Wim Hof Breathing consists of 30 deep – rhythmic breaths, followed by 2 breath-holds (x1 max + x1 10sec long). Practitioners usually perform x3-5 rounds. It is part of the Wim Hof Method, which combines this breathing technique with cold exposure.
If you want to understand:
a. What happens during the Wim Hof Breathing and why?
b. If the hype about Wim’s Breathing has some merit?
c. How Wim’s Breathing compares with Patrick McKowen’s breathing advice?
Each round of Wim Hof Breathing has 3 stages:
Should you breathe from the nose 👃🏼 or the mouth 👄?
He encourages people to breathe deeply as he believes this way they will feel up their lungs 🫁 with air and every cell of their body with Oxygen. He will often instruct:
“Fully In, Fully Out.” or “Breathe In and Let Go.”
He may occasionally mention using the nose or the mouth but that’s not consistent. What he will say though is that:
“When you don’t feel well you should take it easy.”
By taking it easy, he means you should not breathe as deep. That is a very valid point and very much linked to the use of the nose vs mouth. As we will discuss in the next section, the effect of Wim’s Breathing is primarily due to the drop of CO2. When you breathe from the mouth the drop will be bigger and quicker. So whether you use your nose or mouth matters❗️
While the Breath Holds are a trademark of Wim Hof Breathing they are not any type of Breath Holds, as they are preceded by Hyperventilation. Hyperventilation gets people on a high and Breath Holds sends their adrenaline through the roof.
Meaning both the levels of Carbon Dioxide and Oxygen fall below normal: ↓CO2 ↓O2. Here’s why:
Hyperventilation phase (30 breaths) 😤
Breath Hold phases 🤐
This however is a theoretical model, let’s see what happens in reality❗️
Based on the Nijmegen study the CO2 levels of the participants at the end of each round were lower than at the start. As a result, the participants’ blood 🩸 was hypocapnic for the entire time. At one point oxygen levels drop as low as 50%, bringing the blood 🩸 into deep hypoxia.
The reason for this is due to the prolonged breath holds.
The length of a breath hold increases the production of Nitric Oxide exponentially. With most practitioners’ breath holds reaching 2+ mins it is estimated that the NO levels reach 3-5000 ppb per round. This is much higher than any dosage of Nitric Oxide been used in clinical research.
No. Your breath-holding time during the Wim Hof Breathing is long only because you have hyperventilated. With each round of Wim Hof Breathing, the Breath Holds get longer because (a) you start from a lower level of CO2 and (b) your spleen has released more red blood cells (due to hypoxia: ↓O2).
Your breath-hold time depends on your tolerance to CO2 which is not trained in this breathing technique.
Yes, your blood will temporarily be more alkaline. As CO2 levels drop (and CO2 is acidic) your blood will be less acidic. For that reason when Wim tests his urine after the breathing exercise, he finds it alkaline. Soon after though, the body will excrete alkaline buffers through the kidneys to return the blood’s pH to the original levels.
Depends where. As a hypocapnic (↓CO2) breathing technique, the Wim Hof Breathing gets the oxygen trapped in the blood 🩸, due to the Bohr effect. So O2 in the blood will increase, but in the peripheral tissue, including the heart 🫀 and the muscles 💪🏼, will decrease❗️
Litchfield, P. M. (2003). A brief overview of the chemistry of respiration and the breathing heart wave. California Biofeedback, 19(1), 1-11.
No. In order for your tolerance to CO2 to increase, you need to practice hypercapnic breathing exercises.
Possibly but not directly. You will improve your tolerance to cold by practicing cold exposure. The way that Wim’s breathing will help you tolerate cold is by increasing your noradrenaline levels, which was shown to last for 2 hours. As the Wim Hof Breathing makes use of the mouth a lot of the time it has a cooling effect, not heating.
Most of the benefits are derived from the increase in adrenaline. For people that:
the increase in adrenaline is likely to help them initially. Also for those that have a hard time switching off their mind, the shutting down of the oxygen supply during the technique will help them stop thinking.
Start slow. Once every 2nd or 3rd day is a good place to start. In the absence of any side effects, you can increase the frequency. Be aware that some people have adverse effects in which case you should stop and seek the advice of a professional breathing instructor.
First thing in the morning 🌞, if they want to get a boost from adrenaline, or last thing at night, they want your mind to switch off 🌙. To avoid adrenaline disrupting your sleep you may want to practice nasal breathing only in the evening.
Similar to all breathing exercises it is best to practice with an empty stomach and after you have urinated. As your cognitive functions may be compromised soon after, it is best to leave at least 30 mins gap prior to driving, swimming, or doing any activity during which cognition is critical.
I also know people that practice prior to having sex.
While Wim Hof Breathing is a single technique, Oxygen Advantage is a system of breathwork. Oxygen Advantage (OA) is based on the Buteyko Method and is geared to help athletes improve their performance through breathwork.
|Wim Hof Breathing||Oxygen Advantage|
|Founder||Wim Hof||Patrick Mckeown|
|Effect on CO2||Reduction||Increase|
|Effect on O2||Significant reduction||Depends on the exercise|
|Effect on Nitric Oxide||Likely to skyrocket||Utilise it through nasal breath and breath holds|
|Scientific Research||A few papers directly testing the method.||Significant.|
|Length of Practice||10-45mins||10-45mins|
|Purpose||Hack the nervous system||Improve respiratory capacity|
While there are no clear to me, synergies between the 2 systems nothing prevents you from combining them. What I have noticed in consultations is that hypercapnic training allows practitioners to enjoy Wim’s breathing by hold their breath longer.
Since 2017 (when I got certified in the method), my understanding of breathing has evolved and for purposes of efficiency and safety, I teach a modified version of the Wim Hof Breathing.
In an effort to stay politically correct I will not express further my views in this article but will encourage the reader to truly understand the implications prior to practicing.
This article covers what effects Wim Hof Breathing has in the way most people practice it. It is meant to serve for educational purposes only and it is not an endorsement of the technique. Based on Harvard’s Copyright and Fair Use guidelines here I am expressing my opinion.
If you read the entire article you know more about Wim Hof Breathing than I knew when I finished the Wim Hof Method training in 2017, as non of the above was covered there.
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