Altitude Training FAQs

WHAT ARE THE BASICS ABOUT ALTITUDE TRAINING?
HOW LONG DO IMPROVEMENTS MADE AT ALTITUDE LAST ONCE YOU RETURN TO SEA LEVEL?
IS SIMULATED ALTITUDE EFFECTIVE?
WHAT ARE THE BASIC PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF ALTITUDE?
WHAT ARE THE BASICS ABOUT ALTITUDE TRAINING?

As you ascend to appropriate altitudes for training (5000-8500ft / 1600-2600m is generally considered to be ideal), the amount of oxygen that is carried by the hemoglobin in the blood is reduced, resulting in less oxygen being delivered to working muscles. In endurance events that rely on the availability of large amounts of oxygen (generally, an event whose duration is longer than about two minutes), a decrease in delivery results in below-normal performance. However, this is true only in low-speed endurance events, such as running, swimming, or rowing. (In high speed endurance events, such as speed skating or cycling, the lessened air resistance experienced at altitude is more beneficial than is the loss of aerobic power and performance is actually better at moderate altitude.)

With time spent training at altitude, the body makes some physiological adjustments and performance at altitude will improve over a period of several weeks, as does sea level performance for some time after coming down from altitude.

HOW LONG DO IMPROVEMENTS MADE AT ALTITUDE LAST ONCE YOU RETURN TO SEA LEVEL?

It is best to think of any sea-level improvements in performance that are realized as a result of altitude training as permanent in nature, not limited by any number of days or weeks back at sea level. Of course, to continue performing well for an extended period of time back at sea level, the athlete must continue to subject the body to adequate stress so that no de-training takes effect.

In an attempt to determine how best to time sea level competitions after altitude exposure, many teams have tracked their athletes results and found that their best results were achieved on many different days after an altitude camp, thus making it difficult to say with certainty that Day 14, for example, is the perfect day upon which to compete after an altitude camp.

IS SIMULATED ALTITUDE EFFECTIVE?

Although we are strong proponents of terrestrial altitude exposure (i.e., being in a mountainous environment) for a host of reasons, not everyone can spend 3-4 weeks at altitude in a place like Flagstaff. In such cases, simulated altitude can be both desirable and useful so long as the intervention is properly executed.

We recommend contacting Colorado Altitude Training as they are the premier source for simulated altitude equipment and have many years of experience catering to the needs of elite athletes – see http://altitudetraining.com/main/sports.

WHAT ARE THE BASIC PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF ALTITUDE?
  • Increase in erythropoietin (EPO) production (the hormone governing the production of red blood cells), which in turn increases red blood cell mass and enhances delivery of oxygen to muscle cells.
  • Increase in total blood volume to move oxygen more efficiently through the bloodstream.
  • Increase in V02 max (the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen during exercise)
  • Increase in hematocrit to provide a greater percentage of cells carrying oxygen.
  • Increase in capillary volume, creating more blood pathways to muscle cells for improved muscle oxygenation.
  • Increase in volume of mitochondria, the energy “factories” of cells.
  • Increase in the lungs’ ability to exchange gases efficiently so that more oxygen gets into the bloodstream with each breath.
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