Altitude Training: What, When and How

Summary (TLDR): The goal of altitude training is to improve your sea-level endurance, meaning you can perform for longer periods of time at the same or higher power output than if you had only been training at sea-level altitudes. When you’re at high altitudes, there’s less oxygen in the air. One thing your body does to adapt to the stress of less oxygen in the air, is produce more red blood cells (RBC). This increase in RBC makes your blood more sensitive to oxygen, binding more frequently, thereby allowing your blood to transport as much oxygen as possible to your active muscle cells.

The method that seems to be the most effective for improving sea-level performance is known as “live high-train low.” It’s characterized by resting/sleeping for 12+ hours each day at altitudes above 2000m and training at sea level to maintain movement quality. Training 3 times a week, for 3 weeks, for an hour each session has been shown to elicit positive results.

If you’re interested in some of the research that I used to make the above suggestions, feel free to read below.

  • The Effects of Altitude Training on Erythropoietic Response and Hematological Variables in Adult Athletes: A Narrative Review
    • goal of altitude training is to improve sea-level endurance performance. further research needed to understand the factors influencing the response to altitude
  • Intermittent Hypoxic Training: Fact and Fancy
    • goal to improve sea-level performance
      • at rest stimulates acclimatization (living high-training low – preferred, b/c training quality is higher and therefore transfers better than fatigued efforts)
      • during exercise enhances training stimulus (living low, training high)
    • essential variable to determine is “dose” to achieve the desired effect
  • Intermittent Hypoxic Training Tips from Higher Peak
    • sleeping @ high altitude (live high, train low)
    • goal of IHT = improve athletic performance & acclimatization to high altitude
    • IHT #1: Short interval Hypoxic Exposure @ rest
      • 1:1 of 3-5 minutes @ rest (get SP02 to 80-85%, recover to 95%)
      • improves high-altitude tolerance, promotes ventilatory response, and is useful for altitude acclimatization
      • Goal: acclimatize to altitude @ increase tolerance for 0² debt
    • IHT #2: Hypoxic Exposure During High-Intensity Intervals
      • argues that short bouts of high intensity exercise are more likely to improve athletic performance than endurance exercise
      • 1:1 of 1-3 minutes, intervals are hypoxic, recovery done with more oxygen
      • Goal: achieve rapid gains in peak athletic performance
    • IHT #3: Steady Hypoxic Workouts (Aerobic)
      • 15 minutes – 60 minutes+
      • improves high altitude tolerance, typically performed on stationary bike or treadmill
      • Goal: rehearse conditions and prepare for high altitude events
  • Effectiveness of the hypoxic exercise test to predict altitude illness and performance at moderate altitude in high‐level swimmers
    • Test used to attempt to predict the susceptibility to severe high altitude sickness (SHAI)
    • perform a maximal performance test before(at sea level), during, and after(at sea level) the altitude exposure
      • use a pulse oximeter, sleep quality and volume questionnaire, and Lake Louise Acute Mountain Sickness Score (headache, nausea/ vomiting, fatigue, and dizziness/light-headedness)
  • Hypoxic training methods for improving endurance exercise performance
    • exposure to altitudes of 2000-3000m for more than 12h/day, while training at lower latitudes (live high, train low) for a minimum of 21 days is recommended.
    • altitude training improves oxygen transport, RBC volume, and V0²Max with high doses of elevation and exposure duration
  • The effects of altitude/hypoxic training on oxygen delivery capacity of the blood and aerobic exercise capacity in elite athletes – a meta-analysis
    • What made them “elite?” And is the differences between “normal” and “elite” clear?
    • RBC, Hb, Hct, EPO, VO²Max showed significant increases following altitude training as compared with sea-level training
    • training more than 3 weeks, 3 times a week, for 1 hour can improve O² delivery capacity of the blood and aerobic exercise capacity
  • research keywords: elevation, oxygen saturation, hypoxia, training

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Chris Gaines

I help people discover the impact of athleticism in their everyday life. With that clarity, they navigate misconceptions around fitness. With that focus, they pursue movement skills with intention and a larger purpose. All so they can face life's everyday challenges and grow with confidence.

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