Altitude training as a way to improve the performance of athletes is a common knowledge. Pro athletes such as runners as well as non-professional athletes undergo this type of training to increase their capability to exercise. But before anyone decides if this is the perfect training technique to use, it helps to know more about this method as well as its advantages and disadvantages.
What is Altitude Training?
Altitude training is an extreme method of endurance training that athletes use to have leverage over other athletes in terms of performance in competitions. People who normally use this training are cyclists, football players and runners, among others. This training is practiced by athletes by staying and training in high altitudes, at around 8,000 feet above sea level, for several weeks. This is because in high places, there is less oxygen and the air is thinner and as a result, the body learns to adapt to the reduced amount of oxygen.
However, to determine if this is the ideal training method for an individual, it helps to learn about its positive and negative implications.
List of Advantages of Altitude Training
1. Higher Red Blood Cells Concentration
The kidneys are responsible in the release of the hormone known as erythropoietin. This hormone stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells that are important in the supply of oxygen in the body. When a person trains at high altitudes, there is less supply of oxygen. This causes the kidneys to increase the release of erythropoietin and consequently, more oxygen is carried by the blood to the organs and tissues.
2. Aids in Endurance and Performance
The measure of the amount of oxygen in the body that can be converted into energy from the food a person eats is known as VO2. This works through the conversion of the eaten food into adenosine triphosphate. Conversely, in terms of measuring how much an athlete has improved when it comes of performance, the term is known as VO2 max. This condition is achieved by training at high altitudes and ensures improved performance and endurance.
3. Healthier Respiratory System
The respiratory system is where the lungs are and is responsible for breathing. In higher altitudes, there is a reduction in the percentage of oxygen molecules as the altitude rises due to lesser barometric pressure. When an athlete trains for several weeks at high altitudes, the body learns to adapt to the reduced oxygen supply and the respiratory muscles are strengthened.
4. Effects Stay Longer
Proponents of altitude training posit that by spending weeks training in high altitudes, muscle metabolism takes place and so does improved performance and endurance. This is because there is an increase in the supply of red blood cells that are instrumental to carrying oxygen to different parts of the body. What makes this effective is that even if the athlete competes in lower altitudes, the concentration in red blood cells remains high.
Supporters of altitude training say that the cool air present above sea level offers a level of comfort for athletes. This is because exercising is mostly done in lower grounds while the athlete can spend 12 hours sleeping and resting in higher grounds.
List of Disadvantages of Altitude Training
1. Affects Immunity
One of the drawbacks of training in high altitudes is in a person’s immunity to diseases. With a weakened immune system, an athlete can be susceptible to pathogens that can lead to ailments. It is important for the body to have proper nutrition while training since it also increases the amount of nutrients needed.
2. Exposure to Stress
Another negative effect of this extreme training method is the increase in cortisol levels in the body under stress. Training in high altitudes results to lesser oxygen supply. Because of this, the lungs and the heart have to work harder. With lower oxygen supply as elevation rises, the body needs to compensate this by increasing the production of cortisol. This can lead to muscle breakdown.
3. Weakens Endurance
Critics of altitude training claim that even if the body increases the production of red blood cells as oxygen is reduced, there is no assurance that the muscles will still have the same amount of oxygen it needs for performance. This is also because different people react differently to stressors and that not all can adapt to higher altitudes. That said, it may affect the endurance of an athlete while it will not have an effect on another.
4. Negative Increase in Red Blood Cell Production
Opponents of high altitude trainings argue that lingering in places where air is thinner might increase the production of red blood cells to supply the different organs and tissues of the body. While it is helpful to familiarize the body with lower oxygen supply, the red blood cell increase can also affect the viscosity of the blood or its concentration. If this happens, flow of blood is restricted and it becomes slower, which is not also healthy. This is on top of the concern that this type of training entails expenses and can costly which might not be practical for some athletes considering that not all have access to high altitudes.
5. Possible Dehydration
Skeptic individuals on applying this method of training say that a person undergoing this extreme training is prone to dehydration. This is because as the elevation becomes higher, breathing and heart rate increase. Increased respiratory rate can result to more moisture loss. Moreover, since the athlete is exposed to cool and dry air, dehydration is more likely to occur unless fluid intake is increased. Another possibility can be the hastened evaporation of moisture from the skin since there is lowered air pressure.
Altitude training is not for everyone since our bodies react differently to the impacts of training in elevated grounds. It also has benefits and drawbacks that need to be considered. To ensure an athlete or any individual interested in altitude training gets the most of this method, it is important to undergo tests and consult a medical practitioner before subjecting the body to this type of training.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.