Ever wondered why so many professional athletes use altitude training to improve performance?

It’s well established that for change to occur a stimulus is required. Muscle cell adaptation is no different – it requires metabolic stressors to continually progress.

Training in an altitude chamber creates a state of hypoxia. Hypoxia (a deficiency of oxygen reaching the tissues) is a form of environmental stress that has been regularly implemented in training to provide a catalyst for adaptation. In other words, your body will have a heightened stimulus that will help improvement rates!

Commonly, endurance athletes have been known to take advantage of the vast number of benefits that training in a low oxygen environment can bring.

Training in hypoxic conditions activates protein complex hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1), which is correlated with:

  • increases in mitochondrial volume, density and capillarity, and
  • up-regulation of endothelial growth factors and glycolytic enzyme mRNA.

These physiological changes translate to increased intermittent running performance, glycogen usage and increased rates of phosphocreatine regeneration.

A study by Zoll and associates in 2006 on endurance training in hypoxia found a plethora of benefits for the low oxygen training group. The hypoxia group had an enhanced buffering capacity, improved oxygen delivery with a concomitant increased oxidative capacity.

So how does this relate to me?

Essentially, these adaptations help increase your resistance to fatigue, as well as increasing the efficiency of your oxygen usage and energy sources (glycogen and triglycerides) during exercise.

Hypoxic training will help you perform more efficiently, for longer, and with less fatigue!

More benefits of hypoxic training

The benefits of hypoxic training are not just limited to endurance-based performance. Several studies have found that hypoxia can improve strength-based measures as well.

An Australian study on AFL players found significant improvements in relative and absolute strength gains when the resistance program was performed in hypoxic conditions. This becomes even more interesting considering all the participants were highly strength-trained, and the results were achieved in such a short period.

Some of the proposed mechanisms for strength increases in hypoxia include an increase in the following:

  • type II fibre recruitment
  • metabolite accumulation
  • plasma growth hormone
  • muscle swelling

The bottom line

By subjecting your body to a low oxygen environment stressor (without having to travel all the way to the mountains), altitude training has the potential to accelerate your training and help to push you way beyond what you thought your maximum was!

References

  • H. Inness MW, Billaut F, Walker EJ, Petersen AC, Sweeting AJ, Aughey RJ. Heavy resistance training in hypoxia enhances 1RM squat performance. Frontiers in Physiology. 2016; 7.
  • Puype J, Van Proeyen K, Raymackers J, Deldicque L & Hespel P. Sprint Interval Training in Hypoxia Stimulates Glycolytic Enzyme Activity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2013; 45: 2166- 2174.
  • Zoll J, Ponsot E, Dufour S, et al. Exercise training in normobaric hypoxia in endurance runners. III. Muscular adjustments of selected gene transcripts. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2006;2005;100:1258-1266.