But what’s altitude training?
Wikipedia says that “the basic concept of living or training at altitude is to cause the body to adapt to the lower oxygen content by producing more oxygen-carrying red blood cells and hemoglobin. This improves the athlete’s ability to perform work, because more oxygen is available to the working muscles”.
Why is there less oxygen at high altitude?
At sea level the air contains around 20.9% oxygen. On the top of Mount Everest (8848 m), too. Why do we say, then, that there’s less oxygen? The difference is all in the air pressure: at sea level there is a pressure over our heads equivalent to 10 m of water. At 8848 m this pressure is equivalent to around 3.5 m of water. The percentage of the oxygen is the same, but being the pressure lower, the molecules are less compressed and, thus, more distant from each other: there are few molecules of everything in the same volume. That’s why the oxygen intake is lower, if the respiration rate is the same.
Does this kind of training really improve performance?
Apart from the cool thing of running at 4000 m even if your city is at sea level, the results of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) training are not clear. As Prof. Dr. Joachim Mester said in his speech titled “Altitude training: on myths and methods” (you can find the pdf here), the analysis of more than 100 international studies in the last 40 years show:
- “practical experiences and also controlled studies indicate performance enhancement effects, other do not;
- acute and chronic hypoxia induce well-known physiological effects in gas exchange, hematology etc.;
- performance enhancement may occur; it is, however, in onset, magnitude and duration very individual;
- re-adaptation to sea level is quite rapid, the duration of positive effects is scientifically unclear;
- the effects of all options live high/train low – train high/live low are not sufficiently proven;
- criteria for individual input (training load at altitude) are often insufficient: High-low responders, early-late responders.”
One thing is for sure: training at altitude (simulated or not) is hard!
I tried two different conditions in three different session. The first day (06/01/2012), the chamber was simulating the 4000 m conditions: 12.2% oxygen (18.0 °C the temperature, 41.5 % the humidity). The workout consisted in:
- Warm-Up (2.50 km @ 4’35″/km);
- 1×1000, 1×800, 2×400 @ 3’40″/km, 2’30” recovery @ 7’30″/km;
- Cool-Down (1.0 km @ 4’15″/km, 1.0 km @ 4’35″/km, 1.0 km @ 5’00″/km).
And here you have the HR graph:
|HR acquisition of the 4000 m training (06/01/2012).|
- WU (3.00 km @ 4’35″/km)
- 4×1000 @ 3’30″/km, 2’00” recovery @ 7’00″/km
- CD (3.10 km @ 4’35″/km).
Unfortunately the acquisition of the first training is pretty bad, but the data are very clear in the second graph.
|HR acquisition of the first 2500 m training (09/01/2012).|
|HR acquisition of the second 2500 m training (11/01/2012).|
When the oxygen percentage goes under 14%, things are really difficult: the recovery time appears to be far useless (actually it isn’t, but my body said the opposite), breathing is difficult and HR cannot increase (188 out of 195 bpm, that is my max threshold) or decrease (150 bpm the lowest value between the repetitions) too much. For values of oxygen around 15%, everything is much easier and you can carry on your workout without any particular problems, even if the paces are slower than normal (the recovery time starts to be useful!).
Obviously if you train at low oxygen percentage, you should being constantly monitored: the oxygen saturation in the blood shouldn’t go under 80%, to stay distant from hypoxemia risk (the use of a pulse oximeter, a device that uses a red and an infrared light to measure indirectly the oxygen saturation of the blood, is the easiest way to stay monitored).
|Blood’s oxygen saturation monitoring right after the training session.|
For the record, al the data have been acquired in the Himaxx Center for Altitude Training in Berlin (Germany). If you have any question don’t hesitate to contact me! Keep on training!
Here you can find a list of my running-related posts. Now shut down the notebook and have a run!
- Heel-to-toe drop: meaning and measurement
- Garmin, Polar and WTEK: heart rate sensors comparison
- What is training load?
- Runner’s performance evaluation – Part 1: the VO2max.
- Runner’s performance evaluation – Part 2: Carbs, Fats and Proteins as Energy for living.
- Runner’s performance evaluation – Part 3: Energy expenditure during running.
- Motivation for training: two inspirational speeches by John Doman.
- A pseudo-“Conconi test” to predict the anaerobic threshold
- Running at 4000 m: the hypoxic chamber
- Can the Kinematics of arm movements be trained to improve Running Economy?
- Forest steeplechase training
- Snowy workout in the forest
- 2013 Track & Field season – Chronicle of a Steeplechase year
- 2012 Track & Field season – Chronicle of a Steeplechase year
- My 2011 in numbers – Happy new year!
- Omni-Lite ceramic track spikes
- 7th Airport Run Berlin: second place and PB
- A good way to end the year
- Cone-Project presents: “Emozioniadi” 2012
- Tough Guy: the safest most dangerous event in the world
- 24th Lauf im Britzer Garten: a good pre-season test.
- 32nd Pankower Frühlingslauf
- BIG 25 Berlin 2012: a new World Record!
- The hardest 400 m of the World: the “Red Bull 400”
- Trail running in the dark: 4^ Notturna di Sant’Antonio – Miane (TV), Italy
- Talkin’ blues: when XC meets life. Offene Berlin-Brandenburgische Crossmeisterschaften
- “Non Solo Sport Race” – Padova, 28th August 2011