Founder Of The Spartan Race Joe De Sena talks with extreme athlete and Iceman, Wim Hof, about why we should do hard things.
We used to think Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena was the most intense guy we knew when it came to running very long distances under extreme duress, dealing with punishing treks and generally pushing the human body to its limits. A little something about Joe: He carries his kettlebell with him wherever he goes—flights, meetings, lunch. Then he introduced us to “The Iceman,” Wim Hof. Wim holds numerous world records for being submerged in cold temperatures for extensive periods of time, wades into glacial water in his shorts for fun and has run a half marathon on ice while barefoot. What would drive someone to do these things? Who better to ask him than Joe?
Joe De Sena: How are you doing?
Wim Hof: Great. I’m good because I took a cold shower this morning.
Joe: I’m in the cold shower right now, naked, while I’m talking to you.
Joe: So I’ve got the full experience.
Wim: Wow. Yeah, man. A cold shower a day keeps the doctor away.
Joe: First question, Iceman: Why should we do hard things in life? Like, everybody says to me, “Joe, this stuff is crazy–”
Wim: You know what I say, always? If you don’t go to the cold, then the cold will come to you. So, be prepared. When the cold comes to you, then you have been in the cold, then you know the stuff, then you know how to deal with stress. The cold is a great way to deal with stress. Stress comes in many ways—mentally, emotional, material, now it’s viral, and the money and the anxiety around it, jobs get lost. All that is stress, stress, stress. The cold is able to teach you how to connect with the stress mechanisms in the brain.
So the cold is my teacher to learn how to deal with stress. So you know what is hard? When stress comes to you and you are not prepared. The cold prepared me for the hardship of life.
Joe: Is it fair to say, in life, we wanna be on offense, not defense? Is that a good way to say it?
Wim: Yes. Offense is the best defense. And we will be capable of doing that, by going on daily into the cold shower. So, in the cold shower, you shut up, you learn to deal with this stress, and the body is able to deal with stress. You will see that. If you take a couple of days, into the cold shower, like 30 seconds, 45 seconds, one minute, it goes naturally, it builds up without force. That means, we have a natural condition to deal with stress, only we have not activated it. But when you get into the activation of those stress mechanisms through regular practice, in the cold shower, then you are in the offense, and the offense is the best defense.
Joe: Now, what about the actual science behind it? Because some people might not be believers. What science proves that doing hard stuff—taking cold showers, breathing the Wim Hof method—works? What do we have for proof?
Wim: Oh, the proof is, for example, I train people how to deal with an injection of an E. coli bacteria within a couple of days, which recreates normally, a severe deep sickness. People begin to uncontrollably shiver and get headaches, a deep fever, muscle ache, etc. It’s a controlled experiment and thousands of people have done it and they all became sick. Now, those people I trained, within a couple days, they were able to defy the injection of the E. coli bacteria on the immune system. They stayed cool. Literally and figure of speech, cool.
They knew how to boost their immune system and the stress of the bacterial injection could not touch them. That’s a sign, it changed our insight into what we are capable of within our physiology, completely, mentally. So, if you go into regular practice of the cold, say, cold showers, every day, it is the best vascular fitness training you can imagine. We have 70,000 miles of vascular channels, within each and every one of us, and they contain millions of little muscles.
I am talking the capillaries, the arteries and the veins, and when they are stimulated through a cold shower, the heart rate will go down to 20 to 30 beats a minute, 24 hours a day. That is what regular practice in the cold shower does, and then the stress goes away and those millions of little muscles in the vascular system are stimulated, they help the blood flow go through a lot better. Together with oxygen, nutrients and vitamins, they reach the cells a lot better, the transportation is better and more effective, without resistance, there’s a better flow, and the result is a lot more energy.
So, the result of cold shower practice, all being scientifically proven, is that the stress resilience goes up, stress in general goes down because the heart rate goes down and the energy goes way up. So, it’s a little investment, to step back to your vascular, natural condition to deal with stress, and to get more energy, and feel just bloody great. And bloody, you know bloody, the blood flow, bloody great.
If you don’t go to the cold, then the cold will come to you.
Joe: I love it, I love it. So, frequency is suggested at least once. I’ve been doing two a day for, I don’t know, decades, at night, too, before I go to bed. Is it suggested or not suggested?
Wim: Yeah. It is suggested because it also activates the adrenal access, it spikes it and then it comes down. That means that, to reset the body, when you want to go to sleep and you still have stress, oxidative stress, going into the cold shower makes it go away. Because then, the adrenal will spike, getting rid of all the chemical and biochemical residue in the body. Your body knows that you want to sleep and your body knows that you need sleep.
So then the melatonin in the body freed of biochemical residue is able to set in and the little sandman comes and the sleep is going to be very nice.
Joe: Wim Hof, you have a breathing methodology and yeah, doesn’t everybody just breathe perfectly? Because otherwise, we would be dead. I’m being facetious, obviously.
Wim: Yeah, exactly, because we are closed over there and we live under a great demand of … we have to do this or we have to do that, we have a lot of worry, and we don’t breathe deeply enough anymore, and that is on a chronic basis. Because we are destimulated, we live in comfort-zone behavior, we are closed all the time and, thus, we don’t live with our bodies in reality—the reality of cold and heat, and pressure, and danger. It’s just not there anymore, and thus, the breathing becomes faint, and when it becomes shallow, you build up a deficit of the wide chemistry inside, which needs a deeper breathing, and thus, more oxygen is able to set in, creating more energy on certain levels.
And it’s just not there, and that’s why a lot of disease comes in, long-term building up of a deficit through shallow breathing. You need breathing exercises, they rebalance our pH levels, and the pH levels then become perfect and then the nervous system is able to travel through the electricity system perfectly doing its vital job and such. So it is the shallow breathing versus deeper breathing that brings back the right pH levels in the blood.
Joe: That is beautiful. And what does a day in the life of Wim Hof look like? How should we start and end our day?
Wim: I got my old woman, I got my little child, my oldest one is 37, my youngest one is 3 years old, and he is ridiculously cute. That’s the first thing I see in the morning, and my beautiful wife. And then, I do my exercises, and go into the cold shower. I love life, I’m alive and I’m gonna change the world. That’s the way I rise every day.
Joe: What time do you wake up? Do you wake up and go to bed the same time every day?
Wim: More or less, yes. When I feel tired, I go to bed, and then, boom, when I wake up, I’m on. I have about 26 of these world records and that’s enough to have shown the capability of going beyond perceived limits of the mind and the body. I know how to use the mind and the body and to apply it into studies for mankind’s benefit, for problems we could not solve before.
Because nobody went out of this comfort-zone behavior, but I did, and I challenge my mind, and I challenge my body. Right now, I’m with scientists all over the world, and I’m showing how to beat inflammation, for example. Like, Covid-19 is going on, creating a lot of anxiety and a lot of inflammation. In 2014, I showed how to suppress inflammation effectively through these breathing techniques that have been found by me, in the cold. Through the cold practice, I noticed I was breathing deeper, and that makes a difference.
And they say, ‘This is not normal. Normally it’s not done by humans.’
I could stay longer in the cold. Icy cold water is an enormous stress on the body and I knew how to regulate and how to stay longer in the ice water for a ridiculous amount of time, just because I control my inner physiology much deeper than science thought possible. And then they get me into the hospital, they gave me an injection where normally, that injection with the bacteria creates disease and fever, and headaches, but with me—nothing. And then they said, “But you are the Iceman.” Yes, and they say, “This is not normal. Normally it’s not done by humans”— to have such a control of say, a bacteria, a virus, creating inflammation, and I had just done that.
And then I said, “No, give me a group of people.” And they gave me a group of people and I showed, within a couple of days, them being able to suppress the inflammation caused by the bacteria injection. I changed the perception of what we are able to do, related to disease and to inflammation. And this changed the books in the university already, because it was unknown that the autonomic nervous system could be influenced. Autonomic means outside of our will, and now with this insight, we show this.
So, I’m a man on a mission to show the whole world—beyond dogma, beyond speculation, through science—that we are capable of dealing with this situation of bacteria, viruses and depression. I go with these scientists, I show it time and time again, in research, in labs, in brain scans, in blood samples, that we are able to defy the old paradigm of dependency on doctors and medics, and pills, and this, and that. We have the doctor inside, that’s my mission, that’s the way I wake up every day and I need to exercise patience with the world.
Because the world consists of a system that wants to make money on people who are sick. That’s the wrong model. You need to heal people, and not to sell your stock all the time and keep them as clients. I’m not into politics, I’m just for the benefits of the human mind because I believe that every person has a right to be happy, strong and healthy. We have all the tools and we should teach our kids through schools to be not only good in history and geography and language, and mathematics, but in happiness, strength and health. And that’s what my battle is. I’m fighting the existing paradigm and I’m showing this with the top researchers in the world.
Joe: I love it. I agree with you one thousand percent. It’s not about money, it’s not about clients, it’s about getting people healthy and fit. So you and I are holding hands on that.
Wim: Right on.
Joe: We know Wim Hof pushes cold showers, we know he pushes breathing. What about diet, what kind of diet do you recommend?
Wim: First of all, let food be food. All the shit they put inside the food, that is not good. So, food should be food, that is number one. And then two, having an appetite and hunger makes our bodies revive through the neurology of the nervous system. Our eyes become bigger, our energy becomes swifter, we are on the alert, we are searching for food and we have to find it so our senses sharpen. That is the revision of our neurology.
The feeling I have to search for food, I have to go, I’m on the alert. So that revision is part, and then, when food comes, it should be delicious because that food is exerted for the body to have the nutrients, etc. It’s not only nutrients and vitamins and yeah, it’s nice for building up, it should be a feast.
Last thing, I eat once a day, and that’s more than enough. Detox, if you breathe better, then you produce more molecules, through better breathing, you don’t need as much food as we think. So, I eat once a day. Imagine when there were no supermarkets, no restaurants, no anything. People had to go for food and it’s not guaranteed that you have breakfast, and lunch, and dinner.
You, you have to look for it and looking for it, I miss that in society because it’s a neurological revision. Nature did something good, back then, in bringing the neurological revision and when you are hungry, it’s not only to find food, but the revision is also there. We miss out on that feeling, because that is actually a nice feeling. When you feel alive, you go and search for food. It’s nice, it’s good, you feel alive, you feel the purpose. And you know what? This is an activation, when you feel really hungry. It’s the activation of the brain stem, and in the brain stem, there is the food, there’s the flight, there is the fight, there is the flee, there is the purpose of life itself.
And it should be felt every day. Think about what food is, because it’s spiritual. It is physical, spiritual and that’s the way it should be every day. If you’ve got that, then man, enjoy the party, enjoy the meal, enjoy life.
Joe: Wim, you’re awesome, thank you for taking the time. I’m sorry we took time away from your 3-year-old.
Wim: I loved it. I love this. We are kindred spirits and we bring something good to the world.
Joe: I’m even keeping my kettlebell cold now because of you.