The Advantages and Benefits of Altitude Training

The Advantages and Benefits of Altitude Training

In the quest for peak performance, athletes and fitness enthusiasts are continually pushing boundaries and seeking innovative training methods. One such method gaining popularity is altitude training, a technique used by elite athletes to enhance their performance. But what exactly is altitude training, and how can it benefit you? This article will delve into the science behind altitude training, its key benefits, practical applications, and important considerations. 


What Is Altitude Training? 

Altitude training, also known as hypoxic training, involves exposing an individual to reduced levels of oxygen while they are exercising. This can be achieved by either training at high altitudes, typically above 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) above sea level, or using specialised equipment that simulates high altitude conditions. At high altitudes, the air contains less oxygen due to lower atmospheric pressure, which forces the body to adapt and function with limited oxygen. This reduced oxygen environment challenges the body in unique ways and prompts physiological adaptations that can enhance athletic performance. 


Scientific Basis of Altitude Training 

Understanding the science behind altitude training is crucial for appreciating its impact on athletic performance. At the core of this training method lies the body’s remarkable ability to adapt to the stress of a hypoxic environment. When exposed to lower oxygen levels, various physiological changes occur, such as increased production of red blood cells and enhanced oxygen delivery to the muscles. These adaptations can significantly improve endurance, stamina, and overall efficiency in oxygen utilisation. In this section, we will explore the underlying mechanisms that make altitude training an effective approach for athletes aiming to elevate their performance. 

Reduced Oxygen Levels and Their Effects 

At high altitudes, the air contains fewer oxygen molecules per breath. This reduced oxygen availability forces the body to work harder to deliver oxygen to the muscles, stimulating various adaptations aimed at improving oxygen delivery and utilisation. 

Physiological Adaptations: 

  1. Increased Red Blood Cell Production: To compensate for the lower oxygen levels found at higher altitudes, the body responds by producing more red blood cells, a process known as erythropoiesis. These additional red blood cells enhance the ability of the blood to transport oxygen throughout the body, which is crucial for maintaining proper function and performance. 
  1. Enhanced Capillarity: Over time, the body adapts to increased physical demands by increasing the number of capillaries, the tiny blood vessels, in muscle tissues. This development improves the oxygen supply to muscle tissues, allowing for better endurance and performance during prolonged physical activities. 
  1. Improved Mitochondrial Efficiency: Mitochondria, often referred to as the powerhouses of cells, become more efficient at using oxygen for energy production. This improvement means that the cells can produce energy more effectively, enhancing overall physical capabilities and reducing fatigue during prolonged activities. 
  1. Increased Ventilation: In response to higher physical activity levels or reduced oxygen availability, the body adapts by increasing both the rate and depth of breathing. This adaptation allows for a greater intake of oxygen, ensuring that tissues receive an adequate supply to meet the increased demands placed on the body. 


Key Benefits of Altitude Training 

  • Improved Aerobic Capacity 

Altitude training is known for its ability to increase VO2 max, the maximum rate at which an individual can consume oxygen during intense exercise. A higher VO2 max indicates a greater aerobic capacity, allowing athletes to perform high-intensity activities for longer periods. 

  • Enhanced Endurance 

Endurance athletes, such as marathon runners, cyclists, and triathletes, can particularly benefit from altitude training. The increased red blood cell count and improved oxygen transport allow these athletes to sustain prolonged efforts with less fatigue. 

  • Increased Efficiency of Oxygen Use 

The physiological adaptations from altitude training teach the body to use oxygen more efficiently. This means that even when athletes return to sea level, their bodies can perform better with the same amount of oxygen, giving them a competitive edge. 

  • Boosted Strength and Speed 

While traditionally associated with endurance sports, altitude training also offers benefits for strength and speed. The enhanced oxygen transport and utilisation can improve muscle function, allowing for greater power output and faster recovery between high-intensity efforts. 

  • Enhanced Recovery 

Altitude training can aid in the recovery process by enhancing the body’s ability to repair and regenerate tissues. The increased capillary density improves nutrient delivery to muscles, speeding up recovery times and reducing the risk of injury. 


Practical Applications of Altitude Training 

Sports and Athletes 

Numerous sports and athletes have adopted altitude training as part of their regimen. Long-distance runners, cyclists, swimmers, and even team sports athletes like footballers and rugby players use altitude training to gain a performance edge. 

Integrating Altitude Training 

Athletes can integrate altitude training into their routines through various approaches: 

  • Live High, Train Low (LHTL): Athletes live at high altitudes to gain the benefits of acclimatisation but train at lower altitudes to maintain training intensity. 
  • Simulated Altitude Training: Using altitude tents, masks, or chambers to simulate high-altitude conditions while training at sea level. 
  • Training Camps: Attending dedicated training camps situated at high altitudes. This method allows for a complete focus on training in a hypoxic environment. 


Considerations and Risks 

Potential Risks 

Despite its benefits, altitude training is not without risks. These can include altitude sickness, dehydration, and decreased performance if not properly managed. Altitude sickness can manifest in symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, and even more severe conditions like pulmonary or cerebral oedema if left unchecked. Dehydration often occurs more rapidly at higher altitudes due to lower humidity and increased respiratory water loss. It is essential to acclimatise gradually by spending several days at higher altitudes before engaging in intense physical activity and to monitor for symptoms like headaches, nausea, and fatigue. Adequate hydration, proper nutrition, and rest are crucial to help the body adjust. Consulting with a medical professional before starting altitude training can also provide personalised guidance and help mitigate these risks. 


Altitude training may not be suitable for everyone. Individuals with certain medical conditions, such as heart or lung diseases, should consult with a healthcare professional before attempting altitude training to ensure it is safe for their specific health situation. The reduced oxygen levels at higher altitudes can strain the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, which could be dangerous for those with underlying health issues. 

Additionally, athletes must consider their competition schedules and training cycles, as the benefits of altitude training can vary over time. It is important to plan altitude training well in advance to peak at the right time for major competitions. The initial phase of altitude training can often lead to a temporary decrease in performance as the body adapts, so timing and proper planning are crucial to gaining the maximum benefits from this training method. 


Elevate Your Training 

Altitude training offers a host of advantages for athletes aiming to elevate their performance. From improved aerobic capacity and enhanced endurance to boosted strength and recovery, the benefits are vast and well-documented. However, it is crucial to approach altitude training with careful planning and professional guidance to maximise its potential and minimise risks. 

If you’re considering incorporating altitude training into your regimen, we encourage you to do further reading or consult with a training expert to tailor a plan that suits your individual needs and goals. Embrace the challenge and reach new heights in your fitness journey! 


Interested in specialising in altitude training as a fitness professional? Our Altitude Training Professional Development Course will provide you with the skills needed to help your clients take full advantage of this powerful training method.