Scott Carney says he has trained his body to withstand extreme weather conditions.
Scott Carney says he has trained his body to withstand extreme weather conditions. Contributed

Could you train your body to do this?

WHEN a heatwave rips through, do you head straight for the air-con button? And when the bone-chilling cold comes around, does the heater become your best friend? One man is on a mission to find out if our comfortable lifestyles are doing us any good.

Scott Carney is an average human in terms of physical abilities. He's not an athlete but tries to keep fit with regular workouts. Scott is also an investigative journalist and makes his living from debunking myths and exposing fraudsters.

Since going on the journey to find out how much he could push his body, Scott has hiked to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, finished the world's most notorious cold weather obstacle course topless, and can do 80 push-ups on a single breath.

And he has written a book about how he achieved all that, What Doesn't Kill Us, out now.

Scott's fascination with the capabilities of the human body started when a daredevil by the name of Wim Hof caught his eye. Mr Hof claimed he could teach people to control their own body temperature, which allowed him to perform unexplainable feats. The Dutch guru, now aged 57, holds 20 world records.

He attributes his ability to handle extreme cold to meditation and breathing techniques, as well as regular exposure to cold.

 

Scott Carney has written a book about his experiences in training his body to deal with extreme conditions.
Scott Carney has written a book about his experiences in training his body to deal with extreme conditions. Jeremy Liebman

"Hof was doing things that seemed super human and was promising people superpowers," Scott said.

"I've seen people die following these sorts of methods so I wanted to expose him."

Scott had arranged a deal with Playboy magazine to expose Hof. And so, in 2013, he got on a plane to Poland to meet the Dutch guru and try out some of his methods.

Scott left as a total believer in a short time frame. He quickly began to see changes in his own body.

"I knew in that first trip that his technique worked," Scott said.

His first challenge, alongside other men learning Hof's technique, was to stand out in the cold. Though it felt excruciatingly painful at first, it became easier over time.

And within one week, Scott was able to climb a snow-covered mountain in his shorts. He also effortlessly lost 3.1kg.

"Humans have been around for an incredibly long time and in that time there have been a lot of variations in the environment," Scott said.

"It's only in recent years that we have air-conditioners and heaters available to us.

"That drive for comfort makes us weaker."

Upon returning to his home in the United States, Scott would continue following Hof's techniques for the years to come. Those steps are listed in Scott's book, and take about 15 minutes a day to practice.

The steps have not only helped Scott in extreme situations. They also have affected his daily life.

"By regularly feeling cold, it makes maintaining body weight a lot easier," Scott said.

"I used to get these canker sores around my mouth ever since I was a young person, which would make it difficult to smile or talk.

"But since I started doing Hof's method, I haven't had them."

Exposure to extreme weather is a major part of the method, but to be able to follow it, cold natural temperatures like the snow are not necessary.

"Even just jumping into the ocean when it's cold, that's like having a cold icy back," Scott said.

"You can actually exercise in the heat which will give a similar effect, though that is slightly more dangerous."

After the initial trip to Poland, Scott spent the next few years also learning about why people push themselves physically. He visited training facilities and had a go at popular obstacle courses. His ultimate challenge to prove whether Hof's method worked was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

He succeeded and the group Scott was climbing with, led by Hof himself, did it in record-breaking time.

"We did it mostly shirtless, and the point was to fight the altitude," Scott said.

"As you get higher, the oxygen saturation decreases so we had to do rapid deep breathing through the entire climb."

Tackling extreme weather conditions is just one way of pushing oneself.

Every day, hundreds of people across the country intentionally put themselves in a level of physical discomfort.

They're in your local CrossFit boxes, they're the ones training to become elite athletes, and the obstacle race participants tackling the likes of Tough Mudder.

Someone who knows about pushing physical boundaries is Kara Webb.

At 27 years old, the Crossfitter from Queensland is Australia's fittest woman.

 

Kara Webb regularly pushes the pain barrier during her training.
Kara Webb regularly pushes the pain barrier during her training. Trav Cooper aka The Fitographer

She can squat 155kg, do 65 chest-to-bar pull ups in a row, and holds records in numerous competition workouts.

"I train for about two hours a day, five days a week, and have an active recovery day," Kara said.

For those unfamiliar with it, CrossFit incorporates elements from a number of different sports including weightlifting, gymnastics and endurance sports.

Even a short workout can leave one feeling as if they've reached their physical peak. Kara said that sensation is part of the deal with the extreme sport.

"My mental process is quite different on different days, in different workouts, and in different stages of training, from day to day workouts to competition workouts," she said.

"I have different things that I draw on when I need to depending on the situation."

Kara has shared some of what she thinks about when she's at the point of intense physical pain.

"I tell myself that pain is just a feeling and it's not doing any damage but pushing me to new limits," she said.

"It's a physical response that means nothing and so I need to ignore it and focus on the task."

In the same way that Scott explained his tolerance to cold was heightened the more he exposed himself to the elements, Kara said the physical pain of CrossFit was also something the human body got used to. In fact, she even likes the pain.

"As humans we really do adapt if we are open to it," she said.

"The funny thing is, if you're a competitive athlete or just the kind of person I am, then you don't ever really want it to be easier."

General practitioner Paul Cotton, a doctor of 45 years, said people should be cautious of trying to emulate elite athletes or others participating in risky endurance endeavours.

He said a few humans were genetically geared for extreme activities, but most of us were not.

"They are only exceptional because the rest of us are ordinary," he said.

The doctor, aged 70, said life should be about common sense and moderation.

"It's about being sustainable long-term. Essentially, if you conduct yourself sensibly and wisely then you will go on to have a long and healthy life," Dr Cotton said.

He also cautioned against participating in extreme physical activity in the heat. As a younger doctor, he practised medicine in the region near Uluru, in central Australia.

"I saw three deaths from heat stroke and they were young people in their 20s," Dr Cotton said.

He also said he had many former athlete patients.

"I often see highly competitive sporting people who played a lot of demanding sport, and I see them in their 50s for knee replacements and hip replacements," Dr Cotton said.

What Doesn't Kill Us, by Scott Carney, published by Scribe, RRP $32.99, is out now.

 



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