We know elite cyclists use altitude training to get a fitness boost before racing in the Tour de France. And we’ve heard that olympic runners will head to high altitude camps in places like Flagstaff or St. Moritz to get that extra lung for events at sea-level.
But what if you’re not headed to Le Portet d’Aspin (a famous Tour de France climb) or the upcoming summer Olympics? What if you’re not a professional cyclist or runner or athlete? What if you consider yourself a ‘normal person’ whose goal is to simply get stronger, maintain a healthy body fat % and feel good in your body. And do so without having to invest a huge amount of time and energy, which is already being divided amongst so many other things in your life.
We tend to diminish a goal like this, as if it’s embarrassing that we’re not headed to the Olympics and we’re ‘just exercising to look and feel good’ instead. But this is actually an extremely important goal. Maintaining the healthiest version of your body is one of the most important things you can do for yourself physically and mentally.
Just like altitude training can help elite cyclists and runners get an edge in their competitions, it can also help you increase muscle mass, lose body fat and improve overall health. Here’s how:
How can altitude training help me increase my muscle mass?
Research shows that intermittent hypoxic training can result in greater gains in muscle mass compared to similar training performed at sea-level. Resistance training done at altitude was shown to:
Increase the metabolic stimulus that signals muscle growth
Enhance metabolic efficiency in the muscle tissue, which enhances muscular endurance
The effects are maximized with a specific transition time between exercises and rest between circuits combined with appropriate volume and muscular tension, so it’s important to work with a coach who is familiar with strength training protocols in hypoxic environments.
How can altitude training help me lose body fat?
Studies have shown differences in fat loss when doing the same exercise program at sea-level vs. altitude. It’s been found that altitude training can decrease fat mass more effectively and create a larger caloric deficit with the same amount of exercise. In one of these studies, participants saw an almost 7% reduction in fat mass by training in a hypoxic environment compared to the group training at sea-level, which didn’t see any reduction. Intermittent Hypoxic Training (IHT) may also play a role in healthy weight loss through influences on leptin secretion (a hormone that tells the body it has had enough to eat).
How can altitude training impact health factors: metabolism, blood pressure and cholesterol?
There are also benefits that contribute to overall health and disease prevention. For instance, IHT can increase your body’s capacity to use fat as fuel. If you’re struggling with a slow metabolic or have metabolic syndrome (slow metabolism), this can help improve those symptoms. The effects of altitude on the metabolism has also shown promise in potentially reducing the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes and insulin resistance in overweight individuals. For those looking to improve vascular health and slow down the progress of peripheral arterial disease (PAD), it’s been shown that training in a hypoxic environment can help reduce arterial stiffness and improved blood pressure, as well as improving blood lipid profile such as having a positive effect on cholesterol.
So if you’re looking to feel better and see greater improvements in body composition more efficiently, altitude training can definitely help. For the fastest route to your goals, ensure you work with a coach and get access to a well-structured program that addresses your specific needs in exercise and nutrition. Learn more about personalized programming at Altitude through our Memberships.
A. Törpel, B. Peter, D. Hamacher and L. Schega, “Dose–response relationship of intermittent normobaric hypoxia to stimulate erythropoietin in the context of health promotion in young and old people”, European Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 119, no. 5, pp. 1065-1074, 2019. Available: 10.1007/s00421-019-04096-8.
I. Guardado, B. Ureña, A. Cardenosa, M. Cardenosa, G. Camacho and R. Andrada, “Effects of strength training under hypoxic conditions on muscle performance, body composition and haematological variables”, Biology of Sport, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 121-129, 2020. Available: 10.5114/biolsport.2020.93037.
B. Yan, X. Lai, L. Yi, Y. Wang and Y. Hu, “Effects of Five-Week Resistance Training in Hypoxia on Hormones and Muscle Strength”, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 184-193, 2016. Available: 10.1519/jsc.0000000000001056.
B. Feriche, A. García-Ramos, A. Morales-Artacho and P. Padial, “Resistance Training Using Different Hypoxic Training Strategies: a Basis for Hypertrophy and Muscle Power Development”, Sports Medicine – Open, vol. 3, no. 1, 2017. Available: 10.1186/s40798-017-0078-z.
R. Timon, I. Martínez-Guardado, A. Camacho-Cardeñosa, J. Villa-Andrada, G. Olcina and M. Camacho-Cardeñosa, “Effect of intermittent hypoxic conditioning on inflammatory biomarkers in older adults”, Experimental Gerontology, vol. 152, p. 111478, 2021. Available: 10.1016/j.exger.2021.111478.
 Park, Hun-Young & Lim, Kiwon. (2017). The Effects of Aerobic Exercise at Hypoxic Condition during 6 Weeks on Body Composition, Blood Pressure, Arterial Stiffness, and Blood Lipid Level in Obese Women. International Journal of Sports Science. 1. 1-5.
This month, Altitude member Robert McGlashan will complete the third of three impressive open water swims as part of an open water marathon, Swim for Change, to raise $300,000 for 3 Canadian charities! Rob swam Lake Erie and Lake Ontario this summer, and in just a couple of weeks he will be headed to California to be the first Canadian to swim around Angel Island.
Who is Robert McGlashan?
Robert a Toronto-based lawyer and partner at Blakeney Henneberry Murphy and Galligan. He is on the board of an environmental organization dedicated to cleaning up and protecting the Great Lakes: Great Lakes Open Water. Robert is also an elite open water swimmer, who has swam the across the highest navigable lake in the world called Lake Titicaca (Bolivia) at 3,812 m (12,507 ft), the Straits of Magellan (Chile), Bonifacio Channel (Italy), the Alcatraz Island (USA), the Bay of Naples from Capri to Naples (Italy) and swam over 25 hours across Lake Geneva from Switzerland to France. He was nominated for the 2019 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year award.
The round-trip swim around Angel Island is a 10-mile (16.1-kilometer) loop in San Fransisco Bay. Swimmers start from Aquatic Park Cove and swim out and around the island. They then head back to Aquatic Park. The swim is cross-current and known as being challenging with rough waters. Swimmers cross two big shipping routes twice. The first and fastest person to swim Angel Island was Dave Kenyon in 1984.
Credit: Marathon Swimmers Federation
Robert’s Altitude Training Preparation
Robert is aiming to not only be the first Canadian to swim Angel Island, but also the fastest person ever. Altitude Coach Josh Downer developed a specific program that has Rob combining paced training swims with strength/interval training at Altitude Athletic. Rob trains at Altitude Athletic 3 times a week and performs power circuits with exercises including back squats, band-assisted squat jumps and Versa Climber intervals. At Altitude, Josh monitors Rob’s heart rate throughout the sessions to ensure he is meeting specific heart rate targets that optimize the altitude training effect. Josh has also set certain paces for Rob’s training swims – which he does 5 times a week – to ensure he is prepared to up his speed on the big day.
Rob has seen a difference in training at Altitude, he states, “The benefits of altitude training for me have been improved strength and endurance as well as increased rate of recovery.”
Swimming Angel Island for the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Society of Canada
The Mountain Gorilla Conservation Society of Canada is a volunteer-based charitable organization whose members are passionate and dedicated to helping save the worlds wild gorillas The organization helps to secure the future of wild gorillas by increasing the number of wildlife veterinarians in the field. They work to monitor and provide the highest level of veterinary care to mountain and lowland gorillas suffering from life-threatening illness and injury, and address environmental issues that affect the poor, low income and underserved communities through resource management, environment and conservation studies, resilience planning and preparedness.
On October 26, 2021, Robert McGlashan will swim the cold swim around Angel Island to raise $100,000 for the Gorillas. This is one of three charities he will be swimming for in an attempt to raise $300,000 for 3 Canadian charities.
Help Robert get to his goal of raising $300,000 by donating to the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Society of Canada:DONATE NOW
The team at Altitude is incredibly proud and inspired by Rob embarking on this amazing open water marathon and raising money for incredible organizations.
If you are reading this, you are probably thinking about experimenting with low oxygen (hypoxic) training.
Great move. Altitude training has many benefits when it comes to marathon training — exercise physiologists around the world say that it can improve fitness by increasing mitochondrial activity, augmenting red blood cell count, even changing gene expression.
But here’s the thing: no matter your fitness level or sport of choice, it’s best to have a plan when implementing a new form of training. Here, we suggest how you can make the most of Altitude Athletic in each phase of your race build-up.
The Base Phase
When: up to two months before race day
You might like to start to build your base five to six months in advance of your race, particularly if it’s a longer event like a half-marathon, marathon or Ironman. If so, your question might be: when do I start implementing altitude training? New research indicates that there could be a memory component to altitude training benefits—the more accustomed you are to low-oxygen training, the greater the benefits you might reap. So, best to acquaint yourself with thin air as soon as possible.
That being said, ease into running, cycling or other workouts at altitude slowly. If this is your first experience with low-oxygen training, and your goal race is still months away, start your build with easy efforts in the first week at altitude. So, if you’re focused on an upcoming marathon training, begin by targeting recovery and non-workout runs, and adjust how you define “easy pace.” Unlike running at a measly 250m in Toronto, running even the easiest of paces at, say, 9,000 ft will at first feel challenging. After one month of base, also try one of your weekly workouts at altitude.
Tip: Monitor your blood ferritin and haemoglobin levels monthly during this phase to see how you are responding to the change in stimulus.
2) The Added Stimulus Phase (two months to two weeks before race day):
This is when you dive into harder, higher-volume and race simulation workouts. Executing these tough sessions at altitude can boost fitness and confidence.
In this phase, alternating between altitude simulation and sea level workouts can be useful for two reasons:
First, working out in a low-oxygen environment will make it harder to hit splits. Use those workouts for building fitness and accustom yourself to the feeling of running hard, and use the sea level workouts for teaching your body what it’s like to run at your goal pace.
Second, doing big workouts at altitude may tire you out at times in this phase. By mixing in sea level workouts, you mitigate the risk of overtraining and burnout.
Tip: Hard training at altitude will likely elevate your basal metabolism, so hydrate aggressively and eat many nutrient-rich foods in this phase. Remember that this phase is more refined: it’s where you can make the most gains, but it’s where you are most likely to overexert yourself. These tenets are significantly augmented at altitude, so make sure you are giving your body enough fuel to recover.
The Sharpening Phase
Last two weeks before race day
If altitude simulation feels comfortable by now, try to train exclusively at low oxygen for these last two weeks. It is common practice for athletes to spend the two weeks prior to a goal race at altitude, before coming down two to three days before your race. That is because even though it likely takes longer than two weeks to see haematological (blood) adaptations, studies show that other benefits of altitude training can be made faster. In the two weeks before your race, training at altitude could improve your muscles’ buffering capacity, making them better at working in acidic conditions (like the final parts of your race.)
Tip: Do not fret over workout splits in this phase. Remember that workouts at altitude will still feel harder than normal, even if you are sharp. If you have made it to this phase healthy and fit, your reward should be to feel good during workouts, instead of worrying about pace.
Tip II: Do your last training session at altitude at least three days before your race, to ensure that you do not have leftover fatigue on the start line.
No matter the training phase you are in, approach altitude training like regular marathon training: with diligence. Eat well, drink lots of water, and always listen to your body’s signals. Do those three things, follow our tips, and put in the work – the results will take care of themselves.
Learn more about altitude training for endurance athletes here.
Want to do some more research on hypoxic training literature? Check out our Hypoxic Training Literature folder in our Linktree!
New Zealand is famous all over the world for boasting some of this planet’s most breathtaking natural scenery. The landscape all over the country is incredibly diverse – from lakes, beaches and coastline to glaciers, volcanos and dramatic alpine terrains.
If you want to take it all in, heading over to Wanaka in the South Island is a pretty good first step. Wanaka literally has it all – natural beauty, epic hiking, mountain biking, skiing in the winter and of course, delicious local cuisine to fuel all of your adventures. Wanaka is also home to Mount Aspiring National Park – a stunning park known to be a hiker’s paradise with both short walks and long hikes featuring mountains, glaciers, river valleys and alpine lakes.
Take a look at the view outside our window when we visited Wanaka a few years back:
Not a bad view to wake up to every morning!
Our trip to Wanaka included the Siberia Experience, which is a perfect way to explore some of the diverse wilderness in Mount Aspiring National Park. The Siberia Experience starts with a flight over to the hiking site, which is an experience in itself! The scenes from the small plane are spectacular and dramatic, featuring jagged alpine valleys and waterfalls. You then land in a sort of grassy clearing which is literally a remote valley up in the mountains.
Heading out on the Siberia Experience!
I found the whole experience quite quiet and peaceful but just exhilarating at the same time, especially since it felt so remote and was so different from my everyday surroundings.
After landing, the adventure side of it then really started for us, as we had to cross the Siberia stream to get to the path. The river was freezing cold and actually reached above the knee with water, following a few days of rain.
Getting ready to cross the river!
After crossing, you have a long(ish) hike (roughly 3 hours) which takes you across open tussock flats and native rainforest. The whole time, you’re completely surrounded by the incredible alpine landscape.
Unfortunately for me, it was during the early part of this hike as I was trekking through some tall grass that I managed to sprain my ankle quite badly! I must have missed a step as I cut through the grass and later found out that it was sprained in three different places. As you can imagine, it was quite painful and I couldn’t actually put much weight on it so unfortunately had to cut our trip short, which was very disappointing! The next step of course was finding a way to get to the hospital – a tough feat given how remote we were. Luckily, an American family had noticed me go down and one of the guys (a firefighter apparently!) carried me to a helicopter that was set to leave shortly. The whole situation was very dramatic and although quite painful at the time, the injury and emergency liftoff just added to the adventure of trekking in the New Zealand wilderness. Although I do deeply regret missing the rest of Siberia Experience, which would have included the remainder of the beautiful hike followed by a boating trip through a glacial mountain river!
Injury or not, exploring a bit of Mount Aspiring National Park and enjoying the (first half!) of the Siberia Experience was truly unforgettable. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of adventure and immersion into breathtaking natural scenery – maybe just wear some supportive shoes and make sure you’ve got an American firefighter with you…just in case…
Over the past year, lockdown has made it very tough to keep up a fitness routine that not only keeps you strong and healthy but is also challenging, fulfilling and fun. As someone whose fitness routine revolved mostly around tough conditioning sessions in the gym, kickboxing, bouldering and the occasional indoor spinning class, I was certainly thrown through a loop in March 2020 when these activities were essentially no longer available to me!
An early saver for me personally was a half-marathon that I had signed up for a few months previously (before lockdown). My boyfriend and I had signed up to run the Wimbledon Half Marathon that May. It would be my first ever proper running race while he had run a full marathon the previous year in Edinburgh. I was very excited, but also quite nervous about training for a long distance event. The training I was used to was based more on short, intense bursts of power like those used in Muay Thai or plyometrics, as opposed to longer, sustained cardiovascular training that required more endurance. In fact, I think the longest I had run up till then was about 10 km! However, I was certainly up for the challenge and we began planning a full 6-week training plan leading up to the half-marathon. I spent a lot of time considering how I would balance half marathon training with my already jam-packed, gym-based fitness routine.
Unfortunately, 2020 had very different plans and not only was it looking like the half marathon would likely be cancelled, but we ended up in separate countries as I spent early lockdown back home in Ontario and he remained with his family in the UK. We decided for the sake of it to just follow the training plan anyway, in case by some chance we might still be able to meet again in May and run the race. Those training runs which started short (2-5 km) and then ramped up (10+ km) became such key parts of my early lockdown. It was a chance to get outdoors and most importantly, it was an opportunity for some consistency in a time that was otherwise incredibly unpredictable and uncertain! I tried to go into it with no expectations and I enjoyed feeling stronger with each run and more able to handle the longer distances. I loved listening to music during the runs, exploring my neighbourhood and feeling a tiny bit like I was achieving something together with my boyfriend even though he was so far away and I wasn’t sure when I’d see him again.
Eventually, May rolled around and we were both still very much in separate countries and the race was now very much cancelled. However, we were both well trained at this point and decided to just run the half marathon anyway. And so we picked a day to do it and set off simultaneously – me in the morning in (a very sunny!) Oakville and him in the afternoon in (a very windy!) Essex, 5 hours difference between us. We actually called each other a few times during the race to check in and my sister even joined (with no training at all – she’s quite the runner!). I ended up running the race in just under 2 hours with a time of 1:53:20 and an average pace of 5:22 min/km – not bad for someone who’s more into sprints and burpees!
I tried some of Endurance Tap’s maple-based energy gels during the run for a boost!
The race through Oakville, tracked on Map My Run!
The half-marathon was a highlight for me in a year that was tough both on the fitness side of things and just in general. One thing I’d say I learnt from it was the benefit of setting yourself challenging but achievable goals and trying to achieve something new. Even though we didn’t get a chance to experience that revved up ‘atmosphere’ so typical of race events, it was almost more special to me in that it was such a personal experience that I got to share with someone I was separated from and that we managed to stick to it in such a bizarre and difficult time.
If you’re away from someone you love right now and want to try and achieve something fitness related (or anything really – doesn’t have to be fitness based!) a race that you both train for together is a good option!
About the Author
Jessica is based out of London, UK and consults early stage businesses on how to raise investment for their companies. She is an avid fitness enthusiast and loves kickboxing, plyometrics, weight training and calisthenics.
Training for your first triathlon can be an intimidating experience. From seemingly endless amounts of gear to scarily fast transitions, there can be a lot to wrap your head around leading up to the day. Here are some tips and tricks that will help you feel ready when it’s time to race.
Tip 1: KNOW THE COURSE:
Register for a race close to home, so that you can visit the course before your race to check it out. Take note of the current and terrain; have a sense of how hilly the bike and run will be. Have a sense of what the weather will be like around race day so that you can properly prepare for the appropriate conditions. Prepare at least 12 weeks before your race to give yourself ample time to get ready both mentally and physically. Try practicing specific course sections you may find tricky; this could be a sharp U-turn on the bike, an uphill climb you are nervous about, or running through a transition zone so you don’t get lost or forget something. After all, transition time counts too and while we’ve all ran with that bike helmet on, it may be easier without!
Tip 2: KNOW YOUR GEAR:
You may feel pressured to have a lot of equipment from your online research or local triathlon group. The most important thing is to be comfortable and able to work with the equipment you have. Run through your gear the night before race day to avoid forgetting anything essential! Here are a few things you do need: Shoes: Do NOT break in new shoes the day of the race. We often recommend getting running shoes that fit to your gait & tread pattern but go with what you’ve trained in and are most comfortable with. If you have cycling shoes and clipless pedals, be sure to be comfortable with clipping in and out. Race Kit: You don’t NEED a tri suit for your first race, especially if it is a short course. Swimming in a swimsuit and quickly throwing on shorts and a t-shirt for the other two disciplines will work; I’ve done it and have even thrown on a hoodie for a rather windy bike ride. If you’re lucky enough to have a tri suit for your first race, do a training session or two with it before race day to avoid any surprises. All of these options including your wetsuit (if the race calls for one) can be sleeved or sleeveless. Don’t forget an extra layer if the forecast looks a bit cold. Wetsuit: To prevent chaffing and to help with removing your wetsuit in the transition zone use petroleum jelly or Vaseline around key connection points like the neck, ankles, and wrists!
Bike: While there is technical assistance on each race, you should feel comfortable with basic maintenance (eg. fixing a flat). Bring a spare tube and CO2 or a small pump in the trusty bike bag. Be comfortable on the bike you are riding, and double check that the gears shift well the night before your race. Give it a test run if you are renting a road bike for your first race. Pump up your tires the morning of to avoid the awful, sluggish ride I endured on my first triathlon. Don’t forget your helmet, sunglasses, and a water bottle!
Your first triathlon is not a race to win: Triathlons are a test of mental endurance. Don’t forget this as you start training for your first triathlon. There are two common issues: struggling with a section too often or exhaustion from trying to keep up with someone else. A 5x Iron man once said: “Understand if the swim if your hardest leg; it is also the shortest a mere 20-40min of the +3hrs often spent on a course. The bike is your time sitting, eating, drinking and drying off before you set out on a nice scenic run. Some people will beat you in the water but understand they won’t be as comfortable in their splits on land.” For training: BRICK workouts! Try riding your bike the length of the course, and then immediately going for a run. Time yourself and your split times of each kilometer to understand how you feel & where you can improve on your own time. You will encounter a jelly leg feeling and it’s better to encounter this in training than on race day.
TIP 4: START SHORT
While IRONMANs seem exciting to watch and read about, they are extremely taxing on the mind, body, and wallet. Starting with a sprint triathlon allows you to get the jist of a (potentially chaotic) open water swim start, learn how to navigate transition zones, while being able to make some forgiving mistakes. Avoid a race long enough that requires you to worry about fuel (besides a bottle of water on the bike) during your triathlon, as that is a whole other discipline in itself.
TIP 5: LEARN FROM OTHER ATHLETES
Finding a group to train with can boost confidence (and speed). A seasoned athlete can easily tell you what to look out for, and can give simple but important tips on your posture/form to help you be a little more aerodynamic. Plus, it’s always nice to have someone there for you on those bad weather training days to keep you motivated!