Well, another exciting couple days in WHM training. But first something that came up that surprised me and is changing the way I think about the WHM training.
I watched Wim Hof’s fourth week video (of the 10-week course), and Wim was talking about reducing bloodflow to your extremities during cold exposure. At first I thought this was an academic exercise, because I was convinced that during cold exposure you want to actually increase bloodflow to keep the extremities warm. But then it was confirmed in this article I ran across about his marathon in the Namibian desert without drinking water. The relevant quote:
Having already run a marathon above the Article Circle in 2009, Wim, from Amsterdam, was keen to challenge himself and his theories on heat as opposed to the cold.
‘In the cold I centre myself and my breathing to transfer all my heat into the centre of my body, ‘ he said.
‘My arms and legs become cold but my major organs are at 37 degrees. This was the same procedure for my desert run.‘
This makes sense for ice water immersion because the temperature is exactly 32 F, which is brutal but it can’t cause frostbite. However if you’re running a marathon at the Arctic circle where temperatures are at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit, it seems like you wouldn’t have many fingers or toes left after 4 hours of exposure with minimal circulation. I’m very tempted to write and ask him about this.
On the plus side, I had been worried that I was doing something wrong since my hands and feet suffer substantially during cold immersion. I guess it’s a feature, not a bug.
A Cold Bath and the “Afterdrop”
If you read Becoming the Iceman, the phrase “afterdrop” shows up a lot. In WHM training, you spend a lot of time in cold water and controlling your body’s reaction to it, but in that time the blood circulating loses temperature to the cold skin, and average blood temperature drops (is this just “core body temperature” dropping?). There’s a bit of lag time between the actual cold exposure and the time your body senses and reacts to it.
I did my greatest challenge yet: I sat in a 55 F cold bath for 11 minutes! And without any shivering, gasping or serious discomfort until the last minute. Of course, when I was done, I jumped into a warm shower. I felt great for a couple minutes, but then the afterdrop kicked in. I was shivering and chattering my teeth while in the hot shower! Luckily the hard shivering only lasted a few minutes, but it still took a while to feel warm and normal again.
For reference, I took my temperature under my tongue after the bath, and it measured 35.6C = 96.0 F. Unfortunately I forgot to take the temperature beforehand for comparison, but I think it’s clear that my core temperature did drop non-negligibly in that 11 minutes.
This would’ve freaked me out, but I also read enough of the book above to know this was both expected and normal. In the case of Justin’s training, he would go swimming in the icy river with Wim for 15-20 minutes, and then track how long before the afterdrop kicked in and how long it lasted. The goal, of course, was to track how efficiently his body was able to restore heat, and eventually avoid the afterdrop altogether.
Bath vs Shower
My decision to try a cold bath was due to my wild success with the cold showers in the previous days. I expected this the bath to be substantially harder, because you get full cold pressure all over the body instead of just a few parts of it.
However, this wasn’t actually as difficult as I expected, and I think I know why: when you are in the shower, you have cold water streams running over you, and their paths down to your feet are very inconsistent, constantly changing. This means that the parts of your body exposed to icy water are constantly changing. And that rapid shifting is extremely uncomfortable and distracting.
The cold bath, despite exposing more body surface area to cold water, provides a constant cold pressure. This cold is consistent, and actually will cause a mild numbness within 30-60 seconds of being exposed. This numbness won’t make the difference between success and failure, and only lasts a few minutes, but it definitely takes a little edge off the hardest part of the challenge.
Further, regardless of the numbness, I found myself more comfortable and relaxed. It was quiet and I could hear my body. I could hold my breath and visualize heat being generated in my body. And I didn’t have to be standing and holding onto the shower door. And I didn’t have the loud shower water banging against me and splashing all around me.
I was actually comfortable to practice some WHM breathing while in the cold bath. I would do ten WHM breaths, and then do a 1-2 minute inhale retention with my eyes closed. Just like in my previous post about the ten-minute cold shower, my mind would enter a different place, and this time I actually would feel warm! Unfortunately, as soon as I exhaled and started breathing normally again, I would feel cold again. The instant warmth I felt when I started a new retention round made me smile.
The Success Story so Far
I am super psyched about my progress. In four weeks I went from gasping for 20 seconds in a cold shower, to taking a numbingly-cold bath for 11 minutes without shivering or even really suffering. I get the sense that this is exactly where Wim Hof expects you to be by this point in the training, and hence why he recommended you try the ten-minute exposure in the fourth week.
However, it’s clear what my progress really is: a deprogramming of my natural immune system response to cold exposure. I have taught myself how to control my cold response through breathing and focus, and my body has learned some natural adaptations to intense cold exposure. What I’m missing is the part where I actually generate extra heat to compensate for the heat loss.
It’s possible I am generating some extra heat. Perhaps an untrained person would lose more core temperature than I did in 11 minutes in 55 F water. But I still lost a lot relative to climbing snowy mountain in a speedo. I think this is where the adrenaline comes in, and my goal now is to work on making that inner fire hotter and brighter (and ultimately extract more juice from my adrenal glands).
However, the fact that I can comfortably sit in a cold bath for 10 minutes gives me the capability to practice the WHM breathing and meditation while cold-exposed, providing an efficient test bed for improving my technique. When I was doing just 1.5 minute cold showers, it was too loud, too uncomfortable and too short a time to really do any kind of focused breathing, visualization, etc.