The Stressful Pursuit of Relaxation 

I’ve recently become rather taken with my mitochondria and telomeres and have adopted a few practices that should keep them both happy and protect me from premature ageing. 

Telomeres sit at the ends of your chromosomes and are thought to protect against split-end damage, like aglets at the end of your shoelaces. Meditative practice and deep relaxation has been correlated with longer telomere length which in turn links favorably to a reduced biological age. That’s been enough good news for me to start sitting cross-legged in front of my Buddha statuette and to embark on a course of immersive flotation.

Apparently, shutting yourself away in a brine filled egg brings on a state of weightlessness which combined with warmth and peace, enables very deep relaxation. Personally I found bobbing around, buck-assed naked in a sensory deprivation tank, to be a wholly stressful experience.

For my first session at Floatworks, it was suggested that I start in the cactus pose as that opens out the chest for optimal deep breathing. While I like breathing, it seems I’m not so great at relaxing. 

After years of sitting at a desk, it becomes remarkably hard to fathom out when your neck is relaxed and then when you think you might be chilled, the thoughts start overtaking you. I became ridiculously concerned about prune fingers and kept trying to waggle them above the level of the water. Moving around in the saturated mineral solution led to a whole new sensation to experience.

I tried to move my arm so I could itch a tickle on my eyebrow. I felt like a drunkard attempting the nose touching test. My arm went up ok but as I brought it down again toward my face, my elbow broke the surface of the water and started to float. I then felt like a marionette with my arms controlled by a puppeteer and worse, I was dripping magnesium salts into my eye. 

It would have been less stressful if there’d been a clock in there so I could see how much of my hour slot had been consumed, I needed to know how much relaxation I had left to endure. I kept thinking that maybe I should nip out and have a look at my phone. 

As soon as the music started again I relaxed. At least I knew what time it was then as there were just 10 minutes left. Mind you. Even the music was stressful. It kept building up in volume and I thought perhaps it was going to turn into a form of sound torture to get stragglers out of the pod. Of course it had to be reasonably loud so that you could hear it with the tightly fitted ear plugs. Unfortunately I had forgotten to fit the plugs and by that point I was bobbing around in a sort of reverse breaststroke with head well above water level and my ears in full functioning order.  

I’ve now “floated” for 3 hour sessions and each time it gets easier to relax, the biggest difference I’ve noticed is that I can immediately assume a relaxed neck position and while I am now taking my watch in to give me some sense of time elapsed, I don’t start fidgeting until 40 minutes have passed. After that length of time my breathing and mindful “imagine yourself as a mountain” practices are exhausted and I am back to drumming my fingers impatiently against the Pod roof.

I’ll be going back again but I’m going to save my next session until I’m sleep deprived and in desperate need of 40 mins of Zen.

First Powerlifting Competition – Debrief

It’s amazing how nervous a grown woman can get when faced with the prospect of lifting weights in a public arena. 

For this, my first powerlifting competition I’d managed to work myself into quite a state about various disastrous possibilities including the risk of my underwear being deemed “illegal” due to its excess of supportive elastic fibres. 

I basically had an anxiety for every conceivable stage of the day:

  • Weigh In – am I going to have to strip to my pants?
  • Kit check – not to sound pant obsessed but are my regular sloggi control pants too supportive for an unequipped event?
  • Warm Up – having never navigated a proper gym where you have to share equipment with others, how was I going to muscle my way to a rack
  • Lifting – would I miss my call to lift? Would I flunk the lift by missing the calls or generally being too weedy to warrant a place in the competition?

I think you get the gist – I was on edge. 

Anyway, it turns out even old timers are nervous on meet days but it wears off, a bit, during the course of the day. 

Cold brew coffeeMy first weightlifting competition ended up being a great experience and not all of my fears materialised. No one showed any interest in my pants but I did get called to lift before I’d warmed up and then almost missed my bench Press as I’d relaxed so much I was wandering round Shoreditch sampling cold brew coffee. 

In terms of actual lifting it all went pretty much to plan. I wasn’t going in with any heroic notions, I just wanted to keep my nerve, get a score and hopefully make all my recent training PBs official. 

Starting with the squat, I planned 105kg, 110kg and 115kg, with my major concern being depth. The first squat on shaky legs felt fine but apparently one of the side judges gave me a red flag for depth. With two whites it counted as a good lift but I made sure there was no doubt for the next two attempts. 

I was less fixed in my plans for the Bench Press. I was going to open with 55kg but was undecided whether I should then jump straight to my previous tentative PB of 60kg. That’s what I did and nailed 60kg for lift 2 which left me firmly in unknown territory. I took my time at the desk pondering what I should list for my third attempt. The girls at the desk egged me on to “go hard or go home” so I slapped another 5kg on and asked for 65kg. 

I knew it was foolhardy. It doesn’t sound like much but on a bench press 5kg can make the difference between a legal lift and a crushed windpipe. I couldn’t budge the thing more than a millimetre off my chest and the spotters very quickly rescued me from imminent suffocation. 

Finally the deadlift. This is usually my nemesis so again I planned a steady climb to my 115kg PB. 

105kg went up easy so I dithered with my second weight selection at 112kg and went for a teeny tiny PB for my final lift, at 117.5kg. 

And an end to the day with a teeny PB for me 117.5kg #goheavysocks #liftwithpride #ladieswholift #greaterlondonpowerlifting

A post shared by 💪 @warriorwoman (@warriorwoman) on

I left the event with an overall score of 292.5kg, a Deadlift PB, the knowledge that I’ve got more in the tank for both squat and deadlift and an eagerness to earn that 65kg bench. 

I also left the building with a medal for coming second in my weight class. We can gloss over the fact that there were only two competitors in the >84kg weight class because obviously the other heavyweights were scared off by the intimidating competition!

Fab day, made so much better by the great camaraderie from the rest of the Strength Ambassadors powerlifting team and coach Sally Moss. It was such good fun to share the stresses and the glory – 9 personal bests between us! Lynn was there, supporting me through the long day and taking some fab videos of our efforts. 

Strength Ambassadors Powerlifting Team

The venue, Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club, looks like an old skool boxing club and I was obviously a bit intimidated by the place but the members and judges and other competitors were great and put us all at ease. 

I’m coming back to crack a 300kg total next time. 

Transformative Power of Lifting Heavy

I start a new job next week which means I have plenty of days off while I consume my remaining leave allowance. That’s time off when I’d like to be training, lifting weights, possibly running (only kidding), but as I’m only days away from my first powerlifting competition I’m supposed to be in taper mode. 

That just means I’m sitting around thinking about weightlifting and building myself up into a minor panic about the unknown. 

To be honest there really isn’t much to panic about. This is only meant to be fun, I don’t have any goals beyond getting out there and conquering nerves. I would obviously like to get some decent lifts but I don’t need to surpass my recent PB’s to feel like the day was worth it. Getting out there, getting a score for each lift and enjoying myself will be enough. 

When I first announced that I would be entering a powerlifting competition, I listed out a series of bodyweight targets that I wanted to achieve. These remain targets for the year but are not for this meet, which came sooner than I was anticipating. Hopefully I will have another attempt later in the year where I can build on the consistency I’ve shown so far. 

Earlier this week I posted a video of myself flopping at the deadlift only days out from the big day. It’s a little anxiety provoking at this late stage to be failing on lifts but its common to start fretting before a significant challenge.

Catalyst Athletics just posted a useful blog on Fighting Self Doubt in Weightlifting – it came at a prescient point. 

Just for the sake of balance I thought it was time to reflect on the progress made since I started to lift heavy, rather than dwelling on a weight that steadfastly refused to budge from the ground. 

Like many women, I have always, always, struggled with my weight and had crappy self-esteem issues as a result. I’ve lost weight and I’ve run thousands of miles in the process, and yet continued to have crappy self-esteem issues. 

A few years ago I started a trial program with Julia Buckley which involved lifting heavy dumbbells. It awoke a desire in me to be strong and I soon moved onto the barbell and found myself working with Sally Moss and her Strength Ambassadors crew. 

Now that I’ve accepted the value of consistency, I’ve started to see some gains and I’m really enjoying working alongside a group of women equally motivated to get god-damn strong. This time last year I was struggling with 80kg squats and deadlifts and I’ve now added 35kg to both and although we’ll find out for sure on Saturday, I think the squats are now full depth unlike my early attempts at going heavy. 

In terms of bodyweight, despite some ups and downs I actually weigh the same as I did last year but my body image has improved exponentially. 

Now I know this body can lift heavy shit and that makes it alright in my books. 

Insult and Injury – Powerlifting Progress

Back in Jan I announced my plans to focus on consistency in training and to enter a powerlifting competition within the year.
Squat Depth

Almost immediately after that declaration it was pointed out that my heavy squats were nowhere near the legal depth and to add injury to insult, my lower back decided it was a good time to rebel by tearing on a warm up Deadlift rep. So in early Jan, I quit drinking alcohol to remove all anti-focus excuses, drew up my plan of action and then found myself flat out on my back trying to recuperate my spinal erectors while pondering the mechanics of proper squat depth.

Fortunately my crossfit gym has a very good physio and one session with Mike seemed to be all I needed to start really low weight squats again. He set me off on some remedial exercises that involved wrenching my hips out of their sockets and then squatting face up against a wall. Within a few weeks I was daring to Deadlift again – gently and sumo styling.

Around the same time I discovered ROMwod which is a subscription based daily workout program, designed to improve mobility and range of motion via the practice of static holds.

ROMwodIt might sound a bit dull but it’s been a revelation for me. I do it almost daily, holding the kung fu style poses for upto 4 mins at a time, breathing deeply and listening to the meditative music. I feel totally zen at the end of the session and I credit the practice with my newly acquired legal squat depth.

ROMwod is easily the best £13 I spend each month.

So all in all, I seem to be in a reasonably good place at the moment. My lifts appear legal and my body is robust enough to be challenged again. In training for my first powerlifting meet with Strength Ambassadors, I have managed to secure personal bests in all 3 lifts and have finally cracked the psychological 100kg Deadlift barrier that has been taunting me for over a year.

Good job really because my first powerlifting meet is only 5 days away!

Asics Fujitrabuco Trail Shoe

It seems nowadays that only the lure of a new pair of trainers can encourage me out of the house for a run. Fortunately Millet Sports decided it was time I laced up again as they sent me a jazzy pair of Asics trail shoes to trial. 

Asics Trail ShoesWithin moments of opening the box, to a new pair of Asics Gel Fujitrabuco, I’m a runner again. I was down on Mitcham Common bounding over the hillocks and tufts, putting the day-glo trail shoes through their paces. 

I’ve just about gone full circle with running shoes. I’ve tried some amazing extremes, like mattress sized Hoka and minimal Vibram FiveFingers but recently I’ve been looking back fondly at the relatively normal Asics trainers that I started out with many moons ago.

I still remember the joy of the early runs on new Gel Kayano trainers where I felt at one with my shoe. Body and sole gliding with grace. 

Obviously I’ve lost a few brain cells since I last ran properly as I’m sure I never trogged anywhere with grace and unfortunately nothing much has changed. I huffed and puffed around the common in my usual ungainly style but who cares? I loved it. 

Trail running can be so liberating and I think I will spend a bit more time in my oddly coloured pink and peach Asics trail shoes, trying to rediscover my running alter ego. 

Thriva Home blood testing and Hashimotos

Back in 2014 I posted about my newly discovered autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I’d acquired the diagnosis rather opportunistically while I was taking up an offer of a performance blood scan and I responded with suitable outrage and a desire to make lifestyle changes that might put my body back on an even keel.

Automimmunity feels to be the scourge of the modern age and I’ve become an ardent advocate of the role of diet in the control of inflammation. The kitchen is full to overflowing with assorted microbial foodstuffs and we cycle our way through recipes in books like the The Paleo Approach and the Weston A Price bible.

I came away with my new diagnosis and then immediately started my first round of the Whole 30. This is a rather strict, paleo style elimination diet. No alcohol, no dairy, no sugar, no grains. It’s tough but I have never felt so fantastic. Full of energy, drive and awareness. Apart from maybe the first week when I felt flat, grumpy and lethargic.

Having completed the 30 day program, feeling totally amazing, you’d think I would just continue on to the Whole Forever. I didn’t of course. Instead I fell right back off the wagon and added almost everything back into my diet.

Fortunately some habits did stick. I rarely have milk in my drinks now and I am approximately 80% gluten-free. Cakes, bread and pastries are a very rare component of my diet, having been replaced by home-made fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi.

I went back for another blood test shortly after finishing the Whole 30 and there were some very satisfactory improvements noted in the blood markers. My antibody levels had dropped by half and @sportiedoc was quite impressed. The top box shows my initial results with the thyroglobulin antibody levels showing values well above the normal range. It’s this marker that indicated Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. The lower box is from the test about 3 months later and although it is still abnormal the antibody levels have dropped to 209 from 529.

Hashimotos blood test
It had been my attention to keep a regular eye on my blood results. I wanted to see quite how relaxed I could let my diet go while still keeping the antibodies in check but private blood tests are pretty pricey and 3 years passed before I knew it.

This is where Thriva makes its entrance. I noticed an ad in Outdoor Fitness mag for a home blood testing service and was amazed that they have an advanced thyroid scan available via the DIY kit for £69. You can of course get blood tests for free via your GP but getting them to do the right ones is challenging. I’m a bit of a cynic and think that our health service would be better called an illness service, my experience is that my GP is only interested in basic thyroid function tests that will alert us to catastrophic failure of the thyroid, that can then be treated with external hormone replacement. They are less interested in indicators of future problems, knowledge of which may empower us to make healthier choices.

Rant over. Hopefully it explains why I pay for my own blood tests. If you follow this Thriva home blood test link you will get £10 off as well.

The kit arrived promptly and when I plucked up courage I had a go at filling the vial. It requires quite a lot of blood from a finger prick and I made a bit of a mess of the job. It’s not really a hard task but it was challenging to take the video and collect the blood. Try not to let this video put you off (and listen on mute if you are sensitive to cursing!).

Thriva blood test resultsI dropped the vial in the post box and 2 days later the results were emailed back to me.

And what fantastic results they were. Antibody levels are right back to normal. In fact if this was my first test I would no longer get the Hashimotos diagnosis.

Obviously I am really happy about that. It’s great news but what can you learn from my experience?

You can be absolutely sure that the last 3 years have not been run as a perfectly controlled experiment. I have been chopping and changing my diet and exercise routines, left right and centre. I’m a starter-leaver by nature and rarely follow any protocol fully or for the prescribed length of time. The most significant actions I’ve taken are as follows, any of which may have affected my immune response:

  • reduced gluten consumption
  • increased fermented food products
  • low processed food intake
  • no alcohol for the last 3 months (and counting)
  • heavy weight training
  • reduced cardio
  • cold water swimming and cold showers
  • Wim Hof breathing

It’s all been a bit ad hoc and not terribly consistent but the message I am left with is that you can influence your body’s response by your actions. Maybe you just need to do your own experimentation, perhaps you could pick one from the list and see how it goes. Now that home blood testing is a reality you can monitor the impacts on a regular basis.

Here’s a final chart showing the 3 readings (R1 = first reading, R3 = latest reading) for each blood test.

Anita Extreme Sports Bra

For obvious reasons I am a big fan of companies that produce clothes for the larger sportswoman. Nike have recently launched a plus size range of clobber that I am overjoyed with and Anita have been making bras in a wide range of sizes for ages. 

Anita sent me a sample of their extreme control sports bra to test recently and so I’ve put it through its paces so you don’t have to. 

This is a soft bra without underwire which is a bonus for weight training as there is no risk of being skewered in the armpit when you reach depth in the squat. 

The disadvantage of a non-wired bra is the mono-boob, which I am modelling for you here. No discernable cleavage, just a shelf. 

Deep squat without underwire

It’s billed as an extreme control bra and did fair well at more dynamic crossfit sessions. It’s hard to challenge a bra more than skipping, running and burpees and in all cases the bra functioned well. 

All in all, it’s proved to be comfortable and is still my go to bra when exercising. However, I can regularly be spotted rearranging myself due to the mono-boob effect and don’t tend to hang around in it long after my training for the same reason. 

A Renaissance Diet and IIFYM Calculator

I’ve started working with a new coach who as well as writing me a powerlifting program, has started to delve into the obvious problems with my nutritional approach. He came up with a ferociously tricky program for me to follow which was based heavily on the recommendations from the Renaissance Diet Book.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading around these ideas and then drawing up an IIFYM and Renaissance Diet calculator (link to spreadsheet) that will determine both my macros for any given goal and also churn out the macros per meal as recommended by the Renaissance Diet. I thought I would save you the bother of having to recreate, or worse still, buy your own calculator by sharing the workbook and instructions here and on the warriorwoman Resources page.

I will provide enough of an overview of the Renaissance Diet for you to be able to use the calculator but I won’t delve into the scientific background or some of the minutiae of the method. For that you will have to stump up and pay the exorbitant fee for the original book.

What is the Renaissance Diet

It’s a diet program designed by a group of smart exercise scientists (they have PhDs) who are clearly very experienced in strength sports and physical transformation. They use a program called Renaissance Periodisation where your macronutrients and calorie target are based on your weight, goals and training volume. These targets are then split into individual meal targets with the composition varying around your training program.

So for example, on a training day with 6 meals in total, your protein would be split equally across all meals as the aim is to maintain a steady supply of protein, fat would be omitted from your mid-training meal as its slower to digest and your carbs would be heavily weighted to the meals pre, during and post-workout.

In terms of food composition they provide a pick list of lean protein sources, veg, healthy fats and carbs.

What do I think of the Renaissance Diet?

Well, I like elements of it and hate others.

The macro composition targets seem robust and are based on per lb of bodyweight goals – we all know as strength athletes that we could probably afford to squeeze some more protein into our diets. Splitting these goals down per day is just about manageable but splitting down to individual meal targets is a right royal pain in the ass! I don’t know how people do it. In my Renaissance Diet workbook I do provide a meal calculator so you can follow along to the rigid guidelines if desired. I would be very interested to see how you manage each meal though. I’ve tried to draw up a few meal ideas that work but I have to call upon foodstuffs with single macronutrient contents in order to make it work.

The food composition causes me some difficulties too. The protein sources are all lean cuts of meat and include the abomination that is egg whites. I absolutely cannot countenance throwing away a nutritious egg yolk in order to reconstitute a meal with an egg white and some other form of healthy fat, eg. avocado or nut butter.

Renaissance DietAll is not lost though. The guys who designed the Renaissance Diet have already prioritized each of their principles and as I am long way from the performance end of the scale where marginal gains are the name of the game, I am more than happy to abide by the first two principles which should get me about 80% of the rewards.

Principles in order of priority:

  1. Calorie consumption
  2. Macro composition
  3. Meal Timing
  4. Food composition
  5. Supplements

If It Fits Your Macros – IIFYM

IIFYM is a popular movement with crossfitters and other strength athletes. It follows the belief that macro composition and calorie balance is the key to achieving your body goals. In that respect they have a lot in common with the Renaissance Diet guys. 

Doughnuts and DeadliftsWhere they differ is in food composition. IIFYM don’t give two hoots about food composition, a carb is a carb as far as they are concerned. If you want a doughnut and you need a shed load of carbs to meet your macronutrient targets then go ahead – have the doughnut.

It’s the inspiration for my favourite brand of t-shirts: Deadlifts and Doughnuts.

The IIFYM and Renaissance Diet Workbook

This IIFYM and Renaissance Diet calculator (link to spreadsheet) workbook should work for you whether you want to determine daily macronutrient goals for IIFYM or the meal specific macros for the Renaissance Diet. It should also work for those who want to lose weight like me or those who are seeking bodyweight gains.

Macro Calculator

Start in the macro calculator tab and enter your personal details in the orange boxes, some of these are drop down selections to restrict your answers. Please note that I have not protected this spreadsheet in anyway, which means you are free to amend to suit your own needs but also means you can mess the whole thing up if you overwrite a formula. 

The calculator used the Harris-Benedict formula to calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate) it then adjusts this based on your weight loss / gain goals and then applies a multiplier based on your activity level.

The macros are then split in the following priority order:

  1. Protein based on 0.8 – 1.2 times bodyweight in pounds regardless of activity levels
  2. Carbs are split based on activity levels from 0.5 – 2 times bodyweight in pounds
  3. Fat consumes the remaining calories. It isn’t allowed to drop below 10% (grams) of your bodyweight in lbs e.g. Min fat consumption for a 200lb person is 20g. The balance is then extracted from the carb target.

The area in the blue box reveals your target macronutrient targets based on your training volume. For rest days and light workouts use the LIGHT section. You can use MODERATE or HIGH where your strength routines become more intense – see the guide next to the blue box.

IIFYM and Renaissance diet Macronutrient Calculator
If you try this for a couple of weeks and your weight isn’t going in the right direction then alter the calorie adjustment number in the appropriate direction and re-test. Although this looks like a precision exercise the formula for calculating BMR is based on averages of average people and we are anything but average!

That’s all you need for IIFYM go forth armed with these macro proportions, download MyFitnessPal and start recording. For a while I imagine you will get to the end of the day either needing a pure protein meal (try Quark) or pure carbs (an easier predicament), but as you get more experienced you’ll probably be able to balance out your days.

RP Meal Calculator

If you want to rule your gut with an iron rod then you can delve into the RP Meal Calculator tab

you must first complete the macro calculator described above and then your only action on the new tab is to choose the number of meals you want to go for – either 5 or 6 in my workbook although I think you can go as high as 8 in the full program.

The table in the blue box then reveals your per meal macronutrient targets in grams. You can move each meal number around according to when you exercise. It is initial set up to reflect a morning workout routine.

Renaissance Diet Meal Plan
Let me know how you get on.

Following the Ice Man – 10 Weeks with Wim Hof

I’ve been aware of Wim Hof, the crazy Ice Man, for a few years now but have become increasingly interested in his methods since I adopted my own fascination with the cold.

Wim Hof IcemanSo far, my highlight of the year has been hacking our thermostatic shower so that it ceased to kick out any warmth. I think the teenagers in the house might call that “Breaking the Shower” but I’m happy. It means that I am now able to stand under icy torrents and disturb the household by squealing behind the locked bathroom door. It also meant I could finally sign up for the 10 week course in the Wim Hof Method, which requires a commitment to strange breathing and daily cold showers – squealing optional.

Wim Hof uses breathing techniques, really a controlled form of hyperventilation, along with cold exposure to exert control of his autonomic nervous system. Benefits cited are improved immunity levels, reduction in automimmune symptoms and improved healing. I’m happy to accept all those benefits but was particularly interested in what might be considered the side effects of the practice, such as cold adaptation, increased breath hold capacity, possible fat loss via BAT (Brown Adipose Tissue) activation and improved mental well being.

I’ve just started week 4 of the Wim Hof breathing course and thought it was time to give a brief review of my experience so far.

Week 1
Immediately you are required to adopt the daily practice starting with 3 hyperventilation and breath hold sequences to be followed by a cold shower. The cold showers start off gently, starting and ending with warm water with a 30 second cold interlude.

Despite regularly swimming in 2-8’C water, I found the showers to be a shock and the squealing did continue for a couple of weeks of the practice.

The breathing cycle is a bit odd. I don’t really like the experience of hyperventilation and associated tingling and light-headedness. I do quite like the challenge of breath holding though and by the end of week 1 I was very excited to have held my breath for just over 2 minutes. Before this point I felt I would burst after 40 seconds. If you don’t think this sounds like a long time just try it now, hold you breath and time it. I bet you won’t get anywhere near 2 mins.

In the associated video Wim also take you through some stretching exercises but I have to confess to not taking this bit very seriously.

Week 2
In week 2 we add an extra breathing cycle that ends in a breath hold (after the inhalation) where you perform as many push ups as you can before breathing again. You need to set a baseline number before you start – mine was 19 incline push ups. By the end of the week I managed to increase this to 30 without any breath. I find this quite fascinating and wonder if it will translate well to my powerlifting, perhaps if I hyperventilate before a squat, I will be able to knock out a few more reps.

Showers are now following a cold/hot/cold/hot/cold sequence with each cold exposure lasting 30 secs. I’m still squealing.

Week 3
Week 3 feels like a bit of break through. Showers are now up to 60 second stints cold/hot/cold but I feel strong enough to handle 2 mins of cold only. Focussing on calm breathing I’m able to have my first silent shower and actually feel as though I am generating my own heat.

The breathing has increased to 5 cycles with the last being the push-up routine. I drifted off during the last breath hold and forgot that I was short of breath managing 2mins 6secs in total.

I haven’t managed to stick to doing all my practice on a daily basis but I try to do it as often as I can and don’t move to the next week until I’ve completed 7 sessions. I’m sure it is more effective if you can get into a consistent routine but life happens.

Wim Hof Method and Pulse Oximetry

Having read “What Doesn’t Kill Us” I decided to play around with a pulse oximeter while doing the breathing routine. I read that Wim’s trick for ensuring that his team don’t suffer from high altitude sickness during rapid ascents of Mount Kilimanjaro is to monitor blood oxygen levels regularly and practice hyperventilation to keep the levels above 95%.

This instagram video shows me at the end of my hyperventilation and shows what my spO2 levels look like during the breath hold.

Do I have to sign up and pay for the 10 week course to practice the Wim Hof Method?

Absolutely not, although I wouldn’t discourage you if you’re tempted. I think it’s quite good value as courses go. You get a PDF copy of Wim’s first book, a course guide and workbook and permanent access to 10 hour long videos by the charismatic guy himself. 

If you don’t have the money I would recommend spending £3.99 on the app and following the mini video for each breathing cycle. I find myself using this on a daily basis anyway and just watch the video once a week as a spur to action.

There are enough blog reviews that explain week by week what the schedule is. Basically 3-4 breathing cycles and a final one for breath hold press-ups. Daily cold showers of increasing length with the occasional challenge thrown in such as 10 minute cold showers or ice bath.

The videos also include a series of yoga type exercises but I have to admit that I rarely do this element of the course.

Where can I find out more about Wim Hof?

Video about Wim Hof
This video from Vice provides an excellent introduction to the mad cap ways of the Hof.


Wim Hof has used meditation to stay submerged in ice for hours, run a marathon in the desert with no water and scientifically proved that he can influence his immune system at will. In this new film, he taught us how all of this is possible.

Podcasts about Wim Hof
Wim Hof is popping up on all sorts of podcasts nowadays but these are some of my favourites:
Ben Greenfield – Conquer the Cold
Tim Ferriss – The Iceman Interview 2015

Books about Wim Hof
Wim Hof has a couple of books out himself, the most recent one, The Way of the Iceman, being the most readable.
I really enjoyed What Doesn’t Kill Us, by author Simon Carney. Simon set off with the intention of exposing Wim Hof as a false guru but ended up absorbing his method and hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro in his swimming trunks.

Blogs about the Wim Hof Method
Twenty weeks with Wim Hof – Rose works her way through two 10 week cycles of the Wim Hof Method, the first was conducted as a DIY course using materials and advice freely available and the second following along to the online video course.
I’ve really enjoyed Alan Reiner‘s discussions on the nature of the Wim Hof method and his experience with the course, particularly because he has also hooked himself up to a pulse oximeter. I’m rather jealous that his always you to record data to a csv file.

The Mind Numbing Thrill of the Cold

I’ve spent much of the last year becoming acquainted with cold water, in some cases extremely cold water, and my life has become noticeably enriched as a result.

It started back in May. I was feeling a bit aimless, in need of a new challenge. Not wanting to sign up and pay for yet another half marathon that I wouldn’t train for, I decided perhaps a swimming event would do the job. I was thinking that a mile swim in the London docks would give me the necessary spur to action.  

Buoyed by the potential for new watery challenges, I unearthed my wetsuit that had been mothballing since my last mile swim and spent the next hour trying to peel it on. I got it on. Almost didn’t get it off again, then decided that a cold water swim might prove more challenging than I had hoped. 

Still somewhat lifted by optimism I headed over to Tooting Bec Lido, the largest outdoor lido in Europe, and bobbed around in the water sans wetsuit. 

By the time I got out again, maybe 4 lengths or 360m later, I had discarded my distance swim plans and replaced it with a commitment to swim through the winter at the lido. 

That first dip was so powerful and so invigorating that I never wanted it to stop. I was no longer interested in medals and publicly noted achievements. I just wanted the thrill of escaping very cold water. 

I wasn’t very aware of water temperature when I first started. It always felt bloody cold but was probably around 18′ C when I started and climbed as high as 22′ C in the summer months. Regardless, it always felt shockingly thrilling and was always followed by a buzz of zen. I often arrived at the car park feeling edgy and wired but always left feeling a sense of monastic calm. 

As Wim Hof says, in The Way of the Iceman:

“The body-shocking severity of The Cold—merciless and righteous, bitch-slaps the chattering mind into silence.”

That’s about the crux of it. 

My water temperature obsession kicked in as the lido closed to the public in October. It felt like the pool temperature plummeted as the crowds dispersed and I was nervously watching the mercury drop towards 10’C. 

cold water
At this temperature I reassessed my translation of the word shocking. It’s hard to do justice to the experience of cold water but as a recent Guardian journalist noted, cold water swimmers are finely calibrated. We gather around discussing our perceived measurements of water temperature and always deal in figures to the nearest tenth of a degree. 

I’ve now experienced every degree between 10 and 1’ C. I’ve bobbed around with ice and hope to get colder still before the winter is over and I have to deal with the inevitable climb of the mercury. In my mind, truly cold hits below 7’ C. The Lone Swimmer, in his precise open water temperature scale describes this as the door to cold, with 6’ C being “Damn, that Hurts”, 5’C being “Holy F*ck!”.

It’s hard to distinguish the pain differentials on paper but at 6 degrees my sinuses start squeal when I put my face in the water and I seem to naturally switch from swimming lengths to widths. My body obviously doubts its ability to come back from a 90m length. At 2’ C it can hardly be called swimming anymore, I’m in the water for less than 5 mins, most of which is spent trying to pick up courage to submerge myself, then I whizz through 2 widths and I am out, flailing at my goggles with my lumpen, useless hands.

The pain is exquisite, awful, enlivening and I totally recommend it.

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