The effects of altitude on physical performance became well known when the 1968 Olympic Games was held in Mexico City at an elevation of 2,300 m above sea level (7,500 feet). Endurance athletes suffered due to the low oxygen availability, but jumpers and sprinters broke multiple records as the thinner air enabled them to run faster and jump further. Since then, the effect of altitude on sports performance has been widely studied and used to gain an advantage in competitive sport.
Read more about the science and application of altitude training below!
Altitude training, also known as hypoxic training, is a commonly used training method amongst elite athletes and exercise enthusiasts’ looking to improve their performance and fitness. This method of training takes advantage of the changes the body is forced to undergo in reduced oxygen environments. At sea level the oxygen content of the air we breathe is 21% whereas altitude training generally exposes athletes to oxygen levels between 13% - 17%. At these lower oxygen levels, physiological changes occur within the body’s central nervous, endocrine (hormonal), respiratory (breathing), and cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) systems. These changes improve the body’s oxygen availability and delivery mechanisms. A few well-known adaptations to altitude training are;
These adaptations can lead to improvements in VO2 Max, power, and stamina. Altitude training isn’t just for aerobically biased athletes either, with research showing beneficial adaptions to the anaerobic energy system too. Performing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or Repeat Sprint Training in an altitude chamber is shown to provide better results than performing the same type of training in a room with normal oxygen levels.
Historically, athletes would train at altitude by relocating to high elevation areas for a period of time leading up to competitions (e.g. preseason training camps) before heading back down to sea level to compete. This method of “Live High Train High” is not feasible for many due to travel and accommodation costs, furthermore, numerous countries don’t have geographical areas high enough for athletes to live and train at; Australia being a prime example.
However, it is possible to simulate altitude at sea level by lowering the oxygen content in a room (or even tents!). Altitude Training Systems, allows athletes to live and exercise as if they were actually at high elevations. This novel method provides a safe, cheaper, more accessible way to achieve the same gains! Learn more here
Jake Ward is the Sales Manager at Altitude Training Systems and has a background in strength and
conditioning, as well as applied sports science, having worked with elite sporting organisations and
sport technology companies.