Altitude Training: What Is It and Is It Effective?

Altitude training isn’t a new concept. In fact, altitude training (which is also known as hypoxic training) first rose to popularity in the late 60s and early 70s following the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico when the success of altitude acclimatized athletes gained international attention.

Since then, altitude training has become popular among a wide range of athletes, with particular interest from endurance athletes such as marathon runners, triathletes, swimmers and cyclists.

Whether you’re an elite athlete looking to improve your performance or you’re simply a fitness enthusiast that wants to find out what altitude training is all about, here’s what you need to know…

How altitude training works

In a training context, high altitude includes anything greater than 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) above sea level, however, the most dramatic results tend to be achieved when completed at around 7,000 feet (2,133 meters) above sea level.

The core benefits of training at high altitude are derived from the low oxygen environment—the decreased volume of oxygen molecules in the air being breathed in means that muscles don’t receive the same amount of oxygen as they need. To handle this disparity, the body naturally triggers the release of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO), which in turn stimulates the increased production of red blood cells to allow more oxygen to be transported to the muscles.

The benefits of altitude training

The aerobic conditioning benefits are the primary benefit that elite endurance athletes derive from altitude training, as it’s known to improve the body’s ability to deliver and utilize oxygen without increases to load or intensity. 

In addition to the aerobic benefits, altitude training has also been shown to provide additional benefits, such as:

  • It can improve the body’s tolerance and response to anaerobic exercise, therefore improving muscular endurance.
  • It can stimulate muscle growth, leading to an increased tolerance for high-intensity exercise.
  • It can support weight loss by burning up to 25% more calories than a low altitude workout.

Some forms of altitude training may also help to improve agility, muscle tone, flexibility and core strength.

The problem with altitude training

While altitude training can offer multiple benefits, unless you live in a high altitude location, the improvements are only temporary usually lasting for somewhere between 10-20 days.

As the physiological enhancements of altitude training rely on achieving a state of acclimatization, the benefits will subside shortly after returning to a normal altitude. 

However, there is a way to get around this.

While access to training in a high altitude location may not be logistically possible for most of us, plenty of health clubs like this gym in Melbourne now provide simulated high altitude training, where you can train in the same conditions as a high altitude environment even if you reside in a low altitude location.

Many simulated altitude training venues also provide multiple or zoned conditions, allowing you to customize the altitude to suit your personal preferences.

The high accessibility of urban altitude training gyms also allows athletes and trainers to exercise in high altitude conditions multiple times per week, allowing the results to be sustained over the longer-term.

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