Lift Less Weight (at altitude) to Increase Strength

Following on from our previous blog on hypoxic training for load compromised individuals (think injured athletes, or athletes already training so much or so hard that it’s hard to fit anything else in), we thought we’d take a look at the specifics of some of the research behind the theory.

When it comes to strength training, it is generally accepted that training volume is key to improving muscle strength and size. If you have two people training, the one who lifts 80% of their 1RM will become stronger and gain more muscle than the person who lifts 50% of their 1RM if repetitions are equated. However, lifting very heavy weights is not always possible in the real world. For example, endurance athletes are all too familiar with the delayed onset muscle soreness from a weights session which can ruin the next day’s run or even a workout a few days later, and team or racket sports athletes competing frequently can find it hard to balance weight training with skill, tactical and technical training, and competition itself. For these reasons, any way in which we can have the athlete lift lighter weights (and thereby avoid the negative aspects of strength training for athletes) while still improving strength is a silver bullet for sport scientists, coaches and athletes alike.

A growing body of research shows that strength training in hypoxic conditions may well be that silver bullet. One study, published in 2017, is worth digging into in a bit more detail to look at exactly how and why that could be, and how we can use this to our advantage.

What Did They Do?

Scientists collaborating in Thailand and New Zealand recruited forty, high performance team sports athletes across a range of sports. They had the athletes traine in either hypoxic conditions (14% oxygen, ~3250m) at 50% 1 RM, or normoxia (sea level) at 80%, three times per week for five weeks. The authors assessed the participants strength and physical performance across a range of measures before, at 3 weeks, and after the training plan.

What Did They Find?

The headline finding from the study was undoubtedly that resistance training at 50% 1RM in hypoxia elicited similar gains in strength compared to lifting 80% 1RM at sea level. When it came to performance measures, athletes training in hypoxia improved vertical jump 4.4% compared to 0.8% in the normoxic group, 10 m sprint speed by 10% v 6.4% and 20 m sprint speed by 7.4% v 4.1%, showing greater performance improvements across the board after having trained in the hypoxic condition.

Low-load resistance (50%1RM) training under hypoxia has similar performance benefits to the more traditional high-load resistance training protocol – Thuwakum et al. (2017)

These results came despite the fact that training intensity was lower, which also resulted in a substantially lower daily pain score. That is to say, the athletes made greater improvements in physical performance, and were left in less pain following training, leaving them fresher to focus on other aspects of performance.

While it was beyond the scope of this study to look at the reasons underpinning the improvement in performance from hypoxic training, other research has shown that hypoxic training leads to a greater production of lactate and growth hormone which might contribute to muscle growth, and that hypoxia in itself might contribute trigger a cascade of molecular signalling within the muscle which contributes to increases in muscle size and strength.

What Does It Mean?

Applying these findings is remarkably simple in this case- strength train at altitude! And the good news is you don’t need to go the mountains to do so, with options to train right here in our London centre. The participants in the study trained 3 times every week, but it’s important to find the right number of sessions each week for you. If you are new to resistance training then you’re likely to see the benefits from fewer sessions very quickly. Our Summit Circuits are strength training sessions specifically designed to improve whole body, sport specific strength and conditioning, completed in our altitude chamber at 2700 m above sea level. Try including 2 sessions a week and reap the rewards! For those looking for a more bespoke option, personal training allows our Performance Specialists to tailor the training to your experience and goals, making it the perfect place to start your training journey.

To find out more about strength training and how you can include altitude within your program, get in touch with the team below.

Read the study here: Thuwakum, W., Hamlin, M. J., Manimmanakorn, N., Leelayuwat, N. A. R. U. E. M. O. N., Wonnabussapawich, P., Boobpachat, D. I. S. S. A. P. H. O. N., & Manimmanakorn, A. (2017). Low-load resistance training with hypoxia mimics traditional strength training in team sport athletes.

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