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!