New Year, New Goals…

For many of us, the new year means new goals. Whether aiming to summit a new peak, break a PB, or simply lose a bit of weight or feel better, fitness is often at the heart of many of these new year ambitions. Of course, we’ve long known that pushing yourself hard in the chamber is a great way of boosting your fitness and ultimately achieving your goals. The question we’re often asked is how much more benefit do you get from training at altitude compared to doing the exact same thing at sea level? Well, new research has shown the extent of the gains that can be made in as little as three weeks of altitude training compared to matched training at sea level.

Muscle Oxygen

What They Did

The authors took men who were already recreationally trained and tested their baseline fitness. They split the participants into two groups. One group trained for 3 weeks at sea level, and the other trained for 3 weeks at 2700m. Just like our Performance Specialists make sure you aren’t slacking off, every single session was fully supervised to make sure none of the participants skipped an interval! Then at the end of the 3 weeks, they repeated the tests to see the improvement. What makes this research particularly strong, is that 6 weeks after the initial training block, the participants came back and repeated the whole protocol in the other condition, so everyone trained at both sea level and 2700 m for 3 weeks. All training was at 120% of the participant’s lactic threshold, which was measured at sea level and altitude to match the relative workload between conditions (of course this meant that at altitude the power output was lower).

What They Found

The headline is that all participants saw greater improvements in their VO2max (a key marker of fitness) following 3 weeks of altitude training compared to 3 weeks of training at sea level, even when training was matched. After training at altitude, participants saw a 12% improvement compared to just a 2% increase after training at sea level. The authors also showed greater improvements in markers of physiological function, and reductions in inflammatory markers in response to altitude training versus training at sea level, with potential impacts on health.

What This Means For You

Goal 2
The main takeaway is that your fitness is likely to improve more after training at altitude compared to equivalent training at sea level. In practice then, this ought to translate to improved performance, whether it be cycling, running or any other sporting endeavour. This matches up exactly with our recent Winter Training Camp, in which participants were reporting PB’s over a range of distances. Of course, fitness is also crucial for success in the high mountains, so those with mountaineering goals for 2020 might want to take note. The authors showed here that by exercising at altitude, your performance at altitude is improved, possibly because some of the health markers measured here also contribute towards altitude acclimation. Undertaking this sort of training will help start the acclimation process to make those first few days in the mountains more pleasant. Last but by no means least, the improvements in immune and health markers should be encouraging for anyone with wellbeing goals this year. You can check out the results from our health and wellbeing training camp here to see what this might mean in practice (spoiler alert, big improvements in measures of body composition, blood pressure and lung function!).

You can check out the original research paper here, and see full details of our recent training camps here. Interested in trying it out for yourself? Our next Altitude Training Camps are starting soon- get in touch on [email protected] for more details!

Zebrowska et al. (2019) Comparison of the Effectiveness of High-Intensity Interval Training in Hypoxia and Normoxia in Healthy Male Volunteers: A Pilot Study