High Altitude Training

“Live High– Train Low”

What does this mean? Altitude training has frequently been used for athletes to improve sea level performance. This means that at a higher altitude it is harder for your body to obtain oxygen from the air, nonetheless making activities feel more difficult and can in turn, limit activity intensity.  Upon living in a moderate to high altitude environment (above 7,500ft), your body acclimatizes to this pressure difference which trains your body to be better prepared for lower oxygen levels. This means that when you are living at a higher altitude and return to sea level for exercise training, your body will utilize the oxygen more efficiently which will significantly improve performance.

What creates this improved utilization of oxygen? Well, there is always the same ratio of oxygen in the air (20.9%), but is a lower partial pressure due to lower barometric pressure. Your lungs and the outside air have different pressures. When that difference is greater (sea level) the diffusion of oxygen happens easier; when that difference is less (moderate to high elevation) the diffusion of oxygen becomes more difficult. Much like climbing Mount Everest, hikers camp for a few days to acclimatize prior to hiking further up the mountain due to this decreased partial pressure of oxygen.

So how does living at a high elevation help training? Long term changes to living at a high altitude include an increased number of red blood cells. Hemoglobin are what transport oxygen in red blood cells. When there is a decreased pressure of oxygen your body creates more red blood cells to ensure you receive oxygen where it is needed. This also creates a higher density of capillaries, blood vessels where oxygen is diffused into the muscles. These adaptations then make it easier to utilize oxygen when at a greater pressure difference (sea level).

Does it really work?

Based on a study performed by Benjamin D. Levine and James Stray-Gundersen, is that “acclimatization to moderate altitude, when combined with training at low altitude, results in an improvement in sea-level running performance over 5,000m in already well trained, competitive runners.”  The effects are based on the development of acclimatization of the moderate altitude or due to training in a hypoxic (oxygen reduced) environment. They reiterate the adaptation of increased red blood cells to increase oxygen carriers to muscles. When an acclimatized athlete performs at sea level, there is a greater difference in the pressure of the outside air and their lungs, making the diffusion time quicker and oxygen extraction more efficient.  In conclusion, if living at moderate altitude increased red blood cells will aid in a higher performance ability at sea level.

 

Article written by Michelle Knurr, one of our amazing personal trainers at the Hosaeus Fitness Center.  Stop by the main office to schedule and appointment with her.  Have a wonderful day!

 

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