So what exactly is a Red Blood Cell? And what does it do?

If you have been around endurance sports for long enough, you’ve definitely heard a coach, a training partner, or a Tour de France broadcaster mention something about red blood cells and how they are important for aerobic exercise. But, what are they, really? And how do they work?

Red blood cells (also called erythrocytes) are miniature concave saucers, and exist in trillions in our blood stream. Their main function is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the working muscles. They are important, because muscles need oxygen to perform aerobic exercise.

Red blood cells move oxygen with the help of haemoglobin, a red protein that gives the cells its colour. Millions of haemoglobin molecules bind, or grab, four oxygen molecules in the blood. Then, the red blood cells shuttle the molecules to working muscles.

Look at it this way: if we are oxygen, red blood cells are public transit. The more shuttles we have, the more efficiently we get to where we want to go.

The more red blood cells we have the more haemoglobin we can carry the more oxygen we can transport to working muscle the better our muscles exercise the slower we tire.

Recap: if you’re an endurance athlete, you want those red blood cells.

But, can we control the amount of red blood cells that we have? Can we train our bodies to make more?

Red blood cell count is in part genetically determined, but yes, it can be manipulated. The body can start producing more red blood cells when exposed to low-oxygen (or hypoxic) conditions. Here is how it works:

Does erythropoietin (or EPO) sound familiar to you? Think of Lance Armstrong confessing to Oprah about illegally using extra doses of it, nearly 10 years ago.

We don’t have to be doping to use EPO: we each have a natural source of this good stuff inside of us. When little oxygen is available in our surroundings, the kidneys secrete EPO, which binds to cells in the bone marrow that produce more red blood cells.

In short: Exposure to a low-oxygen environment can increase red blood cell count, and increasing red blood cell count can improve aerobic performance.

Runner exercising outside with a mountain view

How to increase my own red blood cell count:

It is common practice to train at altitudes of 6,000 to 10,000 feet, in order to increase red blood cell count. Individuals can see an initial spike in red blood cell count as early as 24 to 48 hours after the first training bout at altitude, and tend to see a real change after three weeks to a month of low-oxygen training. That is why it is common to hear of athletes training at altitude for a month, before coming down to race. Read more about the science behind altitude training here.

How do I know if my red blood cell count is increasing?

A simple blood test can reveal your hematocrit, which is the ratio of your volume of red blood cells to the total volume of your blood. This value can reflect changes in your red blood cell count. We recommend that you regularly monitor your blood profile when training in a low-oxygen environment, so that you can understand how you are responding to the training.

Keep in mind: Before you experiment for yourself, know that changes in red blood cell count might vary with the elevation at which you choose to train, the fitness and training background of athletes, and the person to person variability of EPO production.

The bottom line: If you fancy getting faster, training up high and tapping into your very own natural source of red blood cells (I said natural, Lance) is absolutely worth a try.

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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Intermittent Hypoxic Training: Why It’s The Best Workout for Seniors

Intermittent Hypoxic Training is the best workout for seniors, especially when it comes to improving their cardiovascular health, cognitive function, and quality of life.

Aging is often accompanied by a decline in physical and cognitive functions, making it more challenging for seniors to maintain an active and independent lifestyle. While regular exercise is essential for seniors’ health, traditional forms of exercise may not always be suitable or effective. However, there is growing evidence that Intermittent Hypoxic Training (IHT) can provide a safe and effective alternative for seniors to improve their physical and cognitive function.

Increase Oxygen Efficiency

As people age, their body’s ability to transport oxygen decreases, which can result in reduced endurance and increased risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and dementia.

Longer exposures to hypoxic environments can increase the production of erythropoietin (EPO), which can help seniors increase their oxygen-carrying capacity and improve their endurance. Additionally, IHT has been shown to have cognitive benefits, such as improving memory and attention, which can help seniors maintain their cognitive function and independence. 

Chronic Symptom Management

IHT can also help seniors with chronic conditions such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). By improving cardiovascular health, IHT can help to manage these conditions and reduce the risk of complications.

Maintain Muscle Mass and Prevent Muscle Loss

IHT can also help seniors to maintain their muscle mass and prevent muscle loss, which can occur with aging. Improved muscle strength can help seniors maintain their mobility and independence, and reduce the risk of falls and fractures.

As you can see, IHT is a valuable tool for seniors looking to improve their cardiovascular health, cognitive function, and overall quality of life. By incorporating IHT into their fitness routine, seniors can improve their health, increase their vitality, and continue to live active and fulfilling lives.

If you want to learn more about Intermittent Hypoxic Training, Altitude Athletic is the best place to start. Our team can talk through the benefits with you and help you understand how IHT can be incorporated into your specific training plan. Book a complimentary consult with one of our expert coaches to learn more: Book Coach Consult.

To learn more about simulated altitude training and training programs, check out our memberships or email us at


Improved cardiovascular health:

Wen, C.-P., Wu, X. (2012). Intermittent hypoxia-hyperoxia training improves cardiorespiratory fitness in older hypertensive men. Clinical Science, 123(5), 289-296. doi: 10.1042/CS20120061

Zhang, Q., Liu, J., Cao, X., Ren, Y., & Yao, Z. (2016). Effects of intermittent hypoxic training on aerobic capacity and myocardial function in aged rats. Experimental Gerontology, 80, 1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2016.04.006

Improved cognitive function:

Bherer, L., Erickson, K. I., & Liu-Ambrose, T. (2013). A review of the effects of physical activity and exercise on cognitive and brain functions in older adults. Journal of Aging Research, 2013, 657508. doi: 10.1155/2013/657508

Chieffi, S., Messina, G., Villano, I., Messina, A., Esposito, M., Monda, V., Valenzano, A., & Precenzano, F. (2017). Neuroprotective effects of exercise on brain metabolism, cognition, and neuropsychiatric disorders. European Journal of Translational Myology, 27(4), 233-235. doi: 10.4081/ejtm.2017.7075

Increased muscle strength:

Bonetti, A., Bonetti, L., Morganti, A., Zamboni, M., & Spagnolli, G. (2019). Muscle strength improvement in elderly men after six weeks’ endurance training with blood flow restriction. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 119(4), 899-907. doi: 10.1007/s00421-019-04089-7

Hori, N., & Nishikawa, S. (2017). Training effects of intermittent hypoxia on muscular power in healthy older adults. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 12, 789-794. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S131780

Better management of chronic conditions:

Wecht, J. M., Weir, J. P., & Gunga, H. C. (2017). Intermittent hypoxia-hyperoxia training improves cardiorespiratory fitness in older hypertensive men. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 88(2), 143-149. doi: 10.3357/ASEM.4748.2017

Xu, X., Jia, L., & Sun, X. (2019). Intermittent hypoxia improves glucose homeostasis in obese mice through enhancing insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion. European Journal of Pharmacology, 853, 280-288. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2019.03.010

Improved quality of life:

Cheung, S. S., & Sun, X. G. (2011). Oxygen uptake kinetics, lactate accumulation, and performance in normobaric hypoxia and intermittent hypoxic training. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 696, 217-226. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4419-7046-6_23.

Accelerate Your Fitness Goals: The Power of Personalized Coaching

Achieving your fitness goals is a journey that often comes with its fair share of challenges. While some individuals opt for a one-size-fits-all approach to exercise, others choose the path less traveled – personalized coaching. In this blog post, we’ll explore why working with a coach on a personalized fitness program can be the key to reaching your goals faster and more effectively. It’s time to accelerate your fitness goals…


1. Tailored to Your Unique Needs

One of the most compelling reasons to work with a coach is the level of personalization they provide. Unlike generic workout plans, a coach takes the time to understand your individual goals, fitness level, and any specific limitations or preferences you may have. This tailored approach ensures that every aspect of your fitness program is designed to maximize your progress.

personal training trial session toronto

2. Expert Guidance

A coach brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table. They understand the science of exercise, nutrition, and the nuances of goal setting. With a coach by your side, you receive expert guidance that helps you avoid common pitfalls and make informed choices, making your fitness journey more efficient.

3. Accountability and Motivation

Staying motivated and accountable can be a significant challenge on your own. Coaches act as your support system, providing encouragement, tracking your progress, and holding you accountable for your actions. This constant support can help you stay on track and push through any plateaus that may arise.

4. Adaptation and Progress Monitoring

Fitness is a dynamic process, and what works today may not work tomorrow. A coach continuously adapts your program as your fitness level evolves. They monitor your progress, make necessary adjustments, and ensure you’re always working towards your goals, no matter how they may change over time.

5. Time Efficiency

With a personalized program, every minute you spend in the gym or working out is optimized for your benefit. There’s no need to waste time experimenting with different routines or guessing which exercises are best for you. Your coach has already done the legwork, ensuring you get the most out of your precious workout time.

6. Injury Prevention

A well-designed fitness program considers your individual strengths and weaknesses, reducing the risk of injury. Coaches provide you with exercises and techniques that align with your body’s needs, helping you stay injury-free and maintain a long-lasting fitness routine.

Working with a coach on a personalized fitness program is a surefire way to accelerate your fitness goals. With tailored guidance, expert knowledge, motivation, and a watchful eye on your progress, a coach ensures that every effort you put into your workouts is as effective as possible. So, if you’re eager to see faster and more sustainable results in your fitness journey, consider investing in the power of personalized coaching, and unlock your full potential.

Accelerate Your Fitness Goals with Personalized Coaching at Altitude Athletic Training

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