Thinking about the Wim Hof Method of breathing

https://www.ratemds.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Feature-Foto-Blog-Wim-Hof.jpeg
Wim Hof relaxes in some ice cold weather while wearing almost nothing, thanks to the positive warming effects of his signature breathing technique

A Dutchman named Wim Hof created a unique breathing method that effectively supercharges your body.

I first learned about the breathing technique years ago from this 2016 Men’s Journal post from Scott Carney. Carney was posting an excerpt from a book he was releasing, but I was more drawn to the idea of a breathing method not only warming you up in Chicago (where I lived and ran during the deadest of winters), but also hyper-oxygenating your blood and better equipping yourself to perform athletic feats.

The Wim Hof Method is basically this:

  • You forcefully breathe in, out, and again, for 30 repetitions where each inhale and exhale only lasts a second.
  • After the 30th exhale, you then hold your “breath”, or in this case lack thereof, for as long as you reasonably can.
  • Finally, when you need to breathe, inhale only halfway, then hold this breath for 15 seconds.
  • Exhale, then take a normal deep breath. Breathe normally.

Ideally, you do this whole sequence about three times. The idea is that your blood oxygen kicks up to the max during the 30 strong breaths. Then the lack of oxygen as you hold your exhale drops your blood oxygen so rapidly that stress hormones kick in and this provides a ton of benefits. Plus, once you’re breathing again, your body becomes a lot more efficient at absorbing and utilizing the oxygen drawn for a short while after.

Carney mentioned being able to perform dozens of push ups beyond his typical means after doing the Method. Personally, while intrigued at that, I was also intrigued at the accounts of being warm while shirtless in ice cold weather. I didn’t plan on shedding any clothes during winter workouts, but I liked the idea of being warmer.

At first, I tested the breathing warm-up before Racing Team workouts on Wednesdays in the summer and fall. While I’m not totally sure how much it helped my performance, I certainly performed well in those speed workouts. I liked going out to the meeting point early on workout days, and this was a good warm-up to do while waiting for everyone else to straggle over.

I’ve used it periodically since. It was never something I adopted religiously. Often I did it when I felt I needed to improve my energy before a tough workout: I always did these after work, and energy levels generally aren’t the highest on a weekday at 6pm. If it was going to help improve oxygen intake and usage, then why not try it.

I’ve definitely used it before winter races or post-work runs, when temperatures were below freezing and I simply was not warm. I think it helped a good portion of the time, though so did starting to run and getting 15-30 minutes into said run. Still, if at a start line and it was going to be a while before we could go, I definitely practiced the method, and I do think it helped some.

I’m not looking to draw any sort of study or conclusion from the Wim Hof Breathing Method. I think, regardless of what conditions you run in, it’s worth a shot… provided you’re careful about how long you hold that exhale after the 30 breaths. You obviously don’t want to pass out or suffocate by accident.

I’ll recommend you do what I did when I first started: Pick a pre-determined amount of time to hold that exhale that you know you can handle, and start with that. I would start by trying for 30 seconds (and obviously, nothing wrong with chickening out at 15-20 if you find it’s getting rather tough). Over time, you can gradually increase the time held as you get comfortable or begin to find holding that exhale too easy.

Obviously, in Las Vegas, I have no need to get warmer. And right now I’m not running a whole lot.

However, I noticed my sleeping oximeter levels (91-93%) are lower in Las Vegas than they were in the Midwest (though my waking oxygen levels are well above 95% like they should be). Some of that is the high altitude and dry air, sure, but it’s a concern. I am also mindful of the lung and breathing risks that could come with Coronavirus.

I wouldn’t mind practicing the Method just to improve my general oxygen availability, not to mention recalibrate my body to maximize any potential benefits from a shortage of oxygen. Re-reading writing about Hof’s method does tip me off that maybe my periodic lower levels during sleep are also suppressing inflammation in the body and promoting healing. They tend to drop lower during deep sleep periods, per my tracker. Can this “practice” with the Method help enhance that effect or provide it during waking time?

In any case, the Method is worth a try, especially now with me focusing on strength training and less on running for now.

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3 thoughts on “Thinking about the Wim Hof Method of breathing

  1. OmniRunner says:

    Interesting.
    When I do yoga and the instructor says to hold a pose for so many breathes, I take a lot longer than most people.
    I think as a runner I breathe deeper than most people.
    I’m not sure I could get a complete breathe out or in in just 1 second.
    Do you take shallow breathes? Do you get light headed?

    • Steven Gomez says:

      It is hard to do quickly (they are quick, forceful breaths) and yes, you can start to feel lightheaded because to some degree you are hyperventilating. I’d definitely recommend trying it while seated, or standing somewhere stable where you can easily sit down if you get in trouble.

  2. […] this points to a possible reason the Wim Hof Breathing Technique is so effective for athletes who use it. By pre-empting exercise with a series of coordinated […]

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