Updated: Oct 20
LAS VEGAS — Alistair Overeem plans to move to within touching distance of the top of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s heavyweight title this weekend thanks to what sounds like an incredibly simple formula.
Wim Hof says he believes extreme cold can improve an athlete's performance.
Breathing. Big, deep, guttural, powerful breaths that are as loud as they are effective.
Or, at other times, not breathing. Not at all, for up to four minutes at a time.
Overeem, the UFC’s No.6-ranked heavyweight, will take on No. 10 Mark Hunt as part of the pay-per-view card at UFC 209 on Saturday and recently adopted a new training regime that focuses on one of the most basic human functions.
“For me now it is about controlling the processes of the body through breathing,” Overeem told USA TODAY Sports. “It is huge for my focus and my training. I don’t get so tired. My oxygen levels are just so much higher and I always feel ready. That is what Wim has done for me.”
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Wim is Wim Hof, a 57-year-old who like Overeem hails from the Netherlands and has been described as a health guru, daredevil, stuntman, entertainer and, perhaps most appropriately, The Iceman.
With good reason. Hof has documented evidence of him climbing Mount Kilimanjaro while wearing shorts and would have completed the same feat in the same gear on Mount Everest if a foot injury hadn’t slowed him. He ran a marathon in the Arctic Circle in Finland without a shirt. He has set numerous world records for submerging himself in freezing water, including one stint of nearly two hours. And, during a 2015 spot on UFC commentator Joe Rogan’s podcast, showed Rogan a technique that kept the motor-mouthed emcee silent – while holding his breath for nearly three minutes.
Breathing function and the effect of feeding oxygen to muscles is at the center of what Hof does, and it is that concept that drew Overeem in his direction.
Hof’s credentials were widely known and respected in Europe, where he has worked with fighters, soccer players as well as everyone from housewives to corporate CEOs. Yet Hof has also made some inroads into the U.S., working with entertainment icon Beyonce, and undertaking talks that may lead to him assisting the Los Angeles Lakers.
“There is no secret, it is a scientific system,” Hof said. “I don’t care how good you are, I make you better. Beyonce loves it, other athletes love it. With Overeem, I teach him to consciously bring that oxygen into the muscle tissue. When there is no oxygen the muscles become acidic and we can’t perform any more.
“Deep breathing changes the chemistry of the body by bringing oxygen into the tissue. We are able to go deeper into the body’s systems to influence the performance of how the cells work. Breathing and using cold, through cold showers and experiences, provides a boost of performance compared to anything that would be possible if the person had not done that.”
Legendary surfer Laird Hamilton gives a hearty endorsement to Hof's methods.
"Any time we bring consciousness to the act of breathing it is a huge thing, especially for a professional athlete who relies on that oxygen as one of the tools of your performance," he said. "It is something that is overlooked so often, we focus on so many other things in training but it is a tremendous opportunity to gain a significant advantage."
Overeem reached out to Hof two years ago and has used his mentor’s principles as part of his training. He has had a strong career, winning two titles in mixed martial arts organizations and one in kickboxing, but has yet to sample UFC gold, losing a title shot to current champ Stipe Miocic at UFC 203 in September.
Victory over Hunt would give him a legitimate claim for another tilt at the belt.
“I feel ready more than ever,” Overeem said. “I am not getting any younger and I need to take my opportunities but my approach is great and I have a full confidence in what I am doing.”
Overeem paused to impart the information that his lung inhalation function is now so developed that he can comfortably hold his breath for 3½ minutes. If you catch him holding his breath on Saturday night, it won’t be nerves, but part of his blueprint for victory.
If you want to learn more about the mental and physical health benefits related to open water swimming and cold exposure, feel free to join our ICEWIM Facebook group.
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This article was first published by https://eu.usatoday.com/story/sports/ufc/2017/03/01/ufc-209-alistair-overeem-heavyweight/98609304/