Why Train at Altitude?

The concept of altitude training has been emerging from gyms and training facilities all over the world. However, as with any new idea, the age-old question arises: How does it help? Merriam-Webster defines altitude training as ‘athletic training that is done [..] in an environment that simulates high altitudes in order to improve athletic performance.’ This strategy was initially discovered by alpinists and balloonists who sought ways to survive at higher altitudes for extended periods. Later, scientists realized that athletes could use the same strategy to enhance endurance and athletic performance. Dr. Heikki Rusko, in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, explains, ‘The main positive effect of altitude training for improved sea-level performance is an expected increase in maximal oxygen uptake due to an increase in the volume of red blood cells.’

As we exercise, our lungs consume more oxygen and produce more carbon dioxide. Consequently, our breathing rate must increase to accommodate this oxygen consumption. This is where VO2max (maximal oxygen uptake) comes into play. Maximal oxygen uptake signifies the maximum amount of oxygen consumed when a subject engages in high-intensity exercise. Therefore, as the quantity of red blood cells in a subject increases, their oxygen consumption rises. Dr. Rusko’s theory was substantiated through an experiment involving six elite runners. These athletes trained for 42 days at an altitude of 2300 meters. According to Rusko’s study, ‘After the altitude training period, the sea-level VO2max of the athletes had increased by 4.4%. Five of the runners achieved their personal best times, and one runner broke a world record in the 1-mile run.’ The statistics from Rusko’s study demonstrate the remarkable benefits of altitude training.

High-altitude training offers a multitude of advantages, including: