Research has shown that training in a hypoxic environment elicits several physiological adaptations that can improve performance. The primary focus of research has been on VO2 max, movement economy, and tissue capacity adaptations, all of which can contribute to improving performance in high performance athletes, or accelerating adaptations in non-elite athletes.
VO2 max describes the rate at which the body can uptake oxygen. Improving VO2 max ultimately will allow you to work at a higher average rate during continuous activity.
Hypoxic training can improve VO2 max by:
- Improving ventilation rates
- Increasing red blood cell count (exposure time dependent)
- Changing blood plasma volume
Aside from physiological adaptations, there may be psychological benefits from training in hypoxia that also contribute to increasing VO2 max—such as controlling hyperventilation (which eventually decreases VO2 max) under high workloads.
Movement economy considers the amount of energy spent from movement under sub-maximal-effort conditions. Research has shown that, in some cases, athletes can improve movement economy by training in hypoxic environments.
As the aerobic energy system is constrained during bouts of activity in a hypoxic environment, movement solutions or behavioural adaptations to improve economy can occur in response to a reduced energy capacity.
Consequently, if these behaviours are transferred to normal oxygen conditions, performance improvements can be seen—even in the absence of an increase in VO2 max.
Tissue Capacity Adaptations
The ability for tissue to move metabolites locally can be improved through hypoxic training, specifically under high intensity conditions.
Improved use of metabolites, and the ability to shuttle metabolites to where they can be best taken advantage of, can lead to increases in performance through extending time to exhaustion.
These adaptations have implications in performance past endurance performance, including decreased recovery time between bouts, and increased power output.
What does this mean for you?
Training at altitude under the correct programming can improve performance, augment weight loss, and acclimatize your body for real altitude exposures.
For high-level athletes looking for a competitive edge, training at altitude can provide benefits beyond what hard work alone can offer.
Training at altitude can provide the same benefits that popular training styles such as HIIT provide, with the additional benefits and adaptations that a hypoxic environment creates.
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