Wim Hof Breathing Technique

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on October 19, 2022
6 min read

Wim Hof breathing is one of the three parts of the entire Wim Hof Method. This technique was created by a Dutch man named Wim Hof. It involves a specific controlled breathing routine that’s supposed to lead to physical and mental health benefits.  

The Wim Hof technique is a relatively recent addition to the health and wellness scene. It’s increasingly popular among coaches and athletes. The technique is based on the various physiological abnormalities that the founder has displayed both in life and in a research setting. 

His abilities center around the idea that he can control aspects of his autonomic nervous system (ANS). Your ANS is typically thought to be outside of your conscious control and involves activities such as breathing, digestion, and temperature regulation. 

The Wim Hof technique consists of three main components: 

  • Wim Hof breathing. The main goal of this portion of the Wim Hof technique is to increase the amount of oxygen in your body by controlling your breathing in specific ways. This can supposedly lead to several benefits. 
  • Cold therapy. This is an increasingly popular technique that can be accomplished in several ways. Celebrities and athletes use enclosed chambers with very cold air. The Wim Hof technique encourages simpler, cheaper methods. You can try taking regular cold showers or ice baths. One participant went on brisk two-mile walks in 20℉ weather while wearing only a t-shirt. 
  • Commitment. The program stresses that this technique is not an overnight solution. Adjusting to both the specific breathing routine and the cold therapy takes time, persistence, and determination. The method encourages you to spend time meditating as a way to increase your willpower.

A handful of peer-reviewed scientific studies and trials have been conducted to evaluate and understand the Wim Hof technique. Many of these involve sample sizes of fewer than 20 people and don’t always provide conclusive results. 

But Wim Hof definitely exhibits unique physical attributes that could benefit a wide array of people. And some results are more promising than others. Ultimately, it’s up to you whether or not to give the Wim Hof technique a try.   

Wim Hof breathing is about taking control of a normally unconscious process. Most of the time, you want your breathing to continue whether or not you’re thinking about it. But with this technique, you’re meant to specifically focus on the process. 

In general, Wim Hof breathing is characterized by a period of forced hyperventilation followed by a period of holding your breath. You’re meant to inhale deeply each time and then allow your breath to leave you naturally — without using any force. 

The Wim Hof breathing method is a crucial part of the Wim Hof technique. Due to certain side effects, it’s recommended that you sit or lie down before attempting this technique. Never do it while driving, or performing other activities that require constant motor control. 

To perform this technique: 

  • Get into a comfortable, meditative position.
  • Force yourself to briefly hyperventilate by taking 30 to 40 quick, deep breaths. Inhale through your nose or mouth and exhale through your mouth.
  • Make sure that each breath fills both your belly and chest and that they follow one another in short, powerful bursts.
  • After you’ve finished your 30 or 40 rapid breaths, inhale deeply, let it out, then stop breathing. Keep your lungs uninflated for as long as you can.
  • Then, take one final deep breath and hold it in your lungs for about 15 seconds.

This completes one round of breathing. Do this without pausing for three to four rounds each session. A calm state should follow.  

The Wim Hof breathing technique can be modified as you go. For example, you’re encouraged to hold your lungs in an uninflated state for up to a minute and 30 seconds. Most beginners will find this impossible, so aim to gradually work your way up to longer holds.  

The technique can produce a variety of side effects like tingling throughout your body, especially in your fingers and toes, and dizziness. In rare cases, you may even feel faint or lose consciousness. 

Don’t worry, these side effects aren’t harmful. Some participants even report that the symptoms are one of the more pleasant and desirable results of the process. 

According to the Wim Hof website, following this technique can lead to a wide variety of health benefits. These include: 

  • More energy in your everyday life
  • Reduced stress levels — which can help with conditions like anxiety and depression
  • An improved immune system — which may help fight off infections or improve symptoms in autoimmune diseases
  • Better sleep
  • More willpower, focus, and determination in your day-to-day activities 

The Wim Hof technique promises impressive benefits and comes packed with plenty of witness-based testimony. But most of these claims have not been verified in controlled scientific studies. Tests and trials are ongoing, so more evidence for or against the technique will likely be published. 

Some studies have specifically verified unusual physical abilities in Wim Hof. For example, he’s one of a handful of people who are incredibly tolerant of cold. This ability is why he goes by the nickname “Iceman”.

Your body has natural mechanisms for temperature regulation, but these are limited when it comes to instances of extreme cold. Consequently, most people can’t endure extreme cold for long. 

A 2018 study looked at Wim Hof’s brain and certain physiological responses while subjecting him to extreme cold. The results indicated that he was able to take certain conscious steps that allowed his ANS to adapt to the cold conditions. But no studies so far have verified that adhering to his technique will give everyone the same abilities. 

One small study found that just a single Wim Hof breathing session led to some significant physiological changes but didn’t specifically enhance participants’ performance during repeated sprinting exercises. 

Another small study had adolescents use the Wim Hof technique for four weeks in a row in an attempt to help them take longer, deeper breaths when working out. This study also failed to find significant results in terms of the athletes’ breath control. 

The supposed benefits of this technique would be helpful for people with a wide array of conditions, especially inflammatory conditions. Inflammation is a part of your immune system’s response and is a major component of diseases like arthritis

A 2019 study evaluated people with a particular type of arthritis who followed Wim Hof for eight weeks. The study didn’t find any negative side effects, so the technique has been cleared for further study for the benefit of inflammatory diseases. 

Two studies have had significant, promising results. One had a small group of people practice the technique for eight weeks while they prepared to travel to Antarctica. They didn’t find significant chemical changes, but that may be due to the small sample size. They did, however, find that people’s reported stress levels and depressive symptoms had significantly decreased thanks to the technique. 

Another study injected people with E. coli endotoxin. Those who had been practicing the Wim Hof technique had fewer symptoms and better overall immune responses than those who hadn’t. 

More data is needed to confirm the results of these studies and verify the other supposed benefits of this technique. Each new study takes time, but data is being published on a regular basis.