Fresh lessons from the sofa with Wim Hof

’The Iceman’ was only too happy to share his popular theories before his much-anticipated keynote talk at the Pendulum Summit at Dublin’s Convention Centre

The plan was to hang around after the talk and chance a quick word with Wim Hof. Everyone can do with that little extra message of motivation come the second week of a bitterly cold January, resolutions still unbroken, even if it is staying mostly dry.

For the next 15 seconds let go of any expectations you have of yourself . . . Turn your can’ts into cans and your dreams into plans . . . Live like there’s no tomorrow, and if tomorrow comes, live again . . . Wake up and smell your runners, this is the first athletics column of the rest of your life.

Okay, some of those are made up. But it turns out there were lots of these different sorts of messages from the many familiar names at this week’s two-day Pendulum Summit at Dublin’s Convention Centre, all of them there to somehow empower or enlighten.

None were more anticipated and in demand than The Iceman.


He was also the only one dressed down in summer beach shorts and loose cotton shirt with a magnificent unkempt look. Hof was there to give the keynote talk on Wednesday evening, to mostly top CEOs and business experts dressed up in sharp suits, and on arrival separated himself further by being immediately approachable and available.

So, on spontaneous request for that quick word, Hof agreed we should do it in the here and now, on the sofa in the waiting room next door, before his talk on the main forum stage. “There we go!” he bellowed.

Hof was described in the Pendulum programme as the “World Ice Record Holder and Breathing Revolutionary”, although it’s not easy to describe what else it is that has made him so warmly embraced and celebrated by so many, Novic Djokovic and Gwyneth Paltrow among them.

Nor is it easy to explain why his Wim Hof Method has become so increasingly popular and appealing, based simply as it is on deep breathing techniques and icy cold-water immersion, other than it’s unquestionably coming from his own considerable experience. And that perhaps, in most people’s experience, it also seems to work.

At a time when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get through any part of the day without being subjected to some words of motivation, intended as some sort of adrenalin rush to whip-start the day, or some Zen-like intellect to help wind it down, maybe it helps too that there’s a simplicity about Hof’s message.

He’d flown in from his Amsterdam home earlier that morning, his cold-water immersion already done for the day at 6am. To, ahem, help break the ice I tell him it’s five years since I was first introduced to his method. With a body fat percentage running close to zero, turning the shower from hot to cold every morning was never my idea of best practice, until those mornings when coming back from a run in the cold, it unquestionably helped to warm the body back up.

For Hof this is something he still never tires of; there is not a day in his life when he just doesn’t feel like going into the cold.

“Oh, no, I like it. So when I like something, I do it. And I’m just starting all the time. People ask me that, after so many challenges, but I’ve got a goal in life, to bring the light, and to take away depression. To bring love, composed by happiness, strength, and health . . .

“I’m 64, but I’m just starting. Every day to me is an opportunity to open up something that is already there, but evidently not shared.”

Hof once held the world record for the longest ice bath (at the time 1 hour, 52 minutes and 42 seconds), and still holds the record for running to 23,600 feet altitude at Mount Everest, wearing nothing only his shorts. He’s not surprised this sort of practice has become so popular, albeit in far less extremes.

While he’s also claimed his super-oxygenating breathing method can suppress inflammation, boost the immune system, possibly alleviate depression, Hof still has his sceptics – some have described his method as pure gobbledegook. As far back as 2011, American investigative journalist Scott Carney set out to expose Hof as a charlatan, only to completely fall for his method, later detailed in his book What Doesn’t Kill Us.

He has nonetheless still met some resistance from the medical science profession.

“I showed in 2014 that the autonomic nervous system can be influenced, wilfully, by humans. And that means an enormous shift. Because it was considered to be involuntary.

“But it is an unseen corruption that has come in, through money. It’s the way the power works. Because the interests say ‘no, we have to take pills to take the inflammation down . . .’ It’s short term, and it’s not causal.

“They don’t go to the cause. So later it will pop up, mutate, and nobody understands. That’s wrong, but you can make money out of it, and that’s the real sickness.”

He’s certainly not obsessive, not about how he appears or indeed what he consumes (he’d just helped himself to another coffee, “milk and sugar, all in!”)

“Food needs to be food. Not processed. In that sense I’m not into politics, I’m not vegan, I’m not carnivore, I just let food be food. Eat when you are hungry, how about that? How is it that we have to think about eating, instead of feeling about eating. But I’ve had all the vices of the world. All! So really, if you want to be puritan, go into the cold water.”

So does he ever get sick himself these days, a head cold, a sore throat even?

“No, even if I have severe cold, I just go and have a very good swim outside. And it’s gone. Why? Because I know what’s happening, and I know how far I can go to bring it down.”

In the end there was no disputing his infectious energy, and his hands in particular appear remarkably clear and youthful. No lingering ailments from years of cold exposure, arthritis maybe?

And with that he leaped onto the floor and spontaneously performed a perfectly balanced split-leg stretch.

“Now, if I had arthritis, I would not be able to do this!”

And then he held up both hands in prayer.


Which, in that moment, struck me as at least part of Wim Hof’s message.