4 Common Misconceptions about Altitude Training

4 Common Misconceptions about Altitude Training

Altitude training has been around for a while – ever since the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Despite its long history, it remains relatively unknown, especially here in North America. This is because altitude training has been used only exclusively by the pros, and only recently has the technology become more accessible to everyday athletes. Because of how elusive it is, we have come across some misconceptions about altitude training. Here are 4 of the most common ones we’ve heard:

1. It’s only for people who are planning to race at altitude

No, altitude training is not just for people competing at altitude. It’s also for people looking to improve their athletic performance at sea level, specifically increase their VO2 max, aerobic capacity and power output.

Look at it like resistance training, but for your endurance. Reducing the oxygen percentage in the room is like adding resistance to your workout. And incorporating that kind of training into your program will improve (or at the very least, maintain) performance at any elevation.

2. Altitude training is dangerous

There are risks associated with any form of physical activity – whether it be hot yoga, a high intensity spin class, or a run around the neighborhood. The same goes for training in a simulated altitude environment. To reduce risk as much as possible – members are assessed and screened before entering the altitude room. During training, members are given carefully regulated programs based on their conditioning, and are always under supervision from trained coaches. Heart rate monitors and pulse oximeters are used regularly to monitor exertion.

Of course, not all forms of exercise are safe for everybody. And altitude training isn’t recommended for people who are pregnant, have breathing problems like asthma, have high blood pressure or other serious medical issues.

3. But I’ll lose strength and power exercising at altitude

Training in reduced oxygen typically means you are unable to reach the same levels of ‘intensity’ as you can at sea level. It is this stress of hypoxia on the body that stimulates it to be more efficient in using oxygen and providing energy to active muscles, improving aerobic conditioning and endurance. Continuous exposure to high altitude will cause you to lose power. But, when you combine simulated altitude training sessions (2-3 per week) with your regular strength and power sessions at sea level – you can maintain, and actually boost, your strength and power levels no problem.

4. I’ve heard that you are supposed to sleep in an altitude tent. Why exercise?

Altitude tents are designed for the “live high, train low” model. This method of training (sleeping at altitude) is commonly used by athletes to increase their red blood cell count and improve overall performance.

For those of us living at sea level, and who aren’t professional athletes – altitude tents can become impractical. We don’t have the benefit of naturally ‘living high’ and it can be hard to get the most out of an altitude tent – which you should be using for 4 weeks, 16 hours/day while maintaining training. See here.

A great alternative is simulated altitude training, which follows the “live low, train high” model. You already live low, and perhaps mostly compete low. Training high gets the job done quicker (2-3 sessions per week is usually recommended) and it’s much easier to convince your partner about heading to the gym than sleeping in a tent.

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5 Insane Outdoor Adventure Races

5 Insane Outdoor Adventure Races

1. Patagonian Expedition Race

Known as the “The Adventure at the End of the World”, this race takes place in southern Patagonia – with routes changing every year. Teams cover ground through “trekking, climbing, rope-related work, kayaking, mountain biking and backcountry navigation”.

When: Next race is November 14th- 27th, 2020

Where: Southern Chilean Patagonia

Cost: $5400 – $6800

More information: https://www.patagonianexpeditionrace.com

2. Transrockies Run

Known as a “Summer Camp for Big Kids”. The altitude makes this race next-level. Over 6 days and 120 miles, you cross stunning scenery at various elevations going up to 12600 feet. This race is just as fun as it is challenging.

When: August 13th- 18th, 2019

Where: Colorado Rocky Mountains

Cost: $1500 – $2200

Transrockies Run

More information: https://transrockies-run.com

3. Jungfrau Marathon, Switzerland

Known as “The Most Beautiful Marathon of the World”, the Jungfrau Marathon is 26.1 miles and climbs an elevation of almost 6000 feet. Starting in the beautiful city of Interlaken, the course takes athletes through alpine terrain that reaches its highest point at almost 7250 feet.

When: September 7th, 2019

Where: Swiss Alps

Cost: $140.00

4. Dragon’s Back Race

Known as “The Toughest 5-day Mountain Running Race in the World”, this race challenges competitors through 196 miles of mountainous terrain that climbs over 50800 feet in the mountains of Wales. Experience with mountain running and ultra distance races is essential for completing this remarkable and testing challenge.

When: Late May

Where: Wales, UK

Cost: $1182 USD

Dragon's Back Race

More information: http://www.berghausdragonsbackrace.com

5. Tor Des Geants

Known as one of the greatest trail running races in the world”, Tor Des Geants is a non-stop ultra-trail race experience that covers 205 miles at a total elevation of 7880 ft. The surroundings are truly spectacular – Italian Alps, the Gran Paradiso Natural Park and the Aosta Valley – but the challenge itself is extremely difficult – only 40% of racers finished in 2018.

When: Early September

Where: Courmayeur, Italy

Cost: Registration costs $843.42 USD

Tor des Geants

More information: https://www.tordesgeants.it/en

Altitude Training Rooms – The Evolution

Altitude Training Rooms – The Evolution

Altitude training is nothing new to athletes. Especially Olympians, whose draw to altitude started with the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 (7,000 feet). After that, they discovered its benefits not just for competing at altitude, but also for improving performance at sea level. And there’s proof.

Check out these stats from the games in Sydney and Athens showing what percentage of medalists + finalists used altitude training camps for their preparation:

For swimmers in the Olympic Games

Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000

Over 40% of the top athletes (including one-third of the medalists and finalists) used altitude training camps to prepare.

Athens Summer Olympics in 2004

5/7 of the medalists and 9/14 of the finalists used altitude training camps to prepare.

In total, that’s 70% of the top athletes (14/20), and an increase since the previous games

*figures from The Use of Altitude Training in Sports

Not all of us are Olympians and can dedicate time to travelling the world and training at various high altitude destinations. So, how can we get that same effect of increased performance and efficient training here at sea level? Well, fortunately, technology has allowed use to introduce simulated altitude environments that mimic what you would experience on top of the mountain.

Simulated altitude training is done through things like oxygen masks and high altitude tents sleeping in (live high, train low). Now these are great pieces of equipment that definitely have their benefits – but the problem is, they can be very uncomfortable and restrictive. Most athletes really just want to rip that mask off as soon as they put it on. Plus, when you are on the mountain or at your race, there is no mask restricting your motion, so the environment you are training in doesn’t exactly model the environment you are training for.

So how can we make altitude training more comfortable? How can we make it feel even more like the real thing? Thankfully, technology has evolved and improved even more to give us a solution to the discomfort and difficulties that comes with masks and other personal-use altitude equipment. The solution is Altitude Chambers. Altitude Chambers are actually rooms (tightly sealed to certain specifications) that use a compressor and gas-filtration system to reduce the concentration in the air, creating a hypoxic environment. These rooms let you exercise and move around freely, just like any regular gym or studio. The only difference is that the oxygen concentration is lowered from its usual 20.8% to typically between 14-16% in order to simulate being at elevations over 4000 feet.

What does a Simulated Altitude Chamber look like? Here are some pictures to help you visualize it:

Mile High Training

This is a small 1-2 person chamber that you might find inside a larger gym (usually operated by a professional sports team and rarely found in commercial gyms). For this type of a room, you would usually have cardio pieces inside. In this case there is a bike and a treadmill. Here the altitude is at 9000 feet, which is a good elevation to get a reasonably tough workout in.

Sporting Edge (Professional Soccer Team Gym)

Here is a great example of a room for group training sessions. It’s just like a spin class – but on a mountain! This room is currently in the training facility of a professional soccer team in England (Swansea FC).

Quay Club Dubai

This club in Dubai goes all-out (in typical Dubai-fashion), with the largest altitude room in the world at over 1000 square feet. This would definitely be an example of a super luxurious, high-tech gym showcasing just how far altitude training has advanced. This room in particular goes up to altitudes of 13000 feet.

So there you have it, all of these rooms are airtight, and account for things like CO2 build-up and efficiency (maintaining altitude). You can see that all of them allow the freedom to move around with no need for an uncomfortable mask to breathe into. Their evolution stemmed from bringing the training methods of elite Olympians to the public, without compromising comfort and freedom of motion.