Types of Altitude Environments
There are three types different ‘altitude environments’ someone might train in:
- Terrestrial Altitude – This is natural altitude. where an athlete or trekker will go up to altitude for a period of time to stimulate a number of adaptations in the body. This is done through either living, sleeping and training at altitude (known as the ‘live high, train high method) or living at altitude and returning to sea level to train (known as the live high, train low method). The logistics and practicality of athletes and mountaineers leaving their homes, families and jobs and spending weeks at altitude make this approach impractical for most people. Because of this, ‘simulated altitude’ was developed.
- Hypobaric Simulated Altitude – This type of altitude chamber tries to directly simulate high altitude conditions. A vacuum pump is used to ‘evacuate’ air out of an airtight chamber at a constant rate. This causes the air pressure to drop and simulates the effects of ‘terrestrial’ altitude. These chambers are not commonly available and are mainly used for pilot training, in laboratories or for absolute elite athletes.
- Normobaric Simulated Altitude – This is what most commercially available altitude training involves. Commonly used through the use of ‘altitude chambers’, tents or masks, this ‘simulates’ an altitude environment quite different to the other methods mentioned above.
How Do Altitude Chambers Work?
The concept behind commercial altitude training is simple
- Nitrogen is pumped into a sealed room;
- This changes the percentage of oxygen in the air; and
- This in turn reduces our blood oxygen saturation levels (which happens naturally at altitude).
Why Train At High Altitude?
There are many benefits associated with training at high altitude: –
- Faster results in less time;
- Enhanced weight loss;
- Reduced cardio-metabolic risk factors – blood pressure, resting heart rate;
- Enhanced strength gain;
- Enhanced metabolic rate (up to 13 hrs post workout at high altitude); and
- Enhanced healing.
- Enhanced lactic buffering;
- Enhanced VO2 max;
- Reduced time to fatigue – increased time to exhaustion;
- Increase in power, intensity and repeat sprint efforts;
- Faster recovery times;
- Enhanced healing and injury recovery; and
- Fitness preservation while injured.
- Blood capillary growth;
- Increase in red blood cell efficiency;
- Increased vasodilation of blood cells;
- Increased in mitochondrial efficiency – molecular level;
- Enhanced Insulin regulation;
- Enhanced glycogen storage and usage;
- Enhanced metabolic rate; and
- Enhanced haemodynamics.
Overall, the body becomes more efficient at distributing oxygen around the body as required.