Altitude Training

NSWIS - Australian Institute of Sport

This is the practice of training at high altitude, preferably over 8000ft (2,400m) above sea level for several weeks. At intermediate altitudes, the air still contains approximately 20.9% oxygen, but the barometric pressure and thus the partial pressure of oxygen is reduced.

At high altitudes the body will adapt to the relative lack of oxygen in one or more ways such as increasing the mass of red blood cells and hemoglobin, and altering muscle metabolism. Athletes that have acquired blood adaption at altitude, can travel to competitions while maintaining a higher concentration of red blood cells for 12–15 days, and this gives them a competitive advantage.

Furthermore, athletes that utilize altitude adaption during the off-season training period, can expect to achieve greater intensity workouts, increased training loads and faster recovery which ultimately leads to lasting performance gains. There is a reason why the flagship facility for the U.S. Olympic Committee, is the U.S. Olympic Training Center located in Colorado Springs at 6,035ft (1,839m) above sea level.

Altitude training can be simulated through use of an hypoxicator system where the barometric pressure is kept the same, but the oxygen content is reduced which also reduces the partial pressure of oxygen.

Blood Adaption - Click to Enlarge

Altitude training, also known as hypoxic training, involves exercising in, living in or otherwise breathing oxygen reduced air for the purpose of improved athletic performance, pre-acclimatization to altitude and rehabilitation.

In the past, athletes had to travel to or live at high elevations to obtain the benefits of this. O² Performance Labs is able to reproduce the effects of altitude at sea level via a hypoxic generator. Through the production of normobaric hypoxic (oxygen reduced) air, we can simulate altitudes of up to 21,000ft/6,400m.

When the human body is exposed to hypoxia (oxygen reduced environments), it struggles to produce required amounts of energy with less available oxygen. This struggle triggers the onset of a range of physiological adaptations geared towards enhancing the efficiency of the body’s respiratory, cardiovascular and oxygen utilization systems.

Normal sea-level training will only drop Arterial Oxygen Saturation (SaO2) a couple of percentage points from its usual 96-98%. A hypoxic workout at a moderate intensity will drop this measure of oxygen saturation in the blood to the 80% or 70% level. This de-saturation replicates what happens at high altitude. This deep hypoxia in the muscles stimulates a host of adaptations that makes them more efficient.

Chris Carmichael - Lance Armstrong's Coach - Click Above

Exposure to reduced oxygen levels triggers responses in the body that are important in improving sport performance. The physiological adjustments occur on a cellular level promoting increased red blood cells, oxygen transfer efficiency, and reduction in average heart rate.

Other benefits associated with altitude training include:

  • Increased O2 uptake and delivery (VO2max)
  • Enhanced power output for increased speed, strength and endurance
  • Reduced recovery time after both aerobic and anaerobic effort
  • Reduced blood lactate at a given workload and improved buffering ability for less burn
  • Increase blood flow, increase oxygen delivery and stimulate stem cells that repair damaged tissue
  • Pre-Acclimatization for travel to high altitude events
  • Maintain fitness whilst injured by reducing the exercise duration without compromising the benefits

Athletes or individuals who wish to gain a competitive edge for athletic events can take advantage of exercising at high altitude, however, high intensity workouts may suffer at high altitudes since the environment has reduced oxygen. That is why O² Performance Labs strongly believes in the Live High, Train Low Philosophy.

The Live High and Train Low method optimizes adaptations gained at altitude without sacrificing higher intensity workouts, thus enhancing performance. This training philosophy involves exposure at higher altitudes in order to experience the physiological adaptations that occur within the body, such as increased Erythropoietin (EPO) levels, increased Red Blood Cell levels, and higher VO2 max, while maintaining high intensity workouts at sea level where the concentration of oxygen is at it’s greatest.

Altitude training can produce increases in speed, strength, endurance, and recovery by maintaining altitude exposure for a significant period of time. A study using simulated altitude exposure for 18 days, yet training closer to sea-level, showed performance gains were still evident 15 days later.



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