Travelling to altitude such as anything above 1500 meters results in a profound response from your body in order to adapt to the environment. As we scale a mountain, the air molecules begin to spread out further because of the reduction in air pressure.

  • How does altitude training work?
  • This means the body has to cope with less oxygen, the vital ingredient to aerobic energy production and recovery from hard efforts. Our heart and breathing rate increases in order to pump more blood, with the precious oxygen in, to our muscles and organs.
    Research into altitude training and sports performance has been ongoing for decades and there are two distinct areas that show benefits:
    1. Sleeping in Altitude
    2. Training in Altitude

Sleeping in altitude

Sleeping in altitude aims to increase the athlete’s maximal capacity which simply put, is the amount of work you can do while still using oxygen as your main energy source. It does this by increasing haemoglobin, the cell that carries oxygen in our blood. When we have greater amounts of these cells we can have more oxygen in our system at one time, and so the muscles can do more work before it starts to tire.
Everyone is affected differently at altitude and this increase in haemoglobin only occurs within your genetic maximum. In other words this approach helps you reach your natural physiological peak, and for an elite athlete it may be a 1% improvement, or for a recovering athlete it may be up to 25%. Generally this takes around four to six weeks sleeping/living in altitude at least 8 hours a day.

Training in altitude

Training in altitude is very different from sleeping in altitude. The time spent in altitude is minimal, with some sessions only lasting 20 minutes. This means the body doesn’t have enough time to begin changing the blood cells like during sleeping in altitude. Instead the changes and adaptation we see are specific to exercise. There are two main approaches within training in altitude, although there are many ways to achieve this depending on the athlete. These are:

  • Maximising our Physiology
  • Getting largest response for smallest dose

  • How does altitude training work?
  • When we aim to maximise our physiology, we are looking to keep improving on an athlete’s already impressive fitness base. Like a plateau breaker, it is used in blocks to push people forwards with a new stress to the body. The reduction in oxygen means the muscles are forced to do work without oxygen and become used to this. It does this by “switching on” gene transcriptions, or “signals”, to begin changing the musculature to allow easier flow of oxygen to the muscle and improved use of glycolytic (carbohydrate) sources. This happens in sea level training too, and when we stop exercising these signals turn off, whereas in altitude they remain on. The result is more efficient muscle that uses oxygen quickly to transition energy into the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), allowing the muscle to contract.

Using similar principles to maximising our physiology, getting the largest gain from the smallest dose means that we are looking for the biggest bang for our buck in elite athletes. It is rare to find someone at or around the top of their sport not wanting to get better. They try multiple approaches, and with so many aspects to training, probably overdo it in one way or another. Altitude training can be a smart tool that allows us to keep improving our fitness but actually reduce our time spent doing specific training, and keep unwanted injuries to a minimum. Because the reduction in oxygen means the muscles and cardiovascular system is working harder, we can actually reduce the amount of work we have to do in order to get a benefit.
Reduce your fitness training so you can concentrate on one of the other areas so vital to your sport….but still get fitter. Perfect for in-season and “top up” sessions.

So what does this all mean to the athlete?

  • How does altitude training work?
  • Altitude training offers a safe and flexible way to increase fitness in a short space of time, with up to twice as large the improvement compared to sea level, or it can allow smarter training, improving fitness yet still giving you time to focus on other aspects of your sport.
    Backed by research and decades of experience, altitude training with Sporting Edge will create the environment for you to reach your physical peak, break through barriers or slumps, and perform at your best at the crucial time.