Does the Wim Hof Breathing Exercise Work?

The Wim Hof breathing method was developed by the Dutch athlete Wim Hof. This breathing technique aims to increase energy and focus, boost the immune system, and decrease stress levels. Wim Hof breathing combines fast breathing with periods of holding your breath.

This article discusses Wim Hof breathing techniques—what they are, how to do them, and their benefits and risks.

Woman on beach taking a deep breath.

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What Is Wim Hof Breathing?

Wim Hof is an extreme athlete who earned the nickname "The Iceman" for his extraordinary ability to withstand freezing temperatures—swimming under ice, running barefoot in the snow, and spending long periods submerged in cold water.

Wim Hof breathing is one of the three pillars of the Wim Hof Method, which combines the power of breathing with two other pillars—cold therapy and personal commitment—to help a person reach their full potential.

Consult Your Healthcare Provider

Check with your healthcare provider to be sure these techniques are safe for you—particularly if you have breathing issues or underlying health conditions.

How Do You Do Wim Hof Breathing Exercises?

Wim Hof breathing exercises combine hyperventilation—fast breathing—with periods of holding the breath.

Sit or lie in a comfortable position where your breathing will not be restricted. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.

  1. Take a deep breath through your nose or mouth, filling your belly and chest with air.
  2. Breathe out through your mouth by relaxing—don't force the air out of your lungs.
  3. Repeat this consistently for 30 to 40 breaths.
  4. After you breathe out on your final repetition, breathe in as deeply as you can.
  5. Breathe out and hold it without sipping in any air until you feel the urge to breathe again.
  6. Breathe in again, as deeply as you can. Hold your breath for about 15 seconds, then exhale.

Repeat these steps in order, without pausing, for three to four cycles.

Safety and Precautions

Wim Hof breathing exercises can lead to lightheadedness, particularly when you first begin to practice them. You might also feel tingling in your fingers and feet. Although it's rare, Wim Hof breathing can also cause a person to pass out. Be sure to do these exercises in a safe environment—avoid doing them near water or while operating a motor vehicle.

Benefits of Wim Hof Breathing

There are many reported benefits of Wim Hof breathing and the Wim Hof Method by people who practice them, such as increased "positive" stress, faster muscle recovery, and improved muscle performance.

Increased Positive Stress

Most of the time, stress is viewed negatively. However, there are also positive stressors. Exposing yourself to brief periods of positive stress stimulates the nervous system to produce excitement and satisfaction. This type of stress is created naturally during new exhilarating experiences.

The Wim Hof Method can also create positive stress. Taking an ice bath or cold shower causes the same "excitement" response by the nervous system. With Wim Hof breathing, a person can learn to calm this response while exposed to the cold. With repeated practice, being able to calm yourself while in the cold is reported to help you become less affected by negative stressors in life.

Faster Muscle Recovery

Wim Hof breathing may speed up muscle recovery after a workout. Exercise causes muscle inflammation, often leading to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—typically around 24 to 72 hours after a workout.

Cold therapy, such as an ice bath, reduces muscle inflammation and soreness. When combined with Wim Hof breathing techniques, cold therapy can also help release toxins from the bloodstream in the form of carbon dioxide. People who practice the Wim Hof Method often report improved sleep, which further helps with muscle recovery.

Improved Athletic Performance

The Wim Hof Method is believed to improve athletic performance through increased endurance, improved mental focus, faster recovery time, better sleep, and improved cardiovascular (heart) health.

What the Research Says

More research is needed to confirm the reported benefits of Wim Hof breathing and the Wim Hof Method.

A 2014 study demonstrated that people who practiced the Wim Hof Method released higher than normal levels of anti-inflammatory mediators when injected with endotoxin (a toxin found in bacterial cells), suggesting that the practice may boost the immune system.

Regarding athletic performance, a 2021 pilot study found no significant changes or improvements in sprinting performance after a single session of Wim Hof breathing.

Another study performed in 2022 found that Wim Hof breathing techniques did not improve breathing abilities in teenage runners during an exercise test.

Summary

Wim Hof breathing exercises are one of the three pillars of the Wim Hof Method. This breathing technique involves fast breathing and periods of breath-holding.

Combined with exposure to cold and a commitment to self-improvement, these exercises are believed to offer various benefits, such as improved immune health, faster muscle recovery, better sleep, positive stress response, and enhanced athletic performance. However, more research is needed to confirm these reported benefits.

A Word From Verywell

While Wim Hof breathing is reported to have many physical and emotional benefits, it is not without potential risks. Speak with your healthcare provider if you're interested in trying Wim Hof breathing techniques.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does the Wim Hof breathing method increase lung capacity?

    There is limited research on the benefits of Wim Hof breathing methods. A study performed in 2022 found that these techniques did not improve breathing abilities during an exercise test.

  • Should I do Wim Hof techniques before or after a workout?

    The creator of the Wim Hof technique recommends completing breathing exercises right after waking up or on an empty stomach before a meal.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wim Hof Method. What is the Wim Hof Method?

  2. Wim Hof Method. Wim Hof Method breathing.

  3. Wim Hof Method. Positive stress.

  4. Wim Hof Method. Sports performance training.

  5. Kox M, van Eijk LT, Zwaag J, et al. Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humansProc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014;111(20):7379-7384. doi:10.1073/pnas.1322174111

  6. Citherlet T, Crettaz von Roten F, Kayser B, et al. Acute effects of the wim hof breathing method on repeated sprint ability: a pilot studyFront Sports Act Living. 2021;0. doi:10.3389/fspor.2021.700757

  7. Marko D, Bahenský P, Bunc V, et al. Does Wim Hof Method improve breathing economy during exercise? Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2022;11(8):2218. doi:10.3390/jcm11082218

By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.