What Doesn't Kill Us traces our evolutionary journey back to a time when survival depended on how well we adapted to the environment around us. Our ancestors crossed the Alps in animal skins and colonized the New World in loin cloths. They evaded predators and built civilizations with just their raw brainpower and inner grit. But things have changed and now comfort is king. Today we live in the thrall of constant climate control and exercise only when our office schedules permit. The technologies that we use to make us comfortable are so all-encompassing that they sever the biological link to a changing environment. Now we hate the cold and the heat. We suffer from autoimmune diseases. And many of us are chronically overweight. Most of us don't even realize that natural variation—sweating and shivering—is actually good for us.
What Doesn't Kill Us uncovers how just about anyone can reclaim a measure of our species' evolutionary strength by tapping into the things that feel uncomfortable. When we slightly reimagine how our body fits into the world, we can condition ourselves to find resilience in unfamiliar environments.
The feeling that something is missing from our daily routines is growing and has spawned a movement. Every year, millions of people forgo traditional gyms and push the limits of human endurance by doing boot camp style workouts in raw conditions. These extreme athletes train in CrossFit boxes, compete in Tough Mudders and challenge themselves in Spartan races. They are connecting with their environment and, whether they realize it or not, are changing their bodies.
No one exemplifies this better than Dutch fitness guru Wim Hof, whose remarkable ability to control his body temperature in extreme cold has sparked a whirlwind of scientific study. Because of him, scientists in the United States and Europe are just beginning to understand how cold adaptation might help combat autoimmune diseases and chronic pains and, in some cases, even reverse diabetes.
Award winning investigative journalist, Scott Carney dives into the fundamental philosophy at the root of this movement in three interlocking narratives. His own journey culminates in a record bending 28-hour climb up to the snowy peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro wearing nothing but a pair of running shorts and sneakers.
Scott Carney is an investigative journalist and anthropologist whose stories blend narrative non-fiction with ethnography. He has been a contributing editor at Wired and his work also appears in Mother Jones, Foreign Policy, Playboy, Details, Discover, Outside, and Fast Company. He regularly appears on variety of radio and television stations from NPR to National Geographic TV. In 2010 he won the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism for the story “Meet the Parents” which tracked an international kidnapping-to-adoption ring . His first book, “The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers” was published by William Morrow in 2011 and won the 2012 Clarion Award for best non-fiction book. He first traveled to India while he was a student at Kenyon College in 1998 and over the course of several years inside and outside the classroom he learned Hindi. In 2004 he received a MA in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. All told, he has spent more than half a decade in South Asia. He lives in Long Beach, CA.
Some of the concepts a bit ridiculous. Still, a strong 4 stars.
Q: I suck in a cool breath of air and focus my eyes on the blazing orange rock in front of me. I exhale a low guttural roar, like a dragon just waking from a thousand-year slumber. I feel the energy begin to build. The rhythm of the air quickens. My toes start to tingle inside my hiking boots. The world starts to brighten in my vision as if there are two dawns working at the same time—one tied to the rising of the sun, the other in the depths of my own mind. A coil of heat starts behind my ears like someone has lit a fuse. It arcs across my shoulders and down the curve of my spine. There’s no point in checking the temperature. It’s well below freezing and I’m already burning up. (c) Q: I don’t like to suffer. Nor do I particularly want to be cold, wet, or hungry. If I had a spirit animal it would probably be a jellyfish floating in an ocean of perpetual comfort. Every now and then I’d snack on some passing phytoplankton, or whatever it is that jellyfish snack on, and I’d use the tidal forces of the ocean to keep me at the optimal depth. If I were lucky enough to have come into the world as a Turritopsis dohrnii, the so-called “immortal jellyfish,” then I wouldn’t even have to worry about death. When my last days approached, I could simply shrivel into a ball of goo and reemerge a few hours later as a freshly minted juvenile version of myself. Yes, it would be awesome to be a jellyfish. Unfortunately, as it turns out, I am not an amorphous blob of sea-goop. As a human I am merely the most recent iteration of several hundred million years of evolutionary development from the time we were all just muck in a primordial soup. Most of those previous generations had it pretty rough. There were predators to outwit, famines to endure, species-ending cataclysms to evade, and an ever-changing struggle to survive in outright hostile environments. And, let’s be real, most of those would-be ancestors died along the way without passing on their genes. (c) Q: Anatomically modern humans have lived on the planet for almost 200,000 years. That means your officemate who sits on a rolling chair beneath fluorescent lights all day has pretty much the same basic body as the prehistoric caveman who made spear points out of flint to hunt antelope. To get from there to here humans faced countless challenges as we fled predators, froze in snowstorms, sought shelter from the rain, hunted and gathered our food, and continued breathing despite suffocating heat. Until very recently there was never a time when comfort could be taken for granted—there was always a balance between the effort we expended and the downtime we earned. For the bulk of that time we managed these feats without even a shred of what anyone today would consider modern technology. Instead, we had to be strong to survive. If your pasty-skinned officemate had the ability to travel back in time and meet one of his prehistoric ancestors it would be a very bad idea for him to challenge that caveman to a footrace or a wrestling match. (c) Q: With no challenge to overcome, frontier to press, or threat to flee from, the humans of this millennium are overstuffed, overheated, and understimulated. The struggles of us privileged denizens of the developed world—getting a job, funding a retirement, getting kids into a good school, posting the exactly right social media update—pale in comparison to the daily threats of death or deprivation that our ancestors faced. (c) Q: There is a growing consensus among many scientists and athletes that humans were not built for eternal and effortless homeostasis. Evolution made us seek comfort because comfort was never the norm. Human biology needs stress—not the sort of stress that damages muscle, gets us eaten by a bear, or degrades our physiques—but the sort of environmental and physical oscillations that invigorates our nervous systems. We’ve been honed over millennia to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Those fluctuations are ingrained in our physiology in countless ways that are, for the most part, unconnected to our conscious minds. (c) Q: Today tens of thousands of people are discovering that the environment contains hidden tools for hacking the nervous system. But no matter what they might be able to accomplish, they’re not superhuman. The fortitude they find comes from within the body itself. When they forego a few creature comforts and delve more deeply into their own biology they’re becoming more human. For at least half a century the conventional wisdom about maintaining good physical health has rested on the twin pillars of diet and exercise. While those are no doubt vital, there’s an equally important, but completely ignored, third pillar. And what’s more? By incorporating environmental training into your daily routine, you will achieve big results in very little time. (c) Q: The grounding concepts of the Wim Hof Method are simple enough: By routinely stimulating a stress response a person can take some modest control of their fight-or-flight reactions. A thousand cold showers have made me a warrior in my bathroom and even the snow, but no human has ever evolved to thrive at 18,000 feet. (c)
Going from books that do what they say on the tin to books that don't, we have "What Doesn't Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude and Environmental Conditioning will Renew our Lost Evolutionary Strength". Just copy-pasting that title is exhausting.
18 is an obscene number of words to cram into a title, especially when you're leaving out three more - "makes us stronger" - in an effort to be ... succinct? Clever?
Why did I even get this book? Oh, that's right - I wanted to see how freezing water, extreme altitude, and environmental conditioning would renew our lost evolutionary strength. Did I find those things out? No.
This book is basically one long promotion for some self-absorbed Dutch guy named Wim Hof. Hof comes across as a capitalist yogi type who shares his Jedi mind tricks with celebrities and others wealthy enough to buy time with him. The Hof is full of wisdom in the form of mostly breathing techniques designed to help his disciples perform well in crazy athletic competitions and fool their bodies into thinking it isn't cold in minus 30-degree weather.
Breathe fast so you absorb more oxygen into your bloodstream, hold your breath while doing pushups, and take cold showers seems to be the gist of it. Oh, and spend time shirtless in subzero temperatures to build up something called "brown fat" which enables you to spend time shirtless in subzero temperatures without feeling cold ... or something.
Wait ... did I just make this book sound interesting? I didn't mean to, because it isn't. Or I should say, it's interesting in the way the spiel of a conman is interesting until you get to the end and realize he's just trying to get you to invest your life savings into an energy drink pyramid scheme because man, once your friends buy in you're all going to make so much money making all that money!
This is a book clearly designed for the CrossFit crowd. If competing in an obstacle course where you have a solid chance of breaking a bone or knocking a joint out of place really gets your rocks off, then you are this book's target audience. This type of masochism is accepted in the way that, say, self-flagellation isn't because it's sold under the guise of increasing your strength. Notice I said increasing strength rather than increasing health. That's because many of the activities mentioned here carry the very real possibility of injury and/or death. But hey, whatever makes you feel like you're renewing your lost evolutionary strength!
It's not that I disagree with the effectiveness of the practices described in this book, it's that I don't care. I have no plans to summit Mount Kilimanjaro shirtless in record time or swim in a Polish lake in the middle of winter. If that's something that adds a sense of accomplishment to the lives of others, then great, good luck to them.
While I find cold showers refreshing after an intense bout of cardio, one of the benefits, in my view, of living in the 21st century is that you don't need to train to survive hours outdoors in frigid temperatures without clothes on, or learn how to hold your breath for several minutes underwater without coming up for air. If we were living in some kind of water world perhaps those skills would be useful. As it stands now, the whole idea just sounds like something celebrities and those with more money than brains do in order to try and find some meaning in their existence. I'm personally quite content looking on through the window of a nice heated room while you prance around in subzero temperatures like David Blaine training for his next act.
Did I mention I'm clearly not the intended audience for this book?
There is a brief, and completely unnecessary, mention of Napolean's ill-fated invasion of Russia, and then a similarly brief mention of the Nazi's ill-fated invasion of Russia, all of which is apparently there to say that, yeah, Russia is cold and those armies weren't well equipped to deal with it. I think that's something we all knew already.
Carney will once in a while throw something interesting out there, like how placebos are almost as effective as a lot of doctor-prescribed drugs, but then he won't go into detail explaining the psychological reasons for that. Why? Because that would have taken away from time better spent talking about Orlando Bloom hauling weights around in a pool.
Similarly, other than apparently having stores of "brown fat", what were things our ancient ancestors did to survive in harsh elements? What about other more recent peoples, like the Native Americans? Carney doesn't think it's worth taking time to write about those things, because he's busy counting the celebrities hanging out poolside at Laird Hamilton's swanky Malibu mansion.
There are a number of things that would have made this worth reading, but Carney has clearly written this book with his very image-conscious Playboy audience in mind, and they're probably happy with it as is. While I think that that gym-selfie snapping Instagram crowd of CrossFit masochists have more in common with Neanderthals than just their penchant for suffering, they need their authors too. I just wish Carney - or, more likely, his publisher - had been honest when titling this book.
A more fitting title would have been: "More Pain, More Gain: How Suffering, Taking Yourself To The Brink Of Unconsciousness, And Risking Life And Limb Totally Make Your Life As An Overprivileged Asshole Sound Cool".
Boy do I have mixed feelings about this book. I'll start with the positives. How exciting is it to think that some athletes and fringe researchers have begun to discover one of the missing elements that's creating so many of our modern problems. Being in the cold can help you lose weight and reverse autoimmune diseases? So strange! So provoking. This is the kind of stuff I eat up. It's not just fascinating new medical science, it's stuff you can apply to your own life.
Well, sort of.
This book begins with Carney telling us how he made his living debunking the pseudoscience so prevalent among athletes and those with more money than sense (kelp tape?). And then he meets Wim Hof, a Dutchman known as "The Iceman" who has used a combination of breathing techniques, meditation, and ice baths to develop a superhuman cold resistance. Carney sort of talks about the techniques, but since I was listening to an audiobook and not taking notes, they're not things I think I can do. Mostly it involves taking cold showers and holding your breath while doing push-ups. Carney says when he started, he was ashamed to admit he could only do twenty push ups, which he chalked up to being middle aged. Since I'm ten years older than him and am damn proud of having worked back up to the point where I can do twenty push-ups, this is the sort of humblebrag that sets my teeth on edge. You can tell that Carney has really been swept up in the Wim Hof method. I don't think he really explains it well enough for a reader to replicate it, but I guess that's understandable. Hof is making a living off of his techniques, franchising and doing speaking tours. Carney was probably contractually prohibited from sharing it.
But it was still annoying. Carney talks a little bit about brown fat, and how it's designed to burn white fat to create warmth, but how most people don't have it anymore. But Wim Hof can basically activate it by clenching his muscles, which sounds like magic. And then Carney says that there's research that brown fat isn't the whole story, when it comes to cold resistance. So, okay. Carney also talks to some army researchers, and tells the story about how a half-dozen army rangers in training died of hypothermia. He hints that they are doing research into using a part of the technique he learned from Hof "the wedge" which is basically using meditation and breath control to gain more control over all autonomic systems, including immuno-response. Carney also talks about how Napoleon's army died in Russia from cold, and relays reports of all the things that hypothermia does to you physically and mentally. But research is still out on how to prevent that, he posits, which is really disappointing. I don't like to read pop science that says "we have this problem ... and we don't know how to solve it." It's like reading a murder mystery that never tells you who did it. Unsatisfying.
Carney also visits some guy who's an expert surfer, who is also a devotee of Wim Hof. He runs an elite gym out of his house where celebrities lift weights under water and take ice baths and do other things that would probably quadruple their life insurance premiums. Then he talks about obstacle courses, such as Tough Mudder and Tough Guy, where people with more money than sense hurt themselves for the endorphin rush. ("Endorphin rush" is exactly why people go to BDSM clubs or cut themselves, but hurting yourself through physical exertion is more socially acceptable.) As you might expect from my tone, these are not my sort of people. To me, if you have to seek out suffering, your life is one of too much ease and leisure. Paying $200 to run in a muddy obstacle course where you will almost certainly get injured seems foolish and spoiled because there are so many ways for you to become exhausted that don't cost money--such as, you know, working.
Carney visits a sports medicine guy and does a battery of tests, hoping to find out that he's somehow superhuman, but he's disappointed to learn he will never be an elite athlete. But because he is a noviate of the cult of Wim Hof, he has learned enough of the breathing techniques to climb Kilamanjaro shirtless, along with a group of other people, most of whom make it. They are also accompanied by porters, who also climb Kilamanjaro, but who do it to make a living rather than to prove that they "conquered" the mountain, but no one gives credit to poor, brown people who climb mountains, just to rich white ones. After he climbs the mountain, (in record time and shirtless, naturally), he goes back to the sports medicine guy who does a bunch of tests and finds out that Carney is, if not exactly superhuman, still better than an ordinary guy because of his super duper training.
So that's kind of a happy resolution, from a memoir standpoint. Ordinary guy seeks to debunk prophet, instead becomes enraptured by prophet's ways, learns prophet's technique, travels the world meeting other acolytes, and eventually transforms himself into a superior man. It's like Eat, Pray, Love for the Crossfit set. Except this is not billed as a memoir, but a book about how we can use environmental training to recover our lost evolutionary sense. And I judge books by their covers, and specifically, their titles. If you promise the book is about something, you should fulfill that promise. This book talks about how one guy uses breathing techniques and ice baths to help him with both cold tolerance and altitude tolerance. And this guy's autonomic control is so good that he can change his immune response, and one of his acolytes was able to heal himself quickly while another one recovered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. So if you're reading this trying to answer the question the title promises it will answer, the only thing you could do is go to learn more about Wim Hof. Which makes it like one of those webinars where "you will learn so much" about how to solve that problem you have, and when you sit through it, you learn that really, the only way they'll teach you what you wanted to learn is if you sign up for the very expensive course series and this thing you sat through was just an advertisement. Hof should pay Carney a commission.
I feel like the focus of this book was scattered. It talked more about people Carney admires than cold adaptation and evolutionary science. Maybe part of that is that there isn't much science behind it. Humans, like every other mammal, are adapted to cold, because if we weren't, we wouldn't have made it through the last ice age. To me it's fascinating because it's the old idea that if you are adapted to something, even something toxic, you eventually require that thing, whether it's cold or bauxite in the soil or periods of extreme dryness ("you" in this sentence meaning a living organism, not specifically a human.)
It would have been interesting to learn more about how people historically dealt with (or didn't deal with) the cold. How did the Native Americans of the North East who dressed only in loincloths learn to deal with the cold? Was it just acclimatization, or did they do breathless pushups too? He does have a few minutes where he talks about it, but I wanted moere. That, to me, was far, far more fascinating than the details of Carney's hike or which celebrities think it's a good idea to lift weights at the bottom of a pool. Because clearly if some peoples wear clothes and some people don't, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Like, maybe, you have to eat more if you're not wearing furs and it's snowing out. And if you're not of the demographic who can afford to fly to different continents several times a year, not having to acquire more food is a significant consideration.
It also would have been interesting to learn more about altitude sickness, how some people deal with it and some don't. The way they dealt with it was "breathe more" which seems pretty damn obvious on the face of it, but maybe it's easier said than done. It would have been nice to touch on heat conditioning as well, not just because the book promised "environmental conditioning" but because with global warming, it's going to be something we all think about sooner or later (though I think that flooding and disease will be more important.) As someone who was raised in the desert and suffered far too many times from sun poisoning or heat exhaustion, how to deal with excessive heat would have been a handy thing to know. For most of the world, for most of the year, cold is an exotic luxury. Tropical and subtropical people never get it, and temperate people only have it part of the year. Dunking yourself in icy water presumes you have access to both ice and water.
So the book was successful in that it gave me ideas, and piqued my interest about something I hadn't considered before, namely, what do we lose when we don't get cold? But it would have been far more satisfying with a different author, say, Mary Roach, who really delved deep into the subject and talked a lot about what research had been done, tying it with historical anecdotes. Instead it read like a series of long articles, a memoir with interviews of people loosely collated around the theme of "guys who admire Wim Hof." About 30% of the book dealt with how the environment affects the human body, and the rest of it was interviews with rich people who seek out suffering because they're trying to make themselves physically superior.
The book was very fun and interesting to read. The big idea is how we can use environmental factors such as cold exposure to trigger certain adaptive mechanisms that might be beneficial for our wellbeing. My favorite part of this book were the stories how hardcore obstacle course races become popular and the part talking about different types of training regimes that incorporated the Wim Hof's breathing method. Overall, fun read. Check it out!
Provocative, mostly clear-eyed look at Wim Hof and his remarkable claims. Hof is the originator of a method of breathing, cold exposure, and meditation that supposedly has very remarkable effects on health, endurance, and even the immune system.
Carney, a journalist, tests out the method in a variety of extreme environments (including summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro shirtless) and reports on his experiences. There's also a fair amount of reporting into related fitness gurus, like surfer/Santa Monica trainer Laird Hamilton. Carney goes in skeptical but comes out a believer.
One nice thing about this book is how frank and clear Carney is, including his descriptions of specific exercises, his routines, and his experiences. His honesty (mentioning even small failings or discrepancies) goes a long way toward increasing his credibility.
Overall, a fascinating book that is encouraging me to experiment with these breathing exercises myself.
Scott Carney's What Doesn't Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength is probably the most clear-sighted book you'll find on the subject of Wim Hof's breathing and cold resistance methods. If you haven't heard of Wim Hof (yes, that's a person's name), he is a charismatic trainer holding a bevy of world records for swimming in frozen lakes, chilling in ice for hours, running long distances while barefoot in the snow, hoofing a marathon through the desert, and suspending himself by one finger between hot air balloons. He has focused in recent decades on collaborating with researchers to measure his range of physiological responses and has used the resulting data to promote a series of health and fitness claims packaged within his Wim Hof Method (WHM). The method combines three pillars: cold therapy, breathing, and meditation, and its exercises promise to help you hold your breath longer, achieve greater physical feats, and improve cold resistance. The WHM tacks on nebulous and loosely defined benefits such as boosting your immune system, restoring primitive bodily responses, exerting control over one's autonomic nervous system, and achieving mental clarity. It's hard to disentangle the combination of scientific and unscientific language, especially given Hof's compelling delivery, and most treatments are far more breathless (heh) on the topic. I myself attended a WHM workshop for a four-part podcast investigation (for which this book was a helpful resource), and am currently on day 46 of following the method from home. Carney's description helped me with the practice itself, especially with breath-hold pushups. I was having difficulty understanding how they worked, and his instructions got me from my usual max of 45-50 pushups up to 60-65. The method definitely works for some things.
Carney is an investigative journalist with training in anthropology, and he recruits his own sedentary journalist body in the investigation of Wim Hof's methods. Flying from Los Angeles to Poland, he spends a week taking a course with the man himself. This involves intense breathing and cold showers, culminating in a shirtless, snowy climb up nearby Mount Snezka. Throughout, Wim Hof imparts science and ancient wisdom in his deep, raspy, erratic, high-on-life, Euro-infused English. Carney survives and is emboldened by the trip, but is admittedly lax in keeping up the method at home. He works with a researcher to measure his own physical endurance and strength and examines how such properties can be quantified. Then Carney jumps back into the fray, signing up for obstacle course races (OCR) such as the Spartan Race and eventually the granddaddy of them all, Tough Guy. He visits death-defying champion surfer Laird Hamilton to experience his intense and incredibly dangerous underwater training techniques, which borrow from Wim Hof. [Note: I'll repeat Wim Hof's frequent reminder not to combine these breathing techniques with water: that's how people die. That's right, people have died.] Carney returns to train further with Wim Hof, this time in Holland, and negotiates his way into an upcoming climb up the highest summit in Africa: Kilimanjaro. This is one of Hof's prime destinations and proving grounds, in which he ascends with amateur hikers in record times that are supposed to be too aggressive for the human body to keep up with, often resulting in acute mountain sickness from lack of oxygen. By using the WHM, Hof claims anyone can stabilize their oxygen intake without taking drugs like Diamox. Carney is able to keep up but observes as Wim Hof loses patience with the stragglers and only increases his target time for completing the climb. Hof loses the encouraging tone and starts berating, responding to complaints with, "No ego. Just we go." Or, "This will separate the men from the boys." Some, indeed, have to head back down the mountain. Toward the end, a mutiny erupts in which hikers insist on pausing to wait for the group while Hof insists on getting to the top NOW: alone if he has to. This could leave hikers unsupervised in what is already a dangerous situation. It's a tense moment and detracts from the eventual victory.
By sharing these first-hand stories, Carney gives us a front-row look at Wim Hof's method, balancing the thrill of achievement with the less-glamorous side effects and fact-checking. Along the way, he examines claims of brown fat activation, adrenaline production, thermal regulation, oxygen retention, and so forth. He also shares the stories of people with crippling auto-immune diseases or other conditions for which Wim Hof's methods have been helpful, sometimes miraculously so. For himself, he is able to confirm that after all these activities, his body has objectively improved its metabolic rate, tapping into fat stores more and longer than it did before the method. If you're going to pursue the Wim Hof Method yourself, I'd recommend reading this first to get a handle on the components that are borne out by evidence versus ones that are more likely hype.
I thought the first 1/7th of the book was fantastic--based in evolutionary theory, science with a healthy dose of skepticism. I totally buy the basic idea and since reading the book, I've decided to wear only t-shirts when I run in winter and take cold showers. However, the rest of the book is just Scott Carney doing cool stuff and showing off and talking to other people who train hard. I wasn't so into that. Also, I wasn't into the whole "I got cured of parkinson's from cold ice treatment." Seems we need some more science before we lead people down frustrating paths of snake oil cures.
While it was an interesting read, it is light on details of the Wim Hof Method. Maybe this is because Carney wants you to pay for Hof's method, which is fine, but the book ends up reading like a love letter to Hof. If you do any internet reading on Hof, you're likely to find conflicting accounts of the method and inconsistencies in Hof's statements. This book isn't really about Hof, though, who is an interesting character and by his own admission, not great at communicating a "big" message.
Carney is able to do amazing things, and meets people who are also able to do amazing things, but he glosses over potential risks and if there are any neutral stories about the Wim Hof Method, he did not include them. The existing science on the method is sparse, but it is presented with the same breathless tone that guys like Joe Rogan have been using for some time. Overall, I'm glad that Carney had a life-changing experience with the method and it seems to help many people; I was expecting a neutral, myth-busting approach but I don't think Carney succeeded in that presentation. Perhaps including more contemporaneous experiences with the method, like the experiences of his wife, would have given the story more narrative drive. As it is, it often reads like a disjointed series of anecdotes that try to fill out the length of a full book.
My brother in law gave this to me over a year ago and I've just sat on it till now. It's crazy cool and I'm mad at myself for not picking it up sooner. There are 2 thing's I'd like to point out- 1- The science / philosophy of Wim Hof is fascinating. The idea that you can hack your body to adapt to extremes is very interesting. I've done the breathing exercises for a couple days and I was able to hold my breath for 2 minutes and 45 seconds today. Crazy! I haven't dared do any of the cold water conditioning. I'm afraid of the cold and the water so that one will take me a while.
2- I was super impressed with the way Scott told the story. Its similar to other books (Born to Run comes to mind) but I liked how he mixed his personal experiences, scientific studies, time with Wim and others who practice his methods. I felt like it was a perfect blend to tell a complete story and color in enough detail to make it believable and not too much so I never go bored. Very well done, I'd highly recommend this one.
An extraordinary account by an investigative journalist that is as pleasurable to read as a good novel. An inspiring nudge to reconnect with the environment if you have been living an a narrow comfort zone.
I am in the process of working my way through Wim Hof's ten week course but even though I am familiar with the method this book added to my knowledge of it.
This book has reinforced my view that breathing exercise, meditation and embracing cold is possibly as close to the mythical panacea for improving health as I am likely to find.
The bottom line is that this is both an informative and enjoyable read.
Ok, first of all, I would say it is not easy to rate this book. I expect it may be 5star for some and 2 stars for others. Let me start by saying what to expect reading this book and what it isn't.
What this book isn't: Despite what title say the book will not directly answer how to be a superhuman or how to renew your body. It will describe some of the methods that helped the author and other people overcome their shortcomings, diseases, fears - and ultimately get a better grasp of their possibilities. If you want to understand those methods better you have to look for more detailed sources (prob. Wim Hoffs site) and practice them yourself.
To elaborate on that, If you do not try any of the methods presented, breathing exercises, any form of meditation, cold showers then all of this will seem like lunatics talk. I would presume everyone reacts a bit differently to those - but let me be straight with you, YOU WILL FEEL DIFFERENT AFTER TRYING. Our brain is hardwired to overcome difficulties, we do that every day of our adult life, what those exercises do (at least for me) is reduce the stress levels and give u this jump start every morning.
This book does not give miracle answers to all the problems of humanity neither. What it suggests though is that being a bit closer to nature, overcoming harsh environments and maintaining some exercise routines can be of great benefit to your joy and health.
Who will enjoy the book: First of all, those who need some pick me up. The book is well written and is wholesome. It is a story about an authors journey overcoming his problems in life by applying a few different exercises and techniques. It brings up other interesting stories as well. What's not to love?
Secondly, those who appreciate being connected to nature or wish they were a bit more. We are living our lives in concrete cubicles, after a while we forget what it is to feel the sand between our feet and chill of the morning breeze. This book guides you to try it and promises it will be ok if you do.
Finally, it is a report about somewhat new scientific researches and discoveries regarding breathing techniques and how they can change the way you are, about the evolution of a man, what we might have lost when we gave up our discomfort and ways to improve your overall health and support fighting some of the diseases. It also promises it may improve your health and well being - so you should try it.
How interesting! The narrator's tone of voice and the general perkiness reminds me of Born to Run, but if you aren't bothered by such things I'd highly recommend this book. I, for one, enjoy being cold and very easily overheat. I'll dress more lightly come winter and for once ignore all the "oh but aren't you cold!?". The breathing techniques are another matter. I'd like another book like this one but without the emotional stories and people.
What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney takes an immersive journalism approach into the world of extreme environmental sports and training which includes a look into the emerging phenomenon of obstacle course racing. A large portion of the book centers on Wim Hof, otherwise known as the Iceman, his training and his disciples. Win is a dutch daredevil who holds world records for performing feats of endurance such as marathons under subzero temperature conditions. Without clothes. Carney employs a quasi-scientific examination of the training regimes devised by Hof which center on hyperventilation techniques that claim to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream and hence enhance your athletic performance. There are few areas in life that are as dogmatic as athletic training, and What Doesn’t Kill Us continues this tradition. One side story that would have benefited from additional attention is that of Wim serving as a modern day Jesus figure and exploring our innate desires to follow and mimic people who seem to have transcended the human condition. Additionally, Carney becomes a little too immersed in extreme sports and the lines begin to blur if this story is really about the subject or himself. A fun read and motivational story for anyone looking for a way to shrug off chilly weather as an excuse for missing their fitness goals.
Paradigm shift, Check! These are the type of books I truly love, teach me something new about being human. Give me a challenging perspective that is supported with evidence, well thought out and persuasively reasoned. I have found again and again that the best template for understanding humans is going back to the Stone Age, where the bulk of our evolutionary history was spent. Learning about that template will help modern humans figure out how to maximize healthy living. Though I have discovered the beauty behind seasonal living, I never once contemplated just how much our bodies might need the environmental seasonal extremes. How being actually exposed to the cold could possibly invigorate our bodies and kickstart metabolic processes on the cellular level that promote overall health.
This book hits on two components of our bodies that seem to be little understood. 1) How the Cold stimulates the body and 2) How breathing techniques stimulate the body. By stimulate I mean activate a certain physiological response within the body. I am not going to rehash the whole book but needless to say there are some fascinating findings. I plan on exploring these myself further.
I really love books that are written by journalists, especially those that rely on heaps of research in combination with human interest angle.
But this book falls short. I am really intrigued by the idea - it feels like the physical version of Moonwalking with Einstein (where a journalist taps into his mental abilities and becomes the US Memory Champion). But as I said before, this book falls short. I feel like the book lacks focus, and the stories are quite scattered, and not enough research to balance the mumbo-jumbo that it's proclaiming. Understandably, there are still little research done in the are, but I just feel it's neither a memoir (not that personal) or a nonfiction (not that research-based).
Anyways, give it a go just to know what your body can physically do. It's a good content; I just dislike the writing.
Mūsu ģimenē vīriešiem nesalst. Pliku krūti, zandalēs un šortos ziemā - tā ir ikdiena. Mūsu mājās notiek (notika..) regulāras diskusijas par sociālajām prasmēm apģērbties atbilstoši laika apstākļiem ar pretējo viedokli par tuntulēšanos, kā latviešu tradīciju. Šim, nu, reiz ir pielikts punkts. Es padodos! Es padevos. Es eju aukstā dušā, staigāju adītā mētelītī cauru ziemu un elpoju. Elpoju, lai sevi sasildītu. Un piedzīvotu, kā esmu daļa no kaut kā lielāka. Un es varu uz to paļauties, jo tas strādā. Elpa strādā, un aukstums tiešām ir skolotājs.
It is one of those books that you can credit with having changed your life! Have not stopped taking daily cold showers ever since and have also adopted the wim hof breathing methods as often as I can. The benefits (at least to me) have been more than obvious, and I try to get better daily at some of the techniques presented in the book. My mindset has definitely improved as a result of the time I put into it. Highly recommended to all the "bio-hackers" out there :)
A bit long winded in some areas but still make for an absorbing read. Investigative journalist Scott Carney, who exposed charlatans like spiritual leader Michael Roach, set out to debunk Wim Hof- the Iceman, physical endurance prophet and occasional madman - but ended up a convert after climbing the 18,000 ft Mt Kilimanjaro wearing mostly just a pair of shorts.
I practise yoga, and can see that Wim Hof's breathing method and breath holding has foundations in the hatha yoga practice of pranayama. But his unique approach to diving right into cold conditions to trigger our primal protective and adaptive abilities is something he rediscovered on his own through practise and experience. And it was scientifically proven to work.
I have been bathing in cold water many times since learning about the Wim Hof method. For someone like me, whose hands are constantly cold (and may have some form of Raynaud's Syndrome -my guess), it wasn't so bad after all- I could survive a cold shower. In fact, I felt warm after that. Our blood vessels in our extremities constrict when we come into contact with cold, so that the blood can be diverted to protect our core. But when the external environment warms up, our warm blood floods back to the extremities and warm it up. But a note of caution for those in extreme environments - they can get a second chill which can be worse even when they are in warmer conditions. The blood cools when they reach the extremities, and then return the cold to the core of the body. That is why people suffer more and can even die even after being warmed up.
I can personally confirm that conscious deep breathing warms my hands, and regular pranayama (and meditation) brightens one's skin (some also say the aura) as the relaxation response dilutes blood vessels and increase blood flow. So I am sure Wim Hof's breathing will achieve its intent for most people.
While my goal is not to climb Kilimanjaro in swimwear like Carney or the Iceman, I would like to practise his method to improve my health and resistance, just like many who followed his method did. They include Hans Spaans who suffered Parkinsons disease and Henk ven den Bergh who had crippling rheumatoid arthritis - both their condition became more manageable and reduced their medication after the Wim Hof method.
*I found it very interesting too to learn about the popularity of tough obstacle courses like Tough Guy (UK), Tough Mudder (US) and the November Project (US) which are all based on the ideas and framework of triggering our primal abilities of endurance. And also that world-class big wave surfer extraordinaire Laird Hamilton and trainer Brian Mackenzie both use the Wim Hof method.
This book, at its core, is about the Wim Hof method. Devoloped by a Dutch man, it is a series of breathing exercises and cold exposure that supposedly bring a host of health benefits, also, possible superpowers. Because what is a health program nowadays without over inflated claims. Still, at its core the theory is that "by routinely stimulating a stress response" you gain some health benefits, and because as a society we are so comfortable, there is a lot of room for improvement in those systems. Now this may sound far fetched, but it's not too far off of working out. You stimulate a stress response, you gain benefits. The other idea here is the author's idea of the 'wedge'. The more you push yourself the more you psychologically are able to suffer. This is pretty close to the idea of the central governor theory of endurance performance. It even drills down to a lot of what cross fit talks about when you get past the biological theories and program design. Neither of these parallels are explored in the book, but this isn't necessarily the first I've heard of these ideas. So as well as working with Wim Hof, Scott trains with some other guys with similar theories, runs some 'tough guy' obstacle races and such. There are other books out there by Wim Hof himself, true believers if you will. Scott approaches this as a journalist, though he moves quickly from skeptic to someone who wants to believe. The personal stories of his training is okay, but it's a lot of the book. If you just want the method there are a million tutorial videos on youtube for free. I was looking for something with a little more depth and got exactly what I was hoping for. Let's call it 'Born to Run-ish', not a tutorial how-to, so it falls closer to the inspirational. A good starting point for those that like longer works than a magazine article or youtube video. (I forgot to mention how similar these exercises are to those in "Meditation as Medicine" by Darma Singh Khalsa. Just add some mantra work and more yoga. MaM breaks down the breathing and exercises into very specific prescriptions for various maladies, but the core of breathing and breath holding with some extra bells and whistles bears a striking family resemblance to what Wim Hof does.)
Carney climbed 19,000 foot tall Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in just two days wearing only shorts and hiking boots to prove two things: 1) advanced breathing techniques (essentially deliberately hyperventilating) can allow us to hack our inner-systems and allow us to over-perform (not get elevation sickness at +14,000 feet or run faster sprints) and 2) one can by concentration and cold weather training activate a vestigial organ (brown fat that we once had as infant) to superheat our body.
This is a super-fun read. I'm not sure I buy into all the answers of Dutch Fitness guru Wim Hof who likes to do yoga on icebergs in just shorts until he melts the ice. But hey is it worth a try. Is it possible in our cushy, 68 degree life..we have lost abilities to survive that we once had.
Surfer Hamilton proposes hyperventilating (as you push all the CO2 out of your system--as CO2 buildup is what causes the drive to breathe--not O2 deficiency) to improve performance. He trains in his home 10 foot deep swimming pool in SOCAL with 15 lb weights bobbing from the bottom to the top of the pool.
Wim Hof wants you to be occasionally cold. Take a cold shower, go running in 30 degree weather with no shirt, swim in ice water--it will activate endorphins and begin to build up your brown fat supply (different than white fat--the type around your waistline). Brown fat (infant fat) is rich in mitochondria and can rapidly metabolize and build heat. MRI scans have shown we have vestigial amounts between our scapulae on our backs. Hof clenches all his muscles "from his shoulders to his rectum" and supposedly activates this fat and swims comfortable in polar water.
A fun read. Maybe I will implore some of the techniques in my training (dip in a cold river after a run) While I did climb Kilimanjaro in Africa back in 2010 like the author of this book ...I did not climb the mountain wearing only a swimsuit and hiking boots and it took me 5 days!
This book does for thinking about environmental conditioning what Chris McDougall's Born to Run did for running. I didn't know much about Wim Hof's ideas about using extreme environmental exposure to improve physiology & conditioning and was impressed by the in-depth research Scott Carney did to ascertain the scientific credibility of Hof's methods (spoiler: Carney sets out to debunk Hof, and ends up becoming an acolyte). Bottom line: too much comfort = stagnation and atrophy; challenge & exposure to extremes = physical and mental robustness and vitality. Loved this book and plan to incorporate many ideas from this it into my training & to read more about Wim Hof. As a big fan of monster wave surfer Laird Hamilton, I also enjoyed the chapter on Hamilton's XPT (Extreme Pool Training) regimen. Gift this to your workout buddies!
I listened to this book, mainly outdoors ... and one chapter I found myself in the rain. It started slowly, and then came down in a torrent. The temperature was 21 C along my walk, and I immediately sought refuge under a tree so I wouldn't get "wet". Then I recalled what I was reading/listening to .... and I changed my tune to get wet. I remember starting the book and thinking it was BS. Then came the data. And the true story. I am going to change the way I workout. I am going to give this a shot in small doses. I like the cold ... but now it's time to embrace it more.
Excellent read/listen. Highly entertaining and eye opening. It just might change you?
Scott Carney has written a book extolling the health benefits of deliberate exposure to the elements, but readers may suspect early on that Carney chiefly wants to find a justification for taking his shirt off whenever possible. Which happens a lot over the course of the book.
Not that “clothing-lite” exercise is a novelty. Carney acknowledges in the epigram that the Greeks had him beat by a few millennia; the Spartans were especially insistent on being underdressed for all occasions. Nor is it hard to find more recent proponents of low- or no-clothing training, from German proto-Pilates guru J.P. Muller to Russian mystic Porfiry Ivonov to American poet Walt Whitman.
While Carney reports on the obstacle course fad, military research into environmental exposure, surfer Laird Hamilton, and an outdoor exercise club called the “November Project”, most of his book focuses on daredevil health guru “Iceman” Wim Hof. Hof and his family sell the “Innerfire” training program online and via seminars. The Innerfire method is basically Polar Bear Challenge plus yoga: it combines breathing exercises, visualization, and planned cold exposure. Acolytes start with cold showers and work up to ice baths and whatever nature offers in the form of ice hole plunges, snow calisthenics, and winter hikes. Wim Hof claims his method not only allows mastery of the cold, but also to mastery of the immune system to cure diseases. And if that sounds too good to be true….
Carney’s book is marketed to “Iceman” fans--a shirtless Wim Hof graces the cover of the book and Hof was probably shirtless when he wrote the introduction. So forgive me having trouble with Carney’s initial rhetoric, which is something along the lines of “nobody is more skeptical than me”. I’m skeptical of his skepticism. Sure enough, his aura of doubt is immediately dispelled by his weak attempts to survey the scientific literature on cold exposure, as he does not cover basic concepts such as sample size and statistical significance, let alone probing the underlying biological mechanisms he his preporting to investigate, leaving him at the mercy of poorly constructed studies that are unlikely to carry much weight in the field of human physiology. (Carney is a PhD dropout in anthropology).
But Carney is also determined. He learns Wim Hof’s techniques at his retreat center in Poland and by climbing a nearby mountain shirtless in the snow. He then faithfully practices the Innerfire method over the course of 4(!) years, taking daily cold showers, practicing the breathing techniques, and going for runs year-round...shirtless. To call him devoted would be an understatement. Placebo only works if you believe it.
Carney may never critically evaluate the Wim Hof method, but he nevertheless comes to appreciate Hof’s very human limitations. While Carney clearly needs Hof to sell his book, and is happy to indulge in extensive hagiography via Hof’s many devoted followers, the closer Carney gets to the guru, the more appalled he seems by him. By the end of the book, as Wim Hof and a select group of followers, including Carney, climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Hof has been whittled down to a manic, self-obsessed, bloviating, and ultimately dangerously reckless figurehead.
Which is as it should be.
It is difficult to quibble with the many direct, credible, and filmed eyewitness accounts of Wim Hof’s feats of environmental endurance, and those of his followers. He’s set Guinness World Records and has Youtube to prove it. Hof has single-handedly taken cold endurance training out of the shadows and given it a shot as a legitimate fitness movement. (Remember the first time you heard about zumba?). But how specifically cold endurance works on a physiological level and what benefits it actually confers is another matter entirely, and until cold training becomes more mainstream and better studied, we won’t know. Placebo can explain a lot, but it can’t explain everything. Which is okay. Carney’s overall hypothesis--that human beings are too cosseted in our thermostatic modern world--is convincing, as is the idea that by pushing ourselves mentally and physically we can adapt to environments previously assumed inhospitable, netting real improvements in health and wellbeing.
Carney, like so many of Wim Hof’s disciples, has found his own way with the Innerfire method by adding modest cold exposure to his existing year-round running workouts. It works for Scott Carney and despite the extremes documented in his book, it’s an approach that’s actually relatively safe, relatively sane, and relatively convincing.
All in the name of going shirtless. Walt Whitman--and bros everywhere--rejoice.
Scott Harney is an investigative journalist with two other books under his belt before this one. He says that after first seeing information about a Dutch health guru who encouraged people to stand nearly naked in the snow he thought it would be worth looking into and possibly exposing. Harney was already working on his book A Death on Diamond Mountain (also known as The Enlightenment Trap) about the dehydration death of a 38 year-old follower of an Arizona enlightenment instructor. He thought these methods had the potential to also hurt people.
As he participated in the Wim Hof program he changed his mind. Hof teaches a combination of cold exposure, meditation, and breathing exercises that he claims will strengthen the body, increase control of the immune system, and help lose weight. The underlying notion is similar to paleo-diet devotees: The human body evolved to live in a largely outdoor environment and is built to adjust to extremes of weather. They note that the Pilgrims at Plymouth were met in winter by natives wearing not much more than loincloths.
Harney describes the increasing times of cold exposure, standing barefoot in the snow in Poland for five minutes at first and then extending that out. He also goes into detail about the breathing techniques taught by Hof, which is almost of a piece with the meditation techniques. His time with Hof even has him joining a group in an attempt to climb Kilimanjaro in record time without breathing devices.
Based on his own physical and mental changes Harney became a supporter of Hof, though even he tends to cringe when Hof wanders into almost mystical territories. In the book he brings as much science to bear on the techniques as he can. There are discussions on the body's ability to develop increased stores of "brown fat" that help generate heat and burn the insulating fat. There are also considerations of the cold acting almost like calisthenics for the circulatory system and of the body's need to clear carbon dioxide so that some exercises are attempted after the lungs have been emptied.
For those not having the benefits of nearby snow and a sauna, Harney says that some of the benefits can be had by cold morning showers, dropping the thermostat to 62F, going barefoot as much as possible, and just generally becoming more a part of the world on the other side of your front door.
While I like to think of my body as something of a fun laboratory for various things, even the thought of jumping into a cold shower first thing in the morning is enough to make my kidneys tuck in deeper and reach for a blanket. Taking extended cold baths and some of the other off-season suggestions are equally unappealing. On the other hand, I had already started keeping my house temperature lower just to burn more calories when doing sedentary work or reading.
Google Wim Hof's name and his website shows up at or near the top where you can read more before deciding whether you want to invest in the book. Harney goes beyond Hof to work with other health gurus, including a surfer who works with celebrities and athletes to do breathe conditioning. Even though I may never intentionally stand barefoot in the snow it was an interesting read and Hof is definitely a unique character.
There is a lot of valuable information in here, but it is buried in a long-winded narrative.
I think folks who love this kind of non-fiction will eat this up. You’re learning valuable skills, but with that you learn about fascinating people, experiences, etc.
If you just want the skills, this book is still pretty good. It is easy enough to wade through the stories to find what you’re looking for, and I found myself getting drawn in all the time, even to parts I didn’t expect to enjoy. All in all it was a fun book, and I’ll probably think of it after every ice-cold shower I take 👍🏻
I love this book. The author, Scott Carney does an outstanding job. The information is presented in a professional format. The information is described in terminology that all education levels can understand. Personally, I am a Doctor of Chiropractic who loves fitness. I am always searching for, reading & referencing sports medicine, science, biology, health, fitness & nutrition articles, videos & books. (Any type of material I can get my hands on, especially well-researched material.) "What Doesn't Kill Us" is one of the best sources of this type of material I have read in several years. It explains in detail the benefits of breathing exercises and cold weather training for improving health & fitness, especially for strengthening the immune system. It describes breathing exercises everyone can perform. It covers success stories of athletes and non-athletes. Non-fiction books can sometimes seems like reading a textbook or the exact opposite where the author tries too hard to make it into a story so it doesn't read like a textbook. This book does not fall into either of those two categories. Mr. Carney writes in a manner where he explains the characters and scenery without slowing the story and without getting too technical. If you want to improve your health and fitness read this book. If you are living with an autoimmune disorder read this book. I highly recommend "What Doesn't Kill Us".
Our ancestors crossed the frozen Bering Strait half naked and these days, most of us require specialized high tech clothing just to dash from one climate controlled environment to another. Wim Hof, a Dutch fitness guru, argues that we still have the ability to control our body temperature and cure ourselves of diseases including diabetes and Parkinson's. Hof teaches these techniques in weekend workshops and has been leading climbs up Mt. Kilimanjaro, wearing nothing but shorts, for years. Investigative journalist and ethnographer Scott Carney studies with Hof to challenge these claims, and consults with scientists and Hof advocates like big wave pioneer Laird Hamilton. There are diversions for things like bone chilling obstacle course races done shirtless, training camps in Poland and underwater in Malibu, culminating in the author's own attempt up Kilimanjaro. This was a read in one sitting book for me (perhaps because it was -20 at the time?)
People need to know what the body (and mind) is not designed to be kept at a constant, manageable temperature.
Exposure to heat, cold and the stress of exercise can bring great physical and mental benefits. Furthermore proper breathing, meditation and attitude can compound these benefits.
After hearing Wim Hof discussed on the Tim Ferriss podcast I have been taking cold showers daily for almost 2 years and been doing the breathing exercises in average 2-3 times per week. I can honestly say it gets easier and you feel better. I don't think I've ever felt healthier.
This was my first introduction to Wim Hof and his method. After reading this you will probably want to watch all the videos available and read all the articles too. This is some really interesting stuff. After following breathing technique, in less than 20 minutes, from my 3rd trial I managed to hold my breath for 2 minutes 53 seconds, which I found insane! And it was so easy. Also this book contains quite some information about our biology, how things work in our bodies, but I'd say it was explained in plain English, thus really easy to understand and interesting too.