A new BBC One show Freeze The Fear with Wim Hof starts tonight at 9pm.

Presenters Holly Willoughby and Lee Mack follow eight celebrities as they live in sub-zero conditions in the Italian mountains and are set a series of cold challenges by the record-breaking Wim Hof.

Hof, also known as “The Iceman” believes that embracing the cold can change our lives for the better and he is well known for his Wim Hof Method breathing technique.

Who is Wim Hof?

He is a 62-year-old Dutch motivational speaker and extreme athlete.

His “The Iceman” alias is because of his ability to withstand freezing temperatures.

He has set Guinness World Records for among others swimming under ice and previously held the record for a barefoot half marathon on ice and snow.

Hof says he is able to achieve these superhuman feats through his Wim Hof Method which is a combination of breathing exercises, cold exposure and meditation.

He also credits it with helping him grieve the loss of his wife and coping as he brought up their four children.

He says: “The children made me survive but it was the cold that brought me back to life. It healed me.

“Instead of being guided by my broken emotions, the cold water led me to stillness and gave my broken heart a chance to rest, restore, rehabilitate.

“That is the message I want to share. This is what I found. I want to share the love. I don’t want anyone else to be in the same stressful situation that I was left behind in.”

On his website, Hof says his Method can bring stress reduction, better sleep, and enhanced mental clarity.

He also says it is “linked” to helping to reduce the symptoms of among others rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, but these claims have not been scientifically proven.

Hof claims Oprah Winfrey, Justin Bieber and Matt Damon are fans of his Method.

What is the Wim Hof Method of breathing?

It is based on “three powerful pillars”:

  • Breathing
  • Cold therapy
  • Commitment

Hof says the Method “is about reconnecting us – to ourselves, to others and to nature”.

A round of the Wim Hof Method breathing technique is as follows:

  • Close your eyes and try to clear your mind
  • Inhale deeply through the nose or mouth, and exhale through the mouth. 
  •  Repeat this 30 or 40 times in short, powerful bursts. 
  • After the last exhalation, inhale one final time, as deeply as you can. Then let the air out and stop breathing. Hold until you feel the urge to breathe again.
  • When you need to breathe again, draw one big breath to fill your lungs. Once at full capacity, hold your breath for around 15 seconds, then let go.
  • This completes the first cycle.

This cycle can be repeated three to four times without interval.

The Method is not recommended for pregnant people or if you have a history of:

  • seizures
  • respiratory problems
  • stroke
  • high or low blood pressure

Hof warns people not to use his breathing method when in water or driving due to the risk of blacking out.

Four people drowned while attempting the Wim Hof Method in 2015 and 2016. And in 2021 a man in Singapore drowned also attempting the Method.

Lee Mack and Holly Willoughby present the BBC One series. (Photo: Pete Dadds/Hungry Bear Media/BBC)

What do critics say about it?

Some argue that the benefits of the Wim Hof Method have been overstated.

In the journal Temperature: Medical Physiology and Beyond, Professor Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, says of Hof: “With conviction, he mixes in a nonsensical way scientific terms as irrefutable evidence.” however, he added of the Method that with “a good dose of common sense…it doesn’t hurt to try”.

Harriet Hall on the website Science Based Medicine says: “His extraordinary resistance to cold is an interesting fact worthy of further investigation, but I don’t think it justifies taking cold showers or hyperventilating.”

Who is taking part in Freeze The Fear with Wim Hof ?

The participants are

  • Patrice Evra
  • Gabby Logan
  • Alfie Boe
  • Tamzin Outhwaite
  • Owain Wyn Evans
  • Dianne Buswell
  • Professor Green
  • Chelcee Grimes

How can I watch the show?

It’s on tonight at 9pm on BBC One. You can watch it on iPlayer here.

Cold water exposure on the programme was conducted in a controlled environment under the supervision of professionals and should not be tried at home.

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