Altitude Training - Benefits, Methods, Guidelines, Training Sites

>> February 07, 2011

Without getting into very details (because I'll continue to cover the rest in the future), this post will provide only the general illustration regarding altitude training.

One of the reasons for altitude training is to increase the hormone synthesis  (i.e. erythropoietin) to stimulate more red blood cells. The main function of red cells is to carry oxygen from lungs to the tissues and organs.

When the body has more red blood cells, higher oxygen delivery can be effectively transported and this will result in an enhancement of aerobic respiratory, e.g. maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 Max). The improvement in the value of VO2 Max can be translated into an improvement of aerobic or endurance capacity as well as anaerobic capacity.

How do you define altitude?

Altitude is defined as 'height above the sea level' as follow:
1) Low Altitude: Up to 1500 metres
2) Moderate Altitude: 1500 to 2500 metres
3) High Altitude: 2500 to 4000 metres
4) Very High Altitude: 4000 to 5500 metres
5) Extremely High Altitude: Above 5500 metres
+ Death Zone: 8,000 metres (human cannot acclimatize)

Duration of altitude training

Normally, duration of altitude training depends on the height of altitude, training methods, purposes etc.. However, there is some guide to follow. The higher the altitude, the lesser the time needed for altitude training. Based on many findings, for an altitude of 2,500 m, the concentration of erythropoietin in blood will increase during the first day of altitude exposure and continue to rise up to 3rd weeks. It will then reaches the plateau state during the 4th week. Hence, 3-4 weeks could be the ideal duration at high altitude.

Method of Altitude Training.

1) Live High - Train High
The period of time to stay at altitude for this method might be shorter because athletes would get a chronic exposure to high altitude. However, many findings suggested that this method will lead to a 'detraining'.

2) Live Low - Train High
Very seldom used. An athlete would only expose to high altitude for a few hours during training. But again, training at altitude has the negative impact on the training qualities, especially fast and hard efforts.

3) Live High - Train Low
Most effective and commonly used. This method allows a maximum intensity of training and athletes would get enough exposure to high altitude (at least 8 hours). However, this method requires athletes to stay at high altitude for at least 8 hours a day for about 3 to 4 weeks.

Guidelines of altitude training

Swiss scientist, Manuel Bueno recommends the following guidelines for altitude training:

Phase 1: Recovery, 2-3 rest days at sea level prior to departure
Phase 2: Acclimatization, 3-6 days light training after arrival at altitude
Phase 3: Training with increasing loads (14 - 16 days). In the first phase purely aerobic endurance training, in the second phase a return to usual sea level training.
Phase 4: Recovery, the last 2 days at altitude

High load of workouts should be avoided during the first week after returning to sea level.The first important competition should be 2 to 3 weeks after the last day of altitude training.

International Sites for Altitude Training (just to name a few)

1) 2,700 metres - Toluca, Mexico
2) 2,644 metres - Bogota, Colombia
3) 2,561 metres - Cuenca, Ecuador
4) 2,400 metres - Iten, Kenya
5) 2,365 metres - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
6) 2,300 metres - St. Cugat, Barcelona & Spain
7) 2,130 metres - Flagstaff, Arizona United States
8) 2,000 metres - New Mexico, United States
9) 2,050 metres - Sestriere, Italy
10) 1,950 metres - Kesenoi-Am, Russia
11) 1,900 metres - La Loma, San Luis Potosi, Mexico
12) 1,850 metres - Font Romeu odeillo, France
13) 1,800 metres - Kunming, China
14) 1,748 metres - Johannesburg, South Africa
15) 1,675 metres - Nairobi, Kenya
16) 1,600 metres - Secunda, South Africa
17) 1,550 metres - Davos, Switzerland
18) 1,400 metres - Pretoria, South Africa
19) 1,392 metres - Bloemfontein, South Africa
20) 1,360 metres - Thredbo Village, Australia

Potential sites for altitude training in Malaysia

Kundasang Ranau at Sabah located at 1600m (average) above sea level

1) 1,600 metres - Kundasang, Ranau, Sabah
2) 1,770 metres - Bundu Tuhan, Ranau, Sabah
3) 2,000 metres - Mesilau, Sabah
4) 1,500 metres - Cameron Highland (Kea Farm), Pahang

Recommended readings:  
High Altitude Medicine and Physiology 
High Altitude Illness & Wellness
Training Mask Elevation High Altitude Mask for Athletes 
East African Running: Toward a Cross-Disciplinary Perspective
Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance 

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