Looking to learn more about Wim Hof ice baths and his cold therapy method? This guide has got you covered with the technique, breathwork tips, and other important elements of Wim Hof’s breathing and cold immersion method.
Known as the Iceman, Wim Hof is a leader in the personal development and cold immersion spaces. He has dozens of Guinness World Records pertaining to the cold, including the following:
– Running a barefoot half marathon in the Arctic Circle
– Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in just shorts & shoes
– Taking the world’s longest ice bath (1 hour, 53 mins)
In addition to these incredible feats, Wim has also dedicated much of his life to scientific research in cold-water exposure. Through a series of rigorous scientific studies, his team has proven that breathwork paired with cold immersion allows you to “hack” your autonomic nervous system. This not only allows you to withstand ice cold temperatures, but it’s also good for your health.
Using the cold as his teacher, Wim has shown the world that you can control your breath, heartrate, and blood circulation. This, he claims, can make you stronger, happier, and healthier.
Ready to join the thousands of other people from around the world who practice the Wim Hof Method? Here’s everything you need to know about Wim Hof ice baths, breathwork techniques, and more.
For further reading:
What is an ice bath?
Before jumping into how to take a Wim Hof ice bath, let’s first briefly cover ice baths and their health benefits.
In the world of sports, ice baths are a recovery technique after exercising. From high school athletes all the way up to Olympians, ice baths are a common practice used after high-intensity workouts. The idea is to plunge your whole body (or parts of your body) in a tub of ice-cold water, thus reducing inflammation and boosting muscle recovery.
In addition to sports (and physical therapy), ice baths have become a tool for achieving health and wellness. Here are some scientific benefits of taking regular ice baths:
– Increases energy
– Lessens stress and tension
– Strengthens the immune system
– Counteracts mental disorders like anxiety & depression
– Increases focus & concentration
– Leads to weight loss
– Enhances blood circulation
For more benefits of cold immersion (including scientific studies), check out my other article: 20 top benefits of cold water therapy.
How Wim Hof ice baths have changed my life
In my own personal life, I have seen tremendous results with the Wim Hof method of cold exposure and breathwork.
Back in 2021, I had lingering symptoms of COVID that didn’t go away after 6+ months. It was once I started doing cold immersion that my mind and body began to heal.
Fast forward a year, and I was in Iceland doing a Wim Hof retreat…hiking mountains in shorts, jumping 10 meters into Europe’s coldest lake, and swimming in ice cold rivers. Since then, I’ve been able to improve my health and physical fitness to unprecedented levels.
At age 29, I am much stronger and healthier than I was in college as a DII track athlete. An ice bath a day not only keeps the doctor away, it sharpens your mental faculties and primes your body in ways that you can’t explain.
I started out doing cold showers and ice baths in my bathtub, but I’ve since learned that having a dedicated cold plunge is one of the best investments in your health.
Here are my favorite at-home ice baths:
Now, here’s how to take an ice bath using the Wim Hof method.
Wim Hof Ice Bath – The Technique
The Wim Hof method of breathing and cold exposure is very powerful, yet simple. While you can do one without the other, they definitely go hand in hand. The first thing that happens when you submerge yourself in ice cold water is that your breathing changes. For most people, their breath becomes shallow, heart rate increases, muscles contract, and some even let out a loud shriek. This is all totally normal, especially for first time ice bathers.
Here’s my step-by-step guide to conquering the cold during a Wim Hof ice bath.
Step 1: Practice conscious breathing to clear your mind
Knowing that cold immersion can be quite a shock to the body, it’s good to take deep, slow breaths to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Taking control of your breath is ultimately what will help you get through the ice bath, so it’s good to warm up beforehand.
Disordered breathing patterns are the main culprit for health conditions like anxiety, so conscious breathing is important to practice, anyway. But it’s especially helpful for settling down the mind and body before a cold immersion.
Alternatively, you can do deep and rapid breathing to prepare for your ice bath. This will trigger your sympathetic nervous system and trip up adrenaline, which will make you feel fierce and strong. It doesn’t matter which Wim Hof ice bath breathing you do, as long as you set a clear intention behind it.
One of the pillars of the Wim Hof Method is commitment. This means that we ought to commit to the practice we’re doing, which includes being patient and focusing on what we wish to accomplish. Conscious breathing allows the mind to settle and the body to relax, which makes it easier to set a clear intention.
Step 2: Set a clear intention for your ice bath practice
Ice baths aren’t easy. It takes an enormous amount of courage, strength, and willpower to overcome the impulse to get out. To give your mind and body some much-needed reinforcement, it’s important to set a clear intention about why you’re doing this. Are you taking an ice bath to relieve stress or improve muscle recovery? Or are you trying to overcome a chronic health condition? Whatever your motivation is, be sure to get crystal clear on it before jumping in.
At the end of the day, willpower is our greatest tool to overcome any challenge in front of us. The human body is adapted to heaters and air conditioners, so we’re always somewhat comfortable in our environment. By setting a clear intention before taking the cold plunge, you will muster up all your willpower to resist the urge to back out.
Step 3: Fill the cold tub or barrel with cold water and ice cubes
If you are using a bathtub or DIY ice barrel, I recommend filling up the container with cold water before the two steps above. Then, at this stage, you can put in ice cubes and jump in!
How cold should the ice bath be, you ask? While everyone has a different opinion, the consensus is to start out between 50-60°F (10-16°C). Depending on your goals and physical abilities, you may want to start out lower or higher. I began taking ice baths during a Boston winter when the tap water was 40°F (4°C). As your body gets more acclimated with the cold, you can gradually work down towards freezing (32°F / 0°C).
Step 4: Take a deep breath and slowly enter the tub
The tub is icy and ready to hop in. But before doing so, take a deep breath, restate your intention (out loud or to yourself), and gradually enter the cold tub.
At this stage, it’s important not to force anything. It’s always better to start out low and slow. With practice, you’ll eventually be able to enter the ice bath quicker (and easier).
Step 5: Feel the power of the cold and then focus on your breath
The cold is intense and merciless. It’s important to respect the cold and let it guide you on your journey. However, if you focus the whole time on how cold you feel, you won’t make it very long.
Instead, bring your full attention to your breath. When I take Wim Hof ice baths, I make the breathing into a game. The goal for me is to elongate my exhale as much as possible. Here’s how I do it:
After taking a full inhale for a few seconds, I’ll exhale through pursed lips to make it as long as possible (usually up to 20-30 seconds). By elongating the exhale, it gives your busy brain something to focus on and it relaxes your body by stimulating the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system. If you focus intently on the depth of your inhales and slowness of your exhales, your time in the ice bath will fly by. Follow me on Instagram: @Global.Viewpoint to see how I do it!
Make the ice bath into something fun and enjoyable. Treat the experience as an ice bath meditation rather than something to fear or dread. Cold immersion can be a very grounding experience, so enjoy it!
Step 6: Feel your body with love and curiosity
The cold is a greater teacher. As you’re taking an ice bath, you will notice which parts of your body are tense or ache. You may also discover old injury sites and any other places where there are energy blockages in your body. For me, I’ve noticed blockages in my chest and shoulders, which make it challenging to get in a full inhale. My heart chakra has been a bit blocked, so I’ve set intentions during my cold immersions to clear it and allow energy to fully flow there.
At this stage, don’t beat yourself up for having body aches, tight muscles, or body contractions. People with anxiety, for example, often complain about their shallow breathing in the cold tub. This is totally normal and okay; don’t judge it, just become aware of it. Over time, your body will heal these areas, so it’s important to be patient and let love and curiosity be your guide.
Step 7: Listen to your body and get out when you feel ready
Cold immersion is not a contest. All our bodies are built differently, so don’t compare your ability to withstand cold temperatures to others.
The general rule of thumb with ice baths is to stay in for 2-3 minutes to get the full benefits. However, it’s always better to listen to your body and get out when you feel ready.
For many of us doing Wim Hof ice baths, the goal is to relax deeper and deeper in the tub until we get to a place of zen. By focusing on our breathing, we’re able to settle down the mind and body and actually enjoy the experience.
Having said this, you shouldn’t stay in the ice bath to the point where you’re shivering uncontrollably. It’s better to get out while you still feel some peace and relaxation, than to push your limits too far. Listen to your body and your intuition, and you’ll know what’s right for you.
Step 8: Settle into a horse stance and practice gentle movements & breathing
After the ice bath is over, it’s a good idea to warm up gradually. You might feel warm after getting out, but only briefly. Once the warm blood from your core mixes with the cold blood in your extremities, you will likely shiver. This sensation is called after drop, and it can be avoided if you take steps to warm up the body gradually.
After taking an ice bath, I prefer to do the following to warm up. Firstly, I’ll bend my knees and get into a horse stance. From there, I’ll take slow and deep breaths as I gently move my hands, arms, shoulders, legs, and feet. Depending on the length of the ice bath, I’ll settle in this position for 5-10 minutes and do my conscious breathing to warm up naturally. This is a safer option than doing exercise or more powerful movements immediately after. However, like anything else, it all comes down to personal preference.
Step 9: If you feel uncomfortably cold after doing the ice bath, consider other ways to warm up
As mentioned above, it’s always best to warm up naturally after an ice bath. Slow, gentle movements and conscious breathing are preferred. However, if you still feel unbearably cold after trying these methods, feel free to try other ways to warm up your body. Perhaps consider a warm shower or bath, or even a warm beverage like hot chocolate or tea. In the long term, it’s better to not rely on external mechanisms to warm up, but it doesn’t hurt to do this occasionally.
One of the main benefits of ice baths is activating brown fat. Not only will this help you warm up, but it also allows you to enhance your circulatory system and lose weight. By relying on a shower, a sauna, or a hot drink to warm up, you are not letting the body do this. Totally fine either way, but slow and natural is always the better option.
Step 10: Optional Wim Hof ice bath challenge…sing, chant, or pound your chest
You did it! You completed your Wim Hof ice water practice. Nicely done!
To celebrate all the amazing health benefits you’ve done for your mind and body, sing a celebratory song or do something more primal. Chanting and chest pounding are not uncommon in the Wim Hof cold therapy community.
Other tips for doing a Wim Hof ice bath
Always follow your intuition
When you’re taking ice baths the Wim Hof way, it’s always a good idea to be safe and listen to your body. While pushing yourself a little bit is encouraged, you should never push your body to a point where you get frostbite or have chills lasting more than a couple hours. When starting out, begin with just 30 seconds or 1 minute. Also, remember to walk into the tub gradually rather than diving in. Better safe than sorry!
Where to put your hands during an ice bath
Do you get cold hands during the winter? If so, you’ll likely face a similarly uncomfortable sensation when your hands are submerged in an ice bath. It’s normal for your hands to hurt and get numb during cold immersion. Eventually, with practice, this discomfort will go away as your circulation improves.
I personally know people who had Raynaud’s Disease who were able to cure it through ice baths and cold showers. In the meantime, consider putting your hands together or on top of your legs during the ice bath. This will help you keep your hands warmer.
How to breathe during an ice bath
One other important ice bath technique to keep in mind: breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. By breathing through your nose, you engage the diaphragm, which is one of the biggest respiratory muscles. As such, you can get a deeper inhalation, which is helpful for moving energy around.
On the exhale, breathing out through the mouth is preferred, as to stimulate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. The cold is quite a stressor on the body, so it’s a good idea to relax into it rather than fight it. This will help you build your stress tolerance and adapt to uncomfortable situations in life.
Want an added challenge during your Wim Hof ice bath? Do a head dunk!
The most sensitive part of your body is the head. While I don’t advise putting your head underwater in an ice bath for a prolonged period of time, doing it for just a few seconds is perfectly fine. I prefer to do my head dunks at the very end of my ice bath, but whatever floats your boat.
A note on taking ice baths like Wim Hof
This Wim Hof ice bath tutorial is my own practice based on my best understanding of the Wim Hof Method. So, not every step here is going to be 1-1 what Wim teaches. I did learn these techniques on a Wim Hof retreat in Iceland, as well as Wim Hof’s fundamentals course. So, it truly does work!
Last thoughts on ice bath Wim Hof
Hope you enjoyed learning about ice baths! Wim Hof’s approach to cold immersion and breathwork is incredibly powerful and effective, so it’s important to share this with everyone. Have you ever tried taking an Ice Bath the Wim Hof way? Let me know how it went in the comments below. Stay frosty! -Jon
Looking to get your own ice bath tub? Read my reviews on the best cold plunges in 2022!