Your Ultimate Guide To Altitude Training
One of Lewis Hamilton’s favourite off-season training techniques, altitude training, promises a faster route to fitness by boosting stamina. Basically, the concept revolves around lowering the air pressure, making you breathe more, and increasing your heart rate. Scientific stuff.
The three main types of altitude training include Live High Train High (weeks spent in a training camp at altitude), Live Low Train High (occasional trips to an altitude chamber) and Live High Train Low (sleeping in an altitude chamber), but a more basic version is just getting somewhere up high (say, a mountain) and giving it all you’ve got.
One man who is planning to do exactly that (by which we mean he is training to climb Everest at the moment) is Regional Personal Training Manager at Goodlife Health Clubs! Luke Rollnik.
“I am doing a mixture of strength training and cardiovascular training [to prepare],” Rollnik explains to Men’s Health. “A good level of muscular strength and endurance in my legs and arms will be necessary for the climb given the heavy pack, and steep nature.”
To find out a little more about the process, we asked Rollnik to break down everything to do with altitude training.
MH: What is altitude training?
Luke Rollnik: Altitude training is a type of training where a room/chamber is set up and the oxygen level in the air is reduced to a pre set altitude equivalent. For example the oxygen level in the air at sea level is around 20.9%. At Everest base camp which is at an altitude of around 5150m above sea level there is about 50% of that at sea level or 11%
What does it involve?
Almost any type of training can be done in a reduced oxygen environment. Typically it would be normal gym type training, both strength and cardiovascular.
What are its benefits?
When you acclimatise at altitude for a long period of time (more than a few days at a time) your body produces more red blood cells to help carry more oxygen in the blood. This is to help compensate for the reduced oxygen levels in the air. This process takes time and cannot be done in a chamber unless you were to sleep in there and not come out for several days.
Many people train in Altitude chambers because the workout is much harder and there is the perception that it will increase fitness levels, however with the short duration of time spent in there, it is unlikely that this will have an effect on red blood cell levels and oxygen transportation in the blood.
Strength training in altitude chambers has been shown to increase strength gains.
How effective is it?
Training at altitude is extremely effective depending on the desired outcome. For athletes that can stay or live at altitude for a number of days, weeks or months with have the greatest increase in aerobic capacity, however these physiological adaptations would usually only last for around a week once returning to lower altitudes.
Both high and low intensity strength training in a hypoxic environment (altitude chamber) has shown to have significant increases in the production of growth hormones, and will assist in the development of muscular strength and size.
Do you burn more calories at altitude?
Yes. At altitude your body has to work harder to do every activity. In the initial stages your heart rate will increase even at rest as you body tries to deliver the required amount of oxygen to vital organs. When you start to exercise, you will increase this effect even further.
Which athletes use it?
Many types of athletes will adopt this type of training. For a high altitude mountaineer it is imperative to properly acclimatise while moving up the mountain to avoid illness such as Pulmonary & Cerebral Oedema.
Many other endurance athletes that can live ‘high’ and compete ‘low’ will also have a noticeable increase in aerobic output and performance. However the affects for such athletes as Australian footballers going to high altitude environments such at Colorado to train in the pre season will be minimal given that their bodies would lose the adaptations once returning closer to sea level.
More strength based athletes are starting to use altitude chambers as more studies have shown the increased effects on strength gains.