Hack Your Cold Tolerance and Endurance With Power Breathing

by John Limansky, MD September 17, 2018 4 min read

Hack Your Cold Tolerance and Endurance With Power Breathing

If you’ve looked into cold thermogenesis, you’ve probably come across stories about Wim Hoff, frequently referred to as “The Iceman.” Wim became famous around the world for his incredible, seemingly impossible feats of physical resilience. He holds numerous world records, including the record for longest ice bath, staying up to his neck in freezing cold water and ice for an hour and fifty two minutes, forty two seconds. He summited Mount Kilimanjaro wearing only shorts in under 48 hours, completed a marathon above the arctic circle (again, in only shorts), and completed a marathon in the Namib Desert without water.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Wim is his insistence that his physical abilities are not particularly special to him, and can be easily taught to others. And surprisingly, numerous journalists have trained with him and supported his belief by accomplishing impressive feats themselves. He credits his amazing ability to control his body temperature with his mind largely to a special breathing technique. The following is an adaptation of Wim’s technique, which you may find quite valuable in preparation for cold thermogenesis practices or other physically intense activities.

Part 1 – Close your eyes and prepare

Sit or lay in a comfortable but strong posture, like you would use during yoga or meditation, with your eyes closed. Your lungs, chest, and belly should be able to expand and contract freely without any restriction. At first you should only do this technique sitting or laying, as there is a chance you might become lightheaded or dizzy. Once you are more familiar with it, and know how your body reacts, you can use a standing posture if you aren’t worried about falling.

Part 2 – Warm up breaths

Take 15 deep warm up breaths. Inhale deeply from your diaphragm until you feel a little pressure in your chest as your lungs fill to capacity. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale fully, pushing as much air from your lungs as you can. Hold for a few seconds at the bottom of the exhale, then repeat.

Part 3 – Take 30 Power Breaths

Inhale deeply and sharply through the nose from the belly and diaphragm, as forcefully as you can. After this quick but powerful inhale, release the breath through your mouth quickly, but without much force. The idea is to inhale powerfully and exhale quickly, but somewhat gently without forcing the breath out. After several of these breaths you will probably start to feel lightheaded, may feel tingling in your limbs, and you might see colors behind your eyelids. You may feel odd sensations in your body. This is the core of the technique, so stick with it if it becomes a bit uncomfortable. There shouldn’t be any risk of passing out or excessive dizziness, but this is why we get used to the technique sitting. [As with any breathing exercise, if you experience alarming side effects such as pain, shortness of breath, or intense dizziness, stop immediately and seek medical attention.]

These breaths, which generally involve inhaling more than you exhale will have the effect of saturating your blood with more oxygen than normal. This, according to Wim, is part of the reason the technique can increase your cold tolerance and endurance.

Part 4 – Complete exhale and hold

At the end of 30 power breaths, fill your lungs once more fully, then exhale completely and hold with your lungs empty. You should be able to hold with your lungs empty for longer than you would ordinarily be able to, because your blood is saturated with oxygen from the power breaths. Hold for as long as you are able to, until your feel the gasp reflex. Don’t push beyond the obvious signs from your body – when you need to inhale, do so.

Part 5 – Take a recovery breath and hold

Inhale fully through your belly and chest, expanding your lungs to maximum capacity. Hold the breath for as long as is comfortable, usually 20 seconds or more. Don’t force yourself to hold the breath any longer than feels totally comfortable, there should be no straining at this point. Take this time to sink deeply into the present moment, and notice the feelings throughout your body. You should feel a sensation of lightness, while simultaneously feeling grounded and secure. At this point exhale and breathe normally. This is the end of one round of power breathing.

At first it’s best to start with just one or two rounds of power breathing, to allow your body and mind to become used to the practice. Once you are comfortable with the practice, after a few days of doing it daily, you can start adding another round every few days. The goal is to work up to 15 to 20 minutes, maybe six to nine rounds.

While this technique can greatly aid cold thermogenesis practice, and may help improve your endurance if done before workouts, it should not be practiced in situations where there is a danger of injury in the event you become lightheaded or pass out. For this reason, you should not do it during CT activities such as cold showers or ice baths, due to the risk of drowning.


John Limansky, MD
John Limansky, MD