What is High Altitude Training?

By Jared S Ernest MPT

Can High Altitude Training Take your Workouts to New Heights?

High altitude training is performing your training activity at a height of 7000-8000 feet above sea level. Low level training is considered as a range of sea level up to 4000 feet.

High Altitude Training Elite Athlete Mountain Runner JOI REHAB

Woman Training at High Altitude

Why would I want to Train at High Altitude?

The weight of the atmosphere compresses the air around us. The amount of breathable air is the same at sea level or at altitude. The main difference is the distance of the oxygen molecule. The higher you go up the less pressure there is. The oxygen molecules are more spread out or less dense. Think of it as the higher you go the thinner the air, so you must work harder to breathe.

What does Training at High Altitude Do?

When you train at high altitude your brain realizes it must do something to get more oxygen. Your brain starts to make more of a hormone (erythropoietin). This hormone production kick starts the body to make more red blood cells. The higher number of red blood cells help to better transport the oxygen that is available. This process over a period of time allows your body to carry less oxygen better compared to the start of your altitude training.

When you come back to sea level you now have a higher red blood cell count. This scenario allows for increased transport of oxygen than prior to altitude training. The result is an increase in aerobic capacity and endurance.

How Long does it take to Adapt to High Altitude Training?

The change in red blood cell count usually takes greater than 10 days. It seems that it takes three to four weeks to reap any benefit.

Does High Altitude Training Actually Work?

Yes it works temporarily. Unfortunately, your red blood cell count will return to normal level as the demand is not as great as with training at high altitude. In the end your aerobic gains are only temporary.

What are the Positive Effects?

  • Higher red blood cells in blood stream
  • Increases in endurance and performance
  • Healthier respiratory system

What are the Negative Effects?

  • Can weaken immune system
  • Negative stress to muscle tissue
  • May lessen endurance as cannot train as hard
  • Increased in red blood cells may thicken blood and slow blood flow
  • Dehydration

Alternative Altitude Training Methods

There are several different types of of alternative high altitude training methods.  Here are the top 3 methods:

  • Hypoxia sleep chambers
  • Elevation training mask
  • High altitude training rooms
High altitude training mask JOI REHAB

Image of Man Training in High Altitude Mask

These alternatives are considered poor substitutes or gimmicks as replacements for high altitude training.

Would it be Beneficial for You?

This form of training should be reserved for the elite athlete when improving performance, a fraction of a second can be the difference in winning. The average person would be better served with a well-designed exercise program and sound nutrition to reach realistic fitness goals.

Written By: Jared S Ernest MPT

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