point of it all? It’s called the Wim Hof Method and it’s just simply awesome. It’s mainly four things: breathing, cold immersion, mindset and physical exercises. This post is not going to teach you how to practice Wim’s method, because it would be overly long and inevitably imperfect. Why not learn from the best instead, right? If it caught your imagination then first watch the Vice video, you could read the book if you need further motivation or proceed directly to the master’s 10 Week Video Course.

Back to the why now. So far it might seem like a collection of cool party tricks and they kind of are, but they can be beneficial for your health. Besides the bragging rights the method’s basic premise is gaining knowledge about you and your body while developing ways to take greater control of it. But how much control? During a medical study Wim and his students increased their adrenaline levels to dampen their immune response when administered bacterial endotoxin. In simple terms doctors tried to make them sick but they fought it off with breathing. Sounds absurd I know, but it’s well documented and the area is getting increasingly researched.

On Kékes in February of 2018

Achievements

I did not yet have the chance to meet a great mountain head on since I started the program, but I have climbed two admirable ones. During my trip to spain I visited Montserrat, where I climbed Sant Jeroni (1236m) which is the highest peak in the area. The air temperature was around -3°C at the top without taking windchill in account and I was bare chested for over three hours. The other one was at Hungary’s highest peak Kékes (1014m), the air temperature was also -3°C which felt like -7°C when windchill is accounted for. I was shirtless for over four hours this time and had snow baths along the way.

I have had multiple 10k+ runs in subzero temperatures. Running produces a bunch of heat so cooling myself with some snow actually felt great. Also the facial expressions and reactions of observing people provides endless entertainment. I did not pursue this side of the program for long, but after a few days I managed to hold my breath for over 4 minutes.

I also had a 7 minute long cold shower which was only terminated because of boredom. I have always had cold hands, sometimes even inside, but now I don't wear gloves riding my bicycle when temps are above -10°C. In general I lost my fear of cold reducing my sense of vulnerability and boosting self-confidence.

My usual 10k to town and the stats of the Kékes hike

Finding my limits

I have spent 45 minutes outside strolling along our local dog-walking spot. I was in shorts and shirtless at -6°C with strong winds pushing the perceived temperature down to -14°C. The first 10 minutes went by without any problems, but I got cocky. I stopped the breathing and visualization, lost focus chatting away, to my downfall. I got home safely, but I don't think I left much leeway. It took over an hour in hot water to regain my normal body temperature. Lesson learned, stay focused!

The other one was quite scary actually. I was outside barefoot in the snow for 20 minutes chopping wood, laying in the snow and playing around with our dog. After a few minutes I could not feel my feet at all, which caused an adrenaline rush helping me to stay warm. Coming inside from the cold my feet felt like foreign objects, making the few slippery steps of our stairs a real obstacle.