Altitude Training - Benefits, Methods, Guidelines, Training Sites

>> February 07, 2011

Without getting into very detailed (because I'll continue to cover the rest in the future), this post would gives only general illustration on altitude training.

One of the reasons of altitude training is to increase the ability of erythropoietin (hormone) to stimulate more red blood cells. Because of red cells carry oxygen from lungs to the whole muscles, the  more red cells means the blood would carry more oxygen.

Thus, ability of blood to carry more oxygen results in the improvement of the maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 Max). The improvement in the value of VO2 Max could next be translated into the improvement of aerobic capacity, muscular endurance 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 is depend on the height of altitude, training methods, purposes etc.. However, there are some 'clues' to follow. The higher the altitude, the lesser the time we need to spend for altitude training. Based on many findings, for altitude of 2,500 m, the concentration of erythropoietin in blood is increased at the first day of altitude exposure and continue to rise up to 3 weeks. It is however declines after 3 weeks and back to baseline after 4 weeks. Hence, 3-4 weeks is probably enough for "one stay" 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. Athlete would only expose to high altitude for a few hours during training. But again, training at altitude has 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 an 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. However, the first important competition should be 2 to 3 weeks after the last day of altitude training.

International Sites of 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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