The Tony Robbins Firewalk and Historical Science Behind It

The Tony Robbins firewalk is a highly anticipated event in the business community. But many people do not know the background. The science of firewalking is well-settled and reliable, and the act of walking on red-hot coal, cinders or rocks with bare feet has a time-honored place in human culture.

Both emotional strength and scientific principles form the basis for taking the Tony Robbins firewalk without injury. Almost all firewalkers emerge without any injuries at all, and those few that do experience injuries sustain only the most superficial harms such as a lingering heat sensation until ice is applied. How is this possible?

photo credit: Paul Jenkins / Flickr

Firewalking at a Tony Robbins, The Science

Heat can be transmitted in three different ways: convection, radiation and conduction. Convection takes place as heat is circulated through fluid or air; if you put your hand in a hot oven but don’t touch it, you’re experiencing convection. Radiation takes place when a central heat source like the sun emits heat outward in all directions. Conduction is the means that requires direct contact to transmit heat from one substance to another, and this is what comes into play during the Tony Robbins firewalk for several reasons.

First, very few varieties of coal conduct heat well at all, and coal typically does not get hotter than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. For ideal firewalking, the temperature should be from 900 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Essentially, coals are not ideal for conduction to take place due to their inability to directly transfer this heat onto another substance (in this case, your feet).

Second, to truly burn the human body, substances should not insulate against heat, but conduct it. Charcoal, hot coals, embers and eventually ashes that come from burning hardwoods are actually good insulators. In other words, they actually protect and insulate your skin against excessive heat.

In addition, carbon is a poor conductor. Coal or wood that has been burned long enough for the Tony Robbins firewalk is ash-y and red hot; that is to say, after the volatile organics which were originally present in the burned wood or coals have evaporated, it is mostly carbon that remains, which, again, cannot transfer heat directly to your feet.

Why Arranging the Coals is Important to the Tony Robbins Firewalk

Finally, how the coals are arranged is important. The coals used for the Tony Robbins firewalk are placed in a flat, even path. This allows firewalkers to avoid digging their feet too deeply into the coals, and to move purposefully. It is important to rearrange coals in some cases in order to avoid a jagged surface or the scooping of embers. This arrangement limits conduction by dispersing the heat, meaning you will not feel the intensity of the heat.

There’s no need to rush when firewalking at the Tony Robbins event, but a steady, purposeful speed is ideal. As long as you keep moving at a steady pace over a flat, even bed of coals, sufficient conduction can’t take place and there’s no time to get burned.

The takeaway from the scientific community is that firewalking is safe when done correctly.