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Pumping Air |

Article by | Written By JERRY HITCHCOCK | The Coeur d' Alene Press

Photo courtesy of INSIDEHOOK.COM
-Wim Hof concentrates while enduring an ice bath to set a world record in Hong Kong in December 2010. Hof remained submerged for 1 hour, 44 minutes. Since then he has increased his time to 1 hours, 52 minutes.-

If you’re not familiar with Laird Hamilton, then just take my word for it — he’s extreme.

An extreme athlete, extreme inventor and extreme liver of life.

Hamilton is responsible for many of the innovations in water sports. After a long surfing career, Hamilton set his sights on breaking new ground, coming up with tow-in surfing, stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), and hydrofoil boarding.

Always searching for an edge (and more fitness), Hamilton set his focus on his own breathing.

Yes, that’s right — breathing for fitness.

I came across an article written by Hamilton partially describing his breathing exercises, which were developed by Danish “super athlete” Wim Hof. Hof, also known as the “ice man,” has used a combination of breathing exercises and cold-water immersion to allow him to pull off athletic feats such as climbing 20,000 feet up Mount Everest wearing just a bathing suit and shoes, running a desert marathon without a sip of water, and staying submerged in an ice bath for nearly two hours.

These accomplishments might seem impossible to some. Surely, you say, the human body cannot withstand those extremes. But he has proven that he can endure such things and come back for more.

While a positive attitude and focus are key, Hof’s technique apparently allows the body to reap the benefits of improved circulation and immune system function and prevent disease.

Some journalist/athletes have tried his methods and have seen results in as little as 10 days, reporting a warmer feeling within their bodies.

Scientists are looking into the techniques and speculate that the exercises are allowing for increased oxygen saturation in muscle and allowing the body to become more adaptable to oxygen absorption and more efficient athletic performance. Claims of reduced inflammation and easing of chronic pain are also being studied.

As a guy who has less than stellar circulation in his body, I’m intrigued enough to give the breathing-and-cold-shower routine a shot.

The cold shower thing had me interested enough, I needed to find out why and how it works. Apparently, a shower with cold water forces your blood to head to your organs to keep them heated. A warm shower will move the blood outward, heading toward your skin to keep from overheating your organs.

Alternating between warm and cold water increases the blood movement (flow), and a steady routine of swapping temperature will improve circulation.

Hof has taken this process one step further, since he has trained his body to adjust to the frigid showers and baths that allow him to set world records.

When the weather turns cold, my extremities tend to lose heat, and my hands and feet suffer, unless I takes measure to preserve body heat. If these techniques can help in that area, I’ll be happy but if they can aid in my ability to become more fit overall, I’ll be ecstatic.

I don’t plan on spending time outdoors in the winter in my swimsuit, and I can assure you any marathon I run, water will be utilized.

In Hamilton’s article he mentions the abdominal breathing process, which improves air flow into your lungs and increases blood flow to and from your heart. This type of breathing improves the flow of lymph (the fluid that circulates through the lymphatic system) which is partially made up of white blood cells. This helps boost your immune system.

Hamilton uses nose breathing, which forces you into diaphragm breathing more often that mouth breathing.

As a cyclist, I’m hoping this technique can allow me to more easily utilize nose breathing, to stave off exhaustion during competition.

Hamilton said nose breathing has to be practiced to make it a natural habit. He suggests trying to nose breathe for an entire day, which will force you to be more efficient as it cranks up your heart rate. This air-deprived state increases the difficulty of workouts, so much so that when you return to normal breathing, exercise will feel easier, so you can bump up your pace and intensity.

Hamilton first sought out the ability to hold his breath longer while surfing, knowing that when he got caught under the heavy surf and its underwater currents, the longer he could hold his breath, the less chance he had of drowning.

Other Hamilton tips include interval breathing. This involves a workout where you breathe normally for a certain amount of time, then hold your breath for an equal part of the workout. While the workout will become harder, the activity itself will eventually become easier.

Also, Hamilton uses the “breathe for 100” exercise. He will take 100 inhalations through the nose, with exhales out his mouth. Next, he’ll take 100 breaths through one nostril, and breathe out through the other. He’ll increase the difficulty by holding his breath after he has inhaled and exhaled (exhaled, hold, inhale, hold, exhale, hold, and so on).

While Hof’s methods are available in book form or as a membership at his website (, here is the beginner’s guide I’ll be following for 10 weeks, to see if this will help me in the long run. As with any other form of training, supervision is suggested for your safety. The steps are designed to be followed each morning before food, coffee and training:

1. Lie on the ground (on your back) or sit with your back straight.

2. Inhale deeply, drawing in as much air as you can using your diaphragm.

3. Exhale fully but not forcefully; simply let the breath exit your body.

4. Repeat inhales and exhales for 30 to 40 second rounds with your own rhythm.

5. On the last round, exhale and hold off taking a breath until your body feels the need to breathe.

6. Inhale deeply, then hold onto your breath for 10 seconds.

7. Repeat steps 3-6 for three or four rounds.

8. After your final round, walk into a cold shower. First try to stay under the water for 30 seconds, before gradually increasing until you reach 3-5 minutes in duration.

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