Here is my 5th part of the "wholistic" runner series. Getting cold, and uncomfortable can help growth and therefore performance.
I love experimenting with complimentary training methods to make myself and my athletes better. As a father of two girls, and a business owner I am unable to train the the hours I used to before I had more balls to juggle. My schedule allows 6-9 hours of training a week so I want to make sure those training hours are never wasted in terms of adaptation and joy. To allow for training absorption most of us understand the importance of sleep, eating well, maintaining healthy functional relationships, and restoration practices such as meditation and yoga (if not please check out my articles in previous KIWI train runner issues). Another training method that I have been delving into over the last 2 years is "cold exposure therapy". The man who has honed this skill to a fine art is Wim Hoff, or more commonly known as the Ice man. I first heard about Wim Hof's methods inadvertently through my mate Stew who had just returned from a winter Bali surf holiday in 2014 (He had made all the boys jealous with his 8 days idyllic surfing based in a boat off the coast of a tropical island with nothing to do but surf, dry off in the sun, eat, and drink the odd beer whilst watching idyllic sun sets). While he was surfing, Stew noticed one particular guy in his mid 40's who was an amazing surfer, stayed out in the water longer ripping it up, and had a chiselled physique that turned heads. On the fourth day of the trip Stew asked outright what this guy's secret was - "Push ups" was the response. Stew asked for some expansion - " I like to do push ups daily while I hold my breath". So how many do you do? Stew asked. The chiselled dude shrugged "about 100". After telling us this story I filed the info away intending to research it further, but didn't get round to it.
In late 2015 I started coaching an athlete that I had first coached many years ago for the NZ Ironman. Mark is now based in Australia was very keen to run a sub 3 hour marathon in mid 2016. During his assessment I asked him if he had any holidays coming up that I would need to plan training around. "I'm heading to Poland in February to do a Wim Hof course" I asked what Wim Hof was. Mark then went on to explain about the teachings of Mr. Hof and how he had been completing deep breathing work, cold exposure therapy, and push ups on one breath. As soon as Mark mentioned the push ups on one breath Stews "chiselled dude " surfing story sprung back into my mind. I had to investigate this further. Cold Exposure in a nut shell helps keep you lean, improves your cardiovascular efficiency, your immune system strength, your general health, your longevity, and your metabolic efficiency - thus making you a fat burning, endurance enhanced machine allowing you to run faster (Please check out Dr. Rhonda Patricks www.foundmyfitness.com for a 20 page FREE downloadable PDF document on cold water therapy and references backing up these sensational claims).
So Wim Hof is a holder of 20 Guinness World records for withstanding extreme temperatures. He has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro and attempted Everest (he managed 24,000 feet and had to turn back due to a foot injury in 2007) in only shorts and shoes, stayed comfortably in ice baths for almost 2hrs with only a slight deviation in core body temperature. Wim can accomplish these incredible acts with a simple breathing technique that allows control over the autonomic systems of the body (this is thought impossible by the majority of the scientific and medical community). Wim has demonstrated to research teams that he is able to improve his immune systems ability to fight off disease. You can check out his TEDx talk he delivered in Amsterdam - 2010 on You Tube. I love Wim's mission - he wants to empower people to take control over their wellness; his overall vision is a "world without sickness".
The Wim Hof breathing method is similar to yogic breathing. Wim has studied meditation and yoga while at the same time has subjected himself to the harsh conditions of nature adapting to the extreme cold and heat. One part of his method is a breathing exercise similar to "controlled hyperventilation" (an oxymoron I know) This deep breathing practise completely saturates your blood and cells with oxygen. After completing 30 big breaths, inhale fully then you can attempt push ups without taking a breath. You might be surprised at how many you can complete (if you have any concerns attempting this please seek advice from your Dr. and don't complete the breathing work driving or standing up). I didn't continue with the breath hold push up work, but continue with the deep diaphragmatic breathing in meditation with push ups completed separately. Another phase of the Wim Hof method is cold exposure. Start with cold showers (summer is a great season to develop this habit). I have not had a warm shower in the morning for over 14 months now and I look forward to my once or twice daily cold shower. It's invigorating compared to the "sluggish" feeling you get after a warm shower. Try breathing deeply and controlled through the first few seconds. Like any new habit, you will adapt over time. There are small muscles surrounding your veins that contract when they get cold. With cold exposure they contract and this is reported to "strengthen" them - improving the overall health of your cardiovascular system (the veins become more pliable and the heart requires reduced force to pump blood around the body). To progress from the cold shower, you can try cold sea/lake swimming (I experimented with year round swimming last year with a wetsuit - I have progressed without the wetsuit this past winter), then you can go for ice baths (get a couple of bags of ice and get the water down to 10 degrees). Increase the exposure variables (time and temperature) as able, get your breathing under control and learn to relax. If you are shivering reading this article - try a warm shower first and spend the last 10sec cold - then gradually increase the exposure to the cold. The feeling post cold swim is one of laser focus, and complete relaxation at the same time. This "afterglow" seems to recalibrate your sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) systems in a way that I have never experienced before. For hours following the cold swim my body is rewarming from the inside out with a process called "cold thermogenesis" utilising fat stores and building fat burning pathways (helping me become a more efficient aerobic machine) while I'm back at work.
Following is Everfit athlete Marks review of the Wim Hof course in Poland.....
Wow! It was an amazing week. Such an incredible experience, one of the best in my life.
Where to begin? I guess it all comes down to the breath, the anchor. The cold exposure really forces you to use the breath. Once you begin breathing consciously and deeply the ph in your blood changes and your chemistry in your body changes. With that you really begin to free your mind and start to taste life on an instinctive level rather than an analytical one, freeing yourself of fear and inhibition and judgement. It inspires creativity and freedom. And of finally begin to really feel unconditional love for yourself and those around you.
Yeah, all that in a week!
The cold exposure was very powerful, really gives you a belief in the power of the mind and again the breath. I felt warm up there, I was even sweating at -30.... crazy.
Wim is such an inspiration and so open and loving and welcoming, just as he appears in the videos, he's a fun loving guy who embraces everyone. He's on a mission and going about it in such an amazing way. But as he keeps saying it's not about him, it's about you, your breath and being Happy, Strong and Healthy. The science is confirming all of this and demystifying all the mysticism which is incredible to see.
We're all attracted to this because we know that no external factor makes us happy or leaves us feeling fulfilled or satisfied, despite the illusion. More money, a new house, a new job, a new car, more things, more relationships, more whatever. The feeling that we are all searching for is not outside but within and all it takes is the breath, to focus on the breath, to change the bodies chemistry and to change your framework or your lens through which you see the world. If you're stripped of everything you still have your breath! That’s the foundation.
So powerful and so simple.
If you want to check out his methods google Wim Hof or check out his online course at www.wimhofmethod.com and have a listen to the Rich Roll podcast #231 that features Wim Hof. He is not the only person promoting cold exposure - Ray Cronise (started his career as a scientist with NASA) is now famous for his pioneering work with cold stress therapy for a tool for fat loss. He discusses the "Metabolic Winter Hypothesis" along with the importance of a whole food plant based diet for long term wellness on the Rich Roll podcast #212.
I'm really relishing my meditation (incorporating deep breathing at the start of my 10min), prayer, mixed with daily functional body weight exercises (some days it's only 45sec), eating a plant based wholefood diet, and my daily cold showers (getting comfortable with uncomfortable). I was doing some plunge pool immersion at Aspire gym for up to 20min (water between 8-10 degrees), and have blended in winter sea and lake swimming with no wetsuit (coldest temperature yet is 11.4 degrees for 500m at the Blue Lake). I'm really enjoying researching and experimenting with different daily habits that enhance BOTH wellness and performance. As always only layer in what resonates with you. Have an open mind and continue to be curious. Remember your daily routine can ALWAYS be improved. I believe cold exposure training is another piece in my training puzzle that not only makes me a faster runner, but a better all around person. Keep striving to be the best version of yourself possible. Do this not only for personal benefit, but for your loved ones, and society.
Brad Dixon is a Sports Physiotherapist, Endurance coach, and Wellness advocate at Everfit. His passion is helping people strive for their potential with promotion of total wellness habits. Walking the talk helps deliver the message more authentically. If you want to connect with Brad he is at www.everfit.co.nz. On Facebook (@everfitcoaching) and Instagram (@everfitcoach).