The Wim Hof Method for Jiu Jitsu Performance

Wim HofWim Hof is somewhat of a medical phenomenon. He is an extreme athlete from the Netherlands who holds 26 world records and is best known for his ability to perform well in extreme cold temperatures. He holds the record for the longest ice bath, he has climbed Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro wearing nothing other than shorts and shoes, completed a full marathon above the arctic circle in Finland (again, in shorts), and boasts countless other physical feats in extreme weather conditions.

Wim Hof travels the world giving seminars on his unique method of training for these challenges. Known as the “Wim Hof Method“, it is a combination of cold exposure and breathing exercises aimed at building brown adipose tissue, reducing fat and inflammation, fortifying the immune system and raising oxygen levels for more energy and reduced stress.

Wim has trained MMA fighter Alistar Overeem in this method, worked with athetes like Laird Hamilton and has given seminars at numerous gyms including Henry Akins’ Dynamix MMA.  He claims that his method can increase athletic performance and some fighters have used it as a supplement to their training.

The Wim Hof Method begins with a simple breathing routine:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position
  2. Perform 30-40 power breaths. Inhale through the nose or mouth, and breath out through the mouth. The trick is to inhale fully, feeling the inhalation deep into your lungs, and in the lower back, and exhaling in a short, powerful burst.
  3. At the end of 30-40 inhalations, exhale fully and hold for as long as you can.
  4. Finally, once you can no longer sit without air, breath in one breath fully, expanding your chest as much as possible and hold that breath for 10 seconds.
  5. Repeat the whole series for 3 or so rounds (I do 4-5 rounds).

His method also includes cold exposure. A lot of people use cold showers to do this part of the routine.

For my training, I have only done the breathing method (I haven’t done any cold exposure yet).  The breathing method helped me in a couple of different ways. For starters, it helped me to learn “how” to breath. Prior to doing the Wim Hof Method I breathed rather shallowly. Learning this method taught me how to fully fill my lungs with air by  “breathing into my lower back” for deeper breaths. This understanding immediately applied to my jiu jitsu. I learned to pace my breathing during rounds, and how to breath deep into my back when in bottom positions. This helps me to fight off the claustrophobic feeling one gets when being crushed by an opponent, and to slow my heart rate when in bad positions. I also feel that doing the full breathing method daily somehow increases my available oxygen, or maybe I am just processing oxygen better because of it. I’m not sure the science behind it, but I think clearer, and don’t get gassed nearly as much as I did prior to using the method.

Wim has written a book detailing his method and discussing the science behind it:

The Way of the Iceman

The Way of the Iceman: How the Wim Hof Method Creates Radiant, Longterm Health

He also has a web site with instructions for the Wim Hof Method (which he gives away totally for free on his site). You can find video courses, products and other information about Wim Hof at www.wimhofmethod.com.

Here are a few YouTube videos showcasing some of Wim’s work:

Alistair Overeem talks about his experience training with Wim

Wim Hof showing Joe Rogan how to do the breathing method

Laird Hamilton talking about the benefits of the Wim Hof Method

If you’re a jiu jitsu practitioner (or participate in any other athletic activity) you will do well to give the Wim Hof Method a try. It may improve your cardio performance, and will certainly bring a calmness of mind with it’s unique process.

4 thoughts on “The Wim Hof Method for Jiu Jitsu Performance”

  1. Can you go deeper into how Wim Hof breathing helps you when under positions like mount or side control? I’ve practiced Wim’s method for over a year now. I also began BJJ at about the same. However, I’m still struggling with being under a heavier opponent… it’s so claustrophobic that I just want it to end. It’s strange because I practice Wim’s method every single day, but still seem to struggle more than other classmates with BJJ pressure.

    1. Sure, the big hurdle for me early on (and to some extent now) was that I would often hold my breath when exerting myself during rolls. I used to get real claustrophobic when in bad positions like under mount, or being stacked, and I think some of that was due to the fact that my breathing patterns during the roll were bad. When rolling I would hold my breath if trying a sweep, or a submission (similar to how one might improperly hold their breath trying to bench press a lot of weight). Because of this habit it would cause my heart rate to skyrocket. If my heart was racing from poor breathing and then I got put into a claustrophobic position then I would have a real feeling of panic. Practicing Wim Hof has taught me to be more aware of my breathing in general, and especially during rolling. I am getting better at knowing when I’m holding my breath, breathing shallowly, breathing fast, etc. If I can control my breath then I can also control the amount of tension I’m exerting, and the more I can control tension and breathing, the more relaxed I can be in bad positions. Just last night when rolling I got stuck in a heavy mount and realized that I had been breathing wrong prior to that so I was getting that panicked feeling. So I made a conscious effort to relax and breath (though it was hard to breath because my lungs were getting compressed), but once I recomposed my self and the panic went away I was able to explode with a proper escape and was able to get out that situation. I sort of use those situations to work on the skill of staying calm under pressure. If you are struggling with the same breathing issues that I am then you might benefit from ensuring that you are controlling your breathing during the whole roll, so that you’re not breathing wrong when in claustrophobic positions. I hope that helps.

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