Altitude Science

Altitude training works because of the difference in atmospheric pressure between sea level and high altitude. At sea level, air is denser and there are more molecules of gas per liter of air. Because atmospheric pressure is lower at high altitudes, air is less dense and there are fewer molecules of gas per liter of air; this causes a decrease in partial pressures of gases in the body, which elicits a variety of physiological changes in the body that occur at high altitude.

Exposure to reduced oxygen levels (altitude or hypoxia) is a challenge to the human body because oxygen is the primary source of energy for our cells. Under a state of hypoxia the body strives to produce required amounts of energy with less oxygen available. To do so, a protein called Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF-1) sets off a host of reactions geared toward improving the body’s ability to utilize oxygen.

At high altitudes, there is a decrease in oxygen hemoglobin saturation. In order to compensate for this, erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone secreted by the kidneys, stimulates red blood cell production from bone marrow in order to increase hemoglobin saturation and oxygen delivery. It is uncertain how long this adaptation takes because various studies have found different conclusions based on the amount of time spent at high altitudes.

While EPO occurs naturally in the body, it is also made synthetically to help treat patients suffering from kidney failure and to treat patients during chemotherapy. Over the past thirty years, EPO has become frequently abused by competitive athletes through blood doping and injections in order to gain advantages in endurance events. Abuse of EPO, however, increases RBC counts beyond normal levels (polycythemia) and increases the viscosity of blood, possibly leading to hypertension and increasing the likelihood of a blood clot, heart attack or stroke. The natural secretion of EPO by the human kidneys can be increased by altitude training, but the body has limits on the amount of natural EPO that it will secrete, thus avoiding the harmful side effects of the illegal doping procedures.

Benefits are numerous

  • Amplified pulmonary oxygen absorption
  • Boosted production of Erythropoietin Hormone (EPO) by the kidneys, stimulating generation of Red Blood Cells (RBCs) and enhanced oxygen transportation through the body
  • Increased capillarization for greater oxygen delivery to the tissues, muscles and brain
  • Enhanced production and rejuvenation of mitochondria (the cell’s hub for aerobic energy production) and mitochondrial enzymes, allowing more efficient use of oxygen for energy production and superior enzymatic anti-oxidative defence.
  • Decreased average Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

Increased Production and release of Human Growth Hormone which promotes fat loss and muscle building

Sleeping at Altitude:

This is the most widely accepted and common technique used in altitude training. It involves prolonged exposure to lower levels of hypoxia at night with physical training sessions at sea-level during the day.

This method avoids inherent problems associated with permanent residence at altitude such as limited training load in oxygen deficient air, muscle loss, immune system suppression, advanced dehydration and excessive fatigue. Through the use of O2 Performance Altitude Room system, individuals can safely and effectively take advantage of the scientific maxim “Live High, Train Low” and achieve the benefits associated with exposure to hypoxia.

Exercising at Altitude:

A combination of 2-3 moderate intensity hypoxic workouts per week, mixed into a sea-level training program can take performance enhancements to a level that is unreachable with only altitude sleeping.

A moderate intensity effort in our normobaric hypoxia environment will lower the Arterial Oxygen Saturation (Sa02 = measure of percentage of blood with oxygen bound) from its normal 98% to about 83-85%. A high intensity workout at sea-level will cause a desaturation to only about 95%.

This acute condition is strongly tied to both mitochondrial adaptation and a shift to anaerobic energy production. In turn, more stress is placed on the muscles and a demand is created for muscle rebuilding and energy production through fat metabolism.

Intermittent Hypoxic Training (IHT):

IHT altitude training protocols together with Exercise at altitude are the method we promote strongly. IHT has become greatly supported in use for performance enhancement, health and wellness purposes. It involves short intermittent inhalations (3-5 minutes) of hypoxic air (9-10% O2, 21000ft/6400m) interspersed with inhalations of ambient air (2-5 minutes).

These hypoxic and hypercapnic (increase CO2) cycles recreate a natural physiological training mechanism that occurs in mammalian embryonic development to help newborns fight the initial oxidative stress of hyperoxia at birth. The same effect can boost an adult’s defense against unavoidable oxidative stress, hopefully aiding in the following:
• Prevention/alleviation of chronic and degenerative illnesses
(Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer)
• Slowing of the aging process, overall health, wellness and rejuvenation

Thousands of people each year ascend to altitude, whether it be for a mountaineering expedition or sporting event. Mountaineers must spend weeks at base camp acclimatizing to the harsh hypobaric and hypoxic conditions they will face in their trek to the summit.

Even with this investment of time, and regardless of one’s physical condition, the risk of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) or other factors preventing a successful ascent or hampering performance. Many of our Elite athletes often complain about the effects of altitude when they travel to compete in Central and South America countries.

A person’s reaction to high altitude is heavily dependent on genetics. Certain people are predisposed to acquiring AMS more severely than others. However, studies show that 80% of people ascending to altitudes of 13000ft/4000m or higher will suffer the debilitating symptoms of AMS (headache, nausea, insomnia) to some extent. This risk cannot be completely eliminated, but it can be predicted, controlled and significantly reduced in a cost effective and timely manner.

By exposing your body to higher levels of normobaric hypoxia and exercising in hypoxia with the use of O² Performance Labs facility before leaving for an for a sporting event or expedition, athletes and mountaineers can pre-acclimatize and prepare themselves for exposure to extreme altitudes.

Through the stimulation of EPO production and other physiological effects previously listed, users can expect the following benefits as a result of such a pre-acclimatization program:
• Reduced symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness
• Money saved by minimizing time spent acclimatizing on site
• Increased probability of a successful summit attempt
• Improved power and endurance
• Diminished fatigue
• Decreased recovery time after aerobic and anaerobic efforts

Focused on Athletics:

For decades now, athletes have been aware of the benefits that altitude training can have for their performance in terms of overall strength, power and endurance. Today it is the most popular and only legal method to getting a physiological edge over the competition. Through a combination of either sleeping in normobaric hypoxia, or mixing moderate workout sessions in hypoxia environment 2-3 times per week with IHT training, athletes can boost performance to otherwise unachievable levels.

All forms of physical effort and exertion require extensive use of the body’s oxygen transport and metabolism systems. The proper altitude training program can substantially boost these systems through enhanced ventilation, naturally increased EPO production and increased mitochondrial efficiency as described in the general section. This will allow more efficient energy production both aerobically as well as anaerobically.

Intermittent Hypoxic Training (IHT) should be considered by any elite level Athlete or Federation. Short-term bursts of low and high oxygen air breathing doubles training efficiency. The response to mild hypoxia training stimuli is almost instant triggering cascade of effects facilitated by Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIF). Simply speaking, repetitive “signals” that are sent to the body multiple times during the sessions are more beneficial than a single long-lasting one hypoxia exposure.

Athletes can expect to gain the following benefits from the discussed physiological effects:
• Increased V02 max (max rate of oxygen usage)
• Enhanced power output and speed
• Improved strength and endurance
• Increased exercise-till-exhaustion (ETE) time
• Reduced recovery time after exertion
• Decreased resting heart-rate and blood pressure
• Maintenance of cardiovascular fitness when injured
• Diminished overall fatigue





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