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High Altitude Fitness Training

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 13 May 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Fitness Fitness Training Altitude

Altitude fitness training is the practice of climbers and some other endurance athletes who can spend several weeks of their training regime at altitudes of over 8,000 feet above sea level. Although acclimatisation to high altitudes is something which all ambitious climbers must get used to, ‘altitude camps’- as they are commonly referred to, are not the sole domain of mountain climbers. In fact, long distance runners, boxers and other sportsmen and women will often incorporate a spell at altitude camp into their annual fitness regime as its benefits in terms of improved athletic performance have been scientifically proven.

How Can High Altitude Training Improve Fitness?

As you train at increasingly higher altitude, your body has to learn how to adapt to the reduction in the amount of oxygen which is being taken into the lungs every time you breathe. In order to counteract this, the body begins to increase its red blood cell concentration by making new red blood cells. In the beginning, you’re going to experience a more rapid heart rate and breathing rate when undertaking fitness training at high altitude and it can take days, weeks or even months for your heart and breathing rate to become regulated again. Nevertheless, by undertaking your usual fitness programme at altitude and increasing the altitude gradually, some athletes claim that it has given them a competitive edge when they’ve returned to travel to competitive events at lower altitudes.

How To Go About High Altitude Training

Firstly, you should always discuss high altitude training with your GP first and make sure that you undergo a health check. It’s not simply about high altitude, however. Sufficient calorific intake, iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid are also fundamental to the production of healthy red blood cells.

When considering an altitude based fitness programme, you should start off gradually so that your body can acclimatise itself. Heights of around 4,000 to 5,000 feet are probably best to begin with. Once you’ve spent a few days training and acclimatising at those kinds of heights, then you can move on to higher altitudes of, say, 8,000 to 12,000 feet to improve your fitness levels further. For climbers who are preparing to scale some of the world’s highest mountains, however, although the principles will be very similar, the nature of the training will, inevitably, differ as the higher you go, the more difficult it will be to acclimatise.

Eating And Drinking

You should ensure that you drink even more water than you’d normally do if you’re training at altitude in order to keep hydrated. Accordingly, alcohol should also be avoided. You may find that your appetite decreases somewhat but you should try to eat regular meals high in carbohydrate and low in salt in order to maximise energy levels.

Don’t Overdo It

For those who have never trained at altitude before, it’s important to accept that you’ll need time to adjust first. You simply cannot expect to run a mile in the same time that you would normally achieve at sea level at first no matter what level of fitness you've acquired. If you try to do too much too soon, you’ll only end up injuring yourself through pushing too hard. Keep a training log and also monitor your heart rate regularly.

Health Warnings

Climbers and other athletes adapt to higher altitudes at different rates and you should be aware of the warning signs of your body being in distress. Mild headaches are pretty commonplace when introducing yourself to high altitudes and you should be able to keep them manageable by taking conventional painkillers. However, if you start experiencing difficulty breathing, if you feel lethargic or start to become nauseous these are all early symptoms of hypoxia. In this event, you must reduce your altitude. There is another article contained on this website about the dangers of hypoxia and hypothermia.

Simulated High Altitude Training

Because of some of the risks outlined above, many athletes these days will adopt a simulated environment in which to gain the benefits from high altitude training and improve fitness. These can include training in an altitude simulation room or tent or whilst wearing a mask-based hypoxicator system which enables you to gain the same benefits of training at altitude but in a controlled environment.

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