With growing awareness for the importance of personal health and well-being worldwide, more and more people are signing up to corporate team events, international sportives and marathons, setting out each year to beat personal records and conquer bucket list events. Add to this the rising popularity of outdoor adventures, with mounting interests in mountaineering expeditions (pun certainly intended!) altitude training has never been more relevant.
Simulated altitude training at The Altitude Centre is achieved through reducing the oxygen percentage in the air that you breathe from what normally is 20.9% to 15%, which places you at roughly 2700m – the height of many alpine ski resorts for comparison – and over twice the height of Ben Nevis.
When you first step into the low-oxygenated chamber, you won’t suddenly start feeling faint like many people expect. You might not necessarily notice any differences either, but don’t be fooled. There are certainly changes happening in your body, which are reflected in metrics such as your SpO2 (the available oxygen in the blood) and your heart rate (a simple measure of how hard you are working during exercise).
Typically, your SpO2 – the percentage of red blood cells in your body fully saturated with oxygen - will desaturate to around 80-85% when training at altitude. This is what we call the ‘adaptation zone’. The body is under enough metabolic stress to develop efficient oxygen systems, in order to reach the increasing demands of energy output.
1. Your red blood cell count will increase following an increase in your EPO when you have more than 7 hours of altitude exposure per day
a) Primarily gained through sleeping at altitude in one of our Hypoxic Sleep Tents
2. Your lungs will adapt to increase the speed at which oxygen gets into your body.
3. Your cardiovascular system will develop to ensure enough oxygenated blood gets to your muscles.
4. Your muscles will develop more powerful mitochondria to process this extra oxygen into energy.
By improving your oxygen efficiency, the pace or power output that normally would have sent your heart rate sky-rocketing, becomes easier and easier to maintain. In simple terms, we are getting fitter, faster!
Essentially, your body becomes accustomed to doing ‘more work, with less oxygen’, and when you return back to sea level and top up with that extra 6% of oxygen you were missing whilst you trained, you can go further, faster and/or for longer.
The best thing about all of this is that, for you and I, the potential for improvement is much greater. For the elites such as Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins, the Brownlee brothers and more, they are looking for marginal gains.