Thursday, July 26, 2012

Altitude Training

Training at high altitude has long been used by Olympians as a means of improving their potential.  We all know that athletes always seek to get a competitive edge but what does altitude training really do for an athlete?

Benefits of Altitude Training

For any type of exercise that lasts longer than a few minutes the body needs to use oxygen to the produce energy required for the specific exercise; without oxygen your muscles seize up and have the potential to be damaged.  The theory behind altitude training is that it increases the number of red blood cells in the body which in turn improves the oxygen flow to the muscles, so upon a return to sea level, the increased oxygen could be used to enhance performance.
  • Elevated breathing that athletes experience when they return to sea level can account for 10-20% of the body's increase in its ability to consume oxygen
  • Oxygen increase can last up to seven days in low altitude
Potential Problems

Acclimatization to a high altitude is not simple and some of these effects could potentially cancel out any possible benefits:
  • Weight loss 
  • Possibility of immune system being compromised resulting in sickness
  • Intense exercise is not possible because of the lack of oxygen
  • Some people just do not adapt as well as others
  • Accessibility may be too much of a hassle or unrealistic for some athletes
Studies on altitude training have been ambiguous so far and have many debating the pros and cons.  There is not one workout program that is appropriate for everyone, just like at sea level.  In the end it's ultimately up to the athlete and coach to research and decide if it's worthwhile.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. BLISS D. THE HEIGHTS OF SUCCESS. Athletics Weekly (Descartes Publishing Ltd.). June 2, 2011;66(22):28-30.
2. Hahn A, Gore C. The effect of altitude on cycling performance: a challenge to traditional concepts. / Effet de l'altitude sur la performance cycliste: un defi pour les concepts trraditionnels. Sports Medicine. 2001;31(7):533-557.
3. LOFTUS-HILLS T. THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF ALTITUDE TRAINING!. Australian Triathlete. March 2010;17(5):50-52.
4. Nummela A, Rusko H. Acclimatization to altitude and normoxic training improve 400-m running performance at sea level. / L ' acclimatation a l ' altitude et l ' entrainement "normoxique" ameliorent les performances sur 400 m au niveau de la mer. Journal Of Sports Sciences. June 2000;18(6):411-419.
5. Rusko H, Tikkanen H, Peltonen J. Altitude and endurance training. Journal Of Sports Sciences. October 2004;22(10):928-945.

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