What it’s like to cycle through the Pyrenees

The Pyrenees, a spectacular mountain range, beckons cyclists from all over the world with its challenging climbs and breathtaking scenery. One of our clients is an avid cyclist and recently tackled a cycling trip through the Pyrenees in June. He shared his experience and trip itinerary with us to shed some light on what it’s like to cycle through the Pyrenees.

 The Goal

We set off on an epic cycling adventure through The Pyrenees mountain range of France (and Spain) organized by Magic Places. The goal: “…have some fun with friends, see some great sights, and get into better shape.”

The trip started in Toulouse, but the actual riding would start in the seaside town of Biarritz and finish in Carcassone, with difficult climbs and spells of inclement weather to tackle in between. There were 10 rides in total, very few rest days, and a different place to stay every night. The elevation gain was significant, but so was the perseverance. At the end of the trip, the key discoveries were: “…dealing with the weather, encountering lots of livestock, keeping hydrated due to the elevation (5 large bottles of water per day), dealing with some difficult grades, eating some great food, and of course, taking care of each other.”

Check out the full itinerary and trip photos below…

 The Route

A 16-day trip through France (and Spain), showcasing some of the most pristine landscape in southwest Europe. The total distance travelled on the bike was 934.3 km and total elevation gain was 18,463 m. In total, it was 51 h 11 min of riding.

The Challenge

The Pyrenees – stunning and rural, and a thrilling challenge for cyclists. “We faced a lot of bumps between here and there…”

The Journey: Framed by a Stunning Backdrop

Whether your quads were burning from a seemingly never-ending climb or you were shedding layers from rapid changes in temperature – the scenery never failed to disappoint. Take this 102 km ride from Isaba to Pau for example…

Gorgeous ride: 1513 m of climbing, a 26 km climb to start the day, green mountains, snow at the summit, road followed the river, goats, cows and horses on road.(from Strava)

Col d’Aspin

“Beautiful day, more climbing…”

When cycling uphill, your rate of deceleration actually increases due to the impact of gravity on momentum. So you have to push your pedals at a constant effort throughout the climb to avoid a dramatic reduction in speed. Altitude is also a factor. You’ll find it harder to breathe because oxygen is no longer as easily available to your body. This can be particularly noticeable for those who have limited experience cycling at altitude, and those of us living at sea level. Indeed the guys on the trip who were from Calgary seemed to have a bit of an advantage when it came to the big climbing days (Calgary is at 1045 m).


“Lunchtime, bikes parked…”

Re-fuelling is extremely important during a trip like this. Fortunately, the food in France is delicious. Midday stops in rural French towns allow for lengthy lunch breaks and great meals. Those calories are certainly going to good use!

Col du Tourmalet

“The big climb…”

We’ve reached the highest point of our ride. This is the most utilized of any peak in the Tour de France. Le Geant de Tourmalet is one of two statues found on the summit. This ride was actually delayed by a day due to the rain and fog which would have made it almost impossible to see the peak.

An Epic ride: Strava stats from the big climb

Distance: 128.31 km

Moving Time: 7:12:16

Elevation: 3,685 m

Gorgeous sunny day for popular Tour de France climbs Col d’Aspine, Col du Tourmalet and Col de Peyresourdes. 3085 m of climbing. (Strava)

Challenge Conquered

There is always more to altitude to gain…”

It’s always a great feeling seeing the route you conquered and looking through the Strava stats that show your hard work. There’s always more mountains to climb and landscapes to explore.

For those looking to elevate their cycling skills and undergo intensive cycling training, the Pyrenees offer a formidable challenge. Cyclists on a Pyrenees cycling tour will encounter steep gradients, hairpin turns, and heart-pounding climbs that test endurance and willpower. Climbs like the Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aubisque are iconic among those seeking cycling training, and conquering these passes is a badge of honor for many. The intense climbs in the Pyrenees are perfect for cyclists seeking to push their limits and improve their performance.

If you’ve got a cycling trip coming up, we can help you prepare. Book a complimentary consult with one of our coaches to learn more: BOOK COACH CONSULT.

Going Higher: What is altitude training?

In today’s highly-developed world, gaining a competitive edge is more difficult than ever. Speed suits for swimmers, carbon fibre soles in running shoes, and aerodynamic helmets and bikes have become more and more available to recreational athletes looking to up their game. However, as fun and cool as these tech trends are, they don’t actually change the most important thing – your own personal human engine.

Within the millions of blood vessels in your body travel red blood cells, called erythrocytes. The role of these erythrocytes is to transport highly-coveted oxygen to tissues in order to power your body. If you decide to train for a marathon and get going on a training program, the body begins to produce more and more red blood cells over the weeks. It does so to deliver more oxygen to starving muscles that are working harder and longer than in previous weeks.

This is a normal response to training and one of the reasons why a long run weekly is very important! The quality of the red blood cells also begins to improve as each blood cell becomes larger and able to carry more oxygen molecules. You can notice these changes during a training program as distances that once would make you feel tired and out of breath become easier and less effortful.

The body is very smart and very insightful. In circumstances where oxygen is harder to come by, it will quickly realize that this special and limited resource needs to be used as effectively and as efficiently as possible. Studies have shown that at altitudes of 2100m and up, the number of blood cells in the bloodstream is higher, and size of red blood cells are bigger. In most basic terms – you can go harder and longer with the same amount of effort.

Now, because the body is so smart (and also lazy), the timing and consistency of training at altitude becomes important. Effects on blood cells can begin as early as 2 hours of exposure, and get better and better with time. If you’ve got a race coming up in a few months, you’ll want to spend about 24 hours total at altitude prior to in order to begin to see tangible changes. If you’ve really got your eye on the prize, the more hours that you can train, the better! Studies have shown that red blood cells increase in size after every 100 hours of altitude training.

Trail Running Fitness Toronto

Who can benefit from training high in the sky? Well, if you’ve picked a race that is taking place above sea-level, you are absolutely going to want to prep for it by getting yourself acclimatized. Even the most well-rounded training program done at sea level will lend itself to a sub-par race at altitude as the body will be starved for oxygen that isn’t available. Not to mention, it’ll feel fairly awful. Second, even if you don’t have anything high in the sky coming up, you’ll be able to truly maximize your training and body adaptations by getting into the chamber even once per week. More blood cells = more oxygen = more work with less effort. Hello PB!

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Back To The Basics: What is Altitude Training?

Simulated altitude training, also known as hypoxic training, is a method of training that involves exposing the body to reduced oxygen levels in order to improve physical performance.

It is commonly used by athletes to improve their endurance and capacity for oxygen uptake, as well as by those living at sea-level to acclimate to the lower levels of oxygen present at high elevations.

There are several ways to do simulated altitude training, including the use of hypoxic tents or chambers and altitude simulation masks.

Hypoxic tents and chambers are enclosures that are designed to mimic the reduced oxygen levels found at high altitudes. They work by using a system of pumps and filters to remove oxygen from the air inside the enclosure, creating a hypoxic environment.

Altitude simulation masks, also known as “altitude masks,” can also be used to mimic the effects of altitude. These masks are connected to “altitude simulators,” which use a combination of pressurized air and oxygen to simulate the reduced oxygen levels found at high altitudes.

rehab and reconditioning

By simulating the conditions of high altitudes, the body can adapt and become more efficient at using oxygen, leading to improved athletic performance and other benefits such as:

1. Improved Oxygen Uptake and Utilization

Simulated altitude training can also lead to improved oxygen uptake and utilization. When an individual trains at simulated altitudes, their body becomes more efficient at using the oxygen that is available. This can lead to improved athletic performance, as the muscles are able to work harder and longer without becoming fatigued.

2. Increased Red Blood Cell Production

Another benefit of simulated altitude training is increased red blood cell production. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the muscles, and at high altitudes, there is less oxygen available. When an individual trains at simulated altitudes, their body responds by producing more red blood cells to help transport oxygen to the muscles. This can lead to improved oxygen delivery to the muscles, resulting in improved athletic performance.

3. Enhanced Muscle Strength and Endurance


In addition to the benefits mentioned above, simulated altitude training can also lead to enhanced muscle strength and endurance. This is because the body has to work harder to get the oxygen it needs to function, leading to an increase in muscle strength and endurance.

Overall, simulated altitude training is a useful tool for athletes and individuals looking to improve their overall health, physical performance and pre-acclimate to high altitude. To learn more about altitude training and training programs, please check out our website here Altitude Athletic Training or email us at info@altitudeathletictraining.com.

Altitude Training for General Health and Fitness: 3 Case Studies to Read

The recent literature on Intermittent Hypoxic Training (IHT) shows benefits that go beyond high performance for athletes. Indeed, we see benefits that extend to your average gym-goer training for improved fitness, overall health and disease prevention.

Today we’ll highlight some case studies that show the impact of hypoxic training on general health and fitness populations. The results are also helpful in comparing the outcomes of training at altitude vs. sea-level.

Altitude Training Benefits: Case Studies

1. Effects of systemic hypoxia on human muscular adaptations to resistance exercise training

Oxygen Level (%): 14.4%

Equivalent Elevation (m): 3000 m

Methods: Subjects performed resistance training 2x/week for 8 weeks

Results: IHT resistance training improved cross sectional area of muscles (muscle size), strength and muscular endurance and increased formation of capillaries (improved blood flow) to muscles. In comparison to sea-level training, a greater effect was seen specifically on muscular endurance and capillary density.


  • Hypoxic training improved muscular endurance more than the same training sea-level
  • Hypoxic training increased capillary density more than sea-level training
  • Capillary density is important for delivery of blood and oxygen and removal of waste by-products from working tissues.

Read the full paper →

2. Effects of strength training under hypoxic conditions on muscle performance, body composition and haematological variables

Oxygen Level (%): 13.0%

Equivalent Elevation (m): 4000 m

Methods: Participants trained 3 days per week for 7 weeks (3 sets x 65−80% 1RM to failure).

Results: Both groups improved their strength performance and muscle perimeters, but the hypoxia group obtained a greater increase in muscle mass (hypoxia: +1.80% vs. normoxia: +0.38%; p<0.05) and decrease in fat mass (hypoxia: -6.83% vs. normoxia: +1.26%; p<0.05) compared to the normoxia group. Additionally, haematocrit values were also higher for the hypoxia group after the detraining period (hypoxia: +2.20% vs. normoxia: -2.22%; p<0.05).


  • Hypoxic group had greater gains in muscle mass and greater decreases in fat mass.
  • For individuals seeking improved health and body composition, hypoxic training can increase muscle mass and decrease fat mass more effectively than normoxic training

Read the full paper →


altitude training benefits for general fitness


3. 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

Oxygen Level (%): 16.5% & 14.5%

Equivalent Elevation (m): 2000 m & 3000 m


Subjects: Women, 30-55 years old, BMI > 30 and BF% > 30

Participants were divided into three groups: Sea-level (normoxic), 16.5% O2 (2000 m) moderate altitude, 14.5% O2 (3000 m) high altitude

Participants performed 30 minutes on the treadmill followed by 30 minutes on the bike, 5 times per week for 6 weeks

Results: Both hypoxic groups saw a larger reduction rate of fat mass and % body fat vs. the normoxic group. The 14.5% O2 group saw the most significant decrease in body weight.

Systolic blood pressure significantly improved in both hypoxic groups. Diastolic blood pressure improved in all groups, but more so in both hypoxic groups.

All groups had improvements in LDL (low-density lipoprotein, sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because it collects in the walls of your blood vessels, raising your chances of health problems). Hypoxic training groups improved more than the normoxic group.

Both hypoxic groups showed greater improvements in arterial stiffness compared to the normoxic group.


  • Greater improvements in heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol arterial stiffness and weight loss with hypoxic training compared to normoxic training
  • Both hypoxic groups saw a larger reduction rate of fat mass and % body fat vs. the normoxic group
  • Greater health benefits can be achieved with a lower exercise intensity at simulated altitude compared to sea-level training in overweight individuals

Read the full paper

Alongside performance benefits, simulated altitude training has benefits that contribute to overall health and fitness. So if you’re trying to find the most efficient way to feel good and optimize your time in the gym, let us know and we’ll help you get there with a combination of altitude training and personalized fitness programming.

Speak with one of our coaches about training options for your specific goals.

Altitude Athletic is Toronto’s first and one of the largest altitude training facilities in the world. We’re here to help you prepare for your next big climb, event or meet your health goals. Learn more about what we do here at Altitude: About Us

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Altitude for Rehab and Re-conditioning

Why altitude training will help your clients get better results during rehab?

Most of us expect to lose some level of conditioning when we get injured. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

Altitude training for sports rehab can be used to create a stimulus that maximizes aerobic output, while reducing training intensity and load on recovering tissue.

Therefore, sessions at simulated altitude (i.e a walk on the treadmill in a simulated altitude chamber or a spin on the bike with an altitude mask) can be done at lower intensities with greater benefit and help recovering clients maintain cardiovascular fitness while injured.

The goal is to mitigate the de-conditioning effect and accelerate the re-conditioning process, providing maximum aerobic adaptations during recovery.

Injuries are never easy, but with intelligent program design and training, clients can get back to full fitness faster and stronger than before.

Minimize De-conditioning, Maximize Re-conditioning

Altitude Athletic can facilitate the return-to-fitness process using specific altitude protocols designed to maintain cardiovascular fitness during injury.

Protocols can be either passive (Intermittent Hypoxic Breathing*) or active and built for varying levels of exercise tolerance.

*Intermittent Hypoxic Breathing (IHB) consists of breathing very low oxygen air from a stationary position (seated) in a series of intervals interspersed with sea-level breathing.

altitude training for sports rehab

Altitude Training for Sports Rehab: Training Recommendations

  • “My client is recovering from an injury and can still exercise.”

If you have a client who can still train actively, use an active intermittent hypoxic training protocol.

For instance, a protocol that has been used for this scenario is 30 minutes of continuous aerobic exercise as close to 75% of max heart rate as possible at 14.5% O2. The goal is to ease the client into a reconditioning program that still elicits a greater performance adaptation. Therefore, reconditioning is more effective and faster than it would have been at sea level.

  • “My client is recovering from an injury and cannot tolerate exercise.”

If your client is struggles to exercise – for example an elderly individual or someone with cardiovascular disease – use a passive breathing protocol. These protocols are based on a tolerance test, for example: 4-6 rounds, 3-5 minutes ON 3-5 minutes OFF at 14.5%-10% O2.

With severely de-conditioned individuals, passive exposures can increase fitness level, aerobic capacity, exercise tolerance, performance and quality of life. Passive exposures can also offset some level of de-conditioning.

Opportunities for Physios and Clinics

By building altitude training into your client’s rehabilitation, you now have a solution to minimize unnecessary de-conditioning and maximize re-coniditioning at the acute and post-injury stages. The result is happier clients, better results achieved faster and greater success for your practice.

You’ve also opened the door to populations with low-exercise tolerance who previously had few solutions for re-conditioning. Intermittent Hypoxic Breathing is game-changing for their health and quality of life. The opportunities provided from this new market will offer a huge boost to your business.


(1) Training High-Living Low: Changes of Aerobic Performance and Muscle Structure with Training at Simulated Altitude

(2) Endurance Training in Normobaric Hypoxia Imposes Less Physical Stress for Geriatric Rehabilitation

(3) The effects of intermittent hypoxic training on aerobic capacity and endurance performance in cyclists

(4) 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

(5) Effects of systemic hypoxia on human muscular adaptations to resistance exercise training

(6) The effect of acute exercise in hypoxia on flow-mediated vasodilation

(7) Intermittent hypoxia increases exercise tolerance in elderly men with and without coronary artery disease

(8) Intermittent hypoxia training as non-pharmacologic therapy for cardiovascular diseases: Practical analysis on methods and equipment

A Conversation With Justyn Knight – Canadian Record Holder and Olympic Track Star

“Don’t be scared to fail, I fail all the time” – Justyn Knight

At the end of the February, we capped off The Altitude 5K Challenge. This was a challenge for runners of all levels to see who can run the fastest 5km on the treadmill when the altitude chamber is set to 9000ft elevation.

After a month that saw all sorts of runners from the community come out and participate in some friendly competition, we were left with our winners. Congratulations to our top runners – Dan Rowland and Catherine Dawe – on running the fastest times of 18:20 and 23:00 respectively in the male and female categories.

To top off our event, I was able to do an interview via Instagram live with one of the world’s fastest 5km runners, Justyn Knight. It was full of laughs, heartfelt words and some “off the track questions.”

If you are unfamiliar with Justyn, he has a fairly impressive resume on the track. Justyn competed at the Tokyo Olympics, placing 7th overall in the 5000m race. He’s also the Canadian record holder for the indoor 1500m. He holds the second fastest 5000m in North America running a time of 12 minutes and 51 seconds. He’s a two-time world finalist, two-time NCAA champion and jokingly the best self-proclaimed dual athlete in the Greater Toronto Area (he actually might be right).

In today’s blog post, I will be highlighting some of Justyn’s responses in case you don’t have time to watch the entire interview. I get you are probably busy!


All Things Justyn And Running

“Was running always your passion?”

To some people’s surprise, for quite some time running was NOT his passion. Justyn was all about the “balling life” and lived and breathed basketball for much of his life, including high school. He actually got into running by accident, well sort of an accident. Although he was a stand out basketball athlete, he was not doing well in gym class, and to boost his mark he had to go run 5km.

Wearing only basketball shoes and shorts, he started his run and set a 5km school record. From there, he realized that he should give running a shot. But this came at a cost of choosing between running and basketball. I think he made the correct decision.

“What are some tips for someone just getting into running?”

Truly falling in love with running is something Justyn thinks is extremely important, it is not something you can do for 10 hours all day like shoot hoops, pucks or playing volleyball. It is a different type of fun, so you have to find ways to keep it fun. He also said, “Notice and internalize your wins in running, those will help you keep going no matter how small they are.”

“What are your tips for someone pursuing a career in running?”

Pursuing a career or any professional sport is extremely difficult and not glamourous like people might think it is. There is a lot of time spent in the proverbial “trenches of training”. You are on a journey that won’t be a straight line to the top. Don’t compare yourself to others because you have no idea where that person is on in their journey. We also live in a day and age of social media.

People posting their workouts can create a comparison culture. Justyn felt this when he would see people training paces that he wasn’t doing and sometimes felt discouraged. Running is very independent, so have faith in the way you are training. The greatest sprinter of all time – Usain Bolt – didn’t have very nice facilities or the best technology. So fancy isn’t always better.


Justyn On Tackling BIG Goals

Justyn has his own little spin when it comes to setting goals. You have probably heard of the acronym S.M.A.R.T goals – with the “R” standing for realistic. Well, when you compete at the highest level you probably have to do things a little differently and cliché acronyms might not work. That’s why Justyn talked about setting unrealistic goals for himself.

Of course, it takes some mental toughness to know you that you will likely fall consistently short of your goals. Justyn’s theory is that if he shows up to practice and trains for that unrealistic goal, falling short of his goal will still put him in a place of success. Races rarely go perfect. Even if you did everything right you can’t control what others do in the race. In his mind, if he just set realistic goals, he might not perform at the level he wants to.


Overcoming Failure

People will say that was an L (loss), but to me that L stands for lesson, and you can always learn from a loss” – Justyn Knight

People looking from the outside in often just see Justyn as this incredibly successful runner. You hear the stories of the winning moments far more than the losses he had endured through his running career. He had two pivotal moments in his running career. The first one was during college when he first paced 143rd and then one year later came in 4th. The second was when he turned pro, he came in 25 pounds over race weight, running his slowest time ever and placing dead last.

He kept that race bib wrote his time on it and put it up on his fridge as a reminder of the disappointment he felt, and what he was working towards everyday. Justyn has a unique way of dealing with his failures. He doesn’t simply ignore them. But rather, immerses himself in his feelings and “feels bad” for himself for around 2 days before he bounces back. Once he bounces back, he remembers not to take today for granted because it will impact tomorrow.



Celebrating Successes

Justyn would not be where he is today if it wasn’t for his talent and incredible work ethic. He shared some of his sweetest memories of racing. In 2017, he went to the world championship finals and was racing against people he watched on TV. These were people who he looked up to as role models.

Prior to the race, he looked at the final heat and felt like he had no business being in that race. Yet he still placed in the middle of the pack in 9th position – a milestone so young in his career. His all-time favourite memory was not at the Olympics. But rather winning a national championship with his team at Syracuse University. Running is a very independent sport. But when you win as a team and you can share that experience it just makes it so much more magical.


Fun Facts About Justyn

“Who is your childhood hero”

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, their work ethic was unmatched and that’s what I strive for.

“If you were to pick an animal that most closely represents your personality traits, what are you choosing?”

My little cockapoo dog, we both get up to no good.

“If you were going on a first date where is the first date taking place?”

Couldn’t give away his secret…..but he does love the cheese cake factory.

“What is your middle name”


“What is your go to pump up song”

Rumors by Lil’ Dirk

“What is your pre race meal?”

It was chicken parmesan in college but now I don’t have to have it anymore because competing internationally you don’t know what food you will have access to.

“Do you do any cross training?”

He does weight training and plyometrics, but doesn’t really know his plan, just does what the coach tells him to do.

(As someone who trains lots of athletes, I can verify this happens more than often, even at the professional level.)

“Would you ever do a group run led by yourself for the local fans of Toronto?

Yes! As long as people are going to show up….so if you are in the Toronto area and love running be on the look out for this post.



It was an absolute pleasure to interview Justyn Knight, he is truly a one-of-a-kind person. He’s down-to-earth, humble and fiercely competitive. But he also knows not to take life so seriously and have some good laughs. He is a true leader in his community on and off the tack. Thank you Justyn!

You can follow him on Instagram @justyn.knight for more updates on his career and maybe a chance to participate in a community led run by the legend himself, stay tuned!