High altitude training has become one of the most popular methods of training for endurance athletes. It is highly promoted by many sports scientists and personal trainers for the potential benefits. Altitude training can be completed by training at least 1,500 meters above sea level or by using a system that simulates the effects of altitude. It is widely being used by athletes from many professional sports because of the advantages of this type of training.
What are the advantages of high altitude training?
The theory of how high altitude training works is based on the fact that the body does not receive as much oxygen as it is used to at lower altitudes. The body then must adapt to this lack of oxygen and these adaptations are supposed to help an athlete perform better at lower altitudes.
Increased red blood cell count
The lower oxygen in the body at high altitude stimulates the kidneys to release a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO). This causes more red blood cells to be produced by the bone marrow so the body can use the oxygen more quickly and efficiently. This has the effect of increasing endurance at lower altitudes.
There are also changes in the muscles of athletes that train at high altitude. The body adapts to allow more blood and oxygen to be delivered to the muscles. This is believed to increase the energy production within the cells of the muscles.
Whether altitude training actually helps upon return to sea level is still the subject of much debate. Research suggests that the effects are only temporary and that training at altitude does have some dangers that must be considered. If you are considering undertaking this type of training you should consult with your doctor before beginning.