Human beings can climb Mount Everest, run a marathon in -20 degrees Celsius, run a marathon in a desert with no water, (all in done in shorts) hang off a ledge with one finger for 25 seconds, stay in a tank full of ice for over an hour, and swim for 50 meters (164 feet) under solid ice, finding the hole to get out in spite of frozen retinas. These sound like the feats of a superhero, or some crazy guru making false claims, but they are real. An actual person has made these accomplishments, and he doesn’t think he’s special. He claims that anyone can do what he did!
His name is Wim Hof, and he’s from the Netherlands. Normally, ideas are more interesting to write about and discuss than people, but in this case, a person is the best thing to talk about in order to convey the sheer power of human adaptability. Wim’s story is not unusual. Like many of us, he had been searching for fulfillment through many religions and philosophies, finding nothing that truly spoke to him, and stuck. One day, walking down the street, he felt drawn to the cold water in a partially frozen river. He had a sudden inexplicable urge to jump in, so he did. After getting out, he felt so amazing that he kept going for an unbelievably freezing swim every day, and figured out that if he used certain breathing techniques, he could spend an incredibly long time in the water, without feeling cold!
Wim tried to spread the word about the phenomenal benefits of his breathing techniques, and spending time in freezing cold water, but for a long time, hardly anyone listened. This is understandable. If some guy is going around telling people to regularly expose themselves to water so cold they would run the risk of hypothermia, or even death, most people would think that guy is crazy. Even if he suggests special breathing techniques to help with the process. This was especially true over 20 years ago, when scientists had no proof of his claims.
When Wim Hof’s wife died from Cancer, he understandably felt indescribable despair. Eventually, with the encouragement of his children, he resolved to try harder to spread the word about his methods. He wanted to help people, and he wanted to reduce the amount of suffering in the world. Ironically, his wife’s death led to more widespread acceptance of his practices. He began to garner the attention of scientists, because he wanted to prove that his claims were valid, and more people started following his methods.
At the same time, research was being done on cold thermogenesis, and we know some amazing information about it today. Scientists have confirmed that for most people, it’s beneficial for the human body to be subjected to extreme temperatures, whether they be hot or cold. Extreme heat, like that of a sauna, has recently been shown to reduce all cause mortality in people without abnormal health conditions. It releases heat shock proteins, which cause all kinds of long term health benefits. On the opposite end of the spectrum, severe cold exposure can result in a plethora of similar physical rewards. I’ve written about these benefits at least a few times before. It does things like burn fat, increase hypertrophy, (muscle growth) enhance glutathione production, (the body’s most potent antioxidant) and naturally release norepinephrine and endorphins.
Wim had a variety of tests done on him by scientists in the Netherlands. He had blood taken while in a tank full of ice, and they discovered that he could actually raise his body temperature under those conditions! They also injected his extracted blood with endotoxin, and found that it showed 100% immunity! His immune system was so strong that he was unaffected by it! There are other studies still being done on him to figure out how he can accomplish some of his feats.
Wim has been tested outside of the laboratory, too. He got the world record for longest ice bath, at 1 hour, 38 minutes, and 48 seconds. His other records and feats include ascending Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts in 2 days, climbing Mount Everest in shorts, but failing to reach the top due to an injury, and running a marathon in Namib Desert in shorts with no water, under the supervision of a doctor. He also set the new ice endurance world record at 1 hour, 52 minutes, and 42 seconds, and ran a marathon in Finland in shorts in temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius, in 5 hours and 25 minutes.
The Iceman, as many people have called him, is not some anomaly only believed in by fringe scientists. Studies have confirmed some of his claims, and they are continuously being done on him. It has now been proven through many people who follow his methods that he is not special. They have practiced his breathing techniques, cold water immersion, yoga, and other methods, with similar results. He has garnered the attention of people like Joe Rogan, podcaster, comedian, and U.F.C. commentator, Tim Ferriss, author, blogger, podcaster, entrepreneur, and polymath, and even respected scientists and exercise experts like Dr. Rhonda patrick, and Kelly Starrett. Dr. Patrick also does podcasts, and has done laboratory studies in fields such as exercise, nutrition, biology, biochemistry, and microbiology. Kelly Starrett is a movement mechanics specialist, and has deep knowledge of mobility. A Vice documentary has also been done on the Iceman.
Wim Hof’s mission is coming closer to fruition every day. He wants people the world over to be happier, healthier, and stronger. He truly believes he can teach people to reduce depression, enhance immunity, improve physical performance, and dramatically upgrade overall functioning of their bodies and minds. Seeing all the suffering in the world, he remembers the tragic loss of his wife, and wants to help humanity reach a higher pinnacle of existence. The Iceman truly believes in this lofty ambition. He’s not some false guru looking to coerce groupies into having sex with him, or giving him all their money. He just wants to make the world a better place. Maybe some of his goals are naive, and perhaps he will not see as much success as he wants to. But he can hope, and ignite an unstoppable conflagration of ambition within all of us. That’s all any of us can do, really. We all get depressed sometimes, and feel like the world is a crushing black virus, but people like Wim Hof can help us see the light. He can encourage us to realize that we can all dramatically improve ourselves, and try to make the world a better place very day.