Thursday, May 31, 2012

Altitude: a novice's experience

In the last few years, altitude training has become a lot more accessible to the Average Joe. In the Brisbane area alone, there is now a choice of at least 5 fitness facilities (Morningside, Milton, Gabba, Wellington Point, North Lakes) that offer altitude training (in a commercial chamber).

For some reason, even though anyone can now have access to this training, it still seems to be somewhat of a “secret society” type of training, and not as mainstream as I would have expected it to be by now. I remember a few athletes speaking to me about altitude back in 2009, convinced of its benefits.

So does it work?

There are certainly a few journal articles that are convincing.

But like anything to do with cycling and increasing performance, what works for one person, may not work for another.
So has it worked for me (remembering that I am doing the train-high, live-low version, not the train-low, live-high version)?

I am not 100% certain yet. My power figures look considerably better than at the start of the year, but some other things have changed as well, which makes me unable to put all the improvements down to just the altitude. I am stretching more, and my diet is better. I have also lost weight and my thyroid levels are better regulated. Since my recovery sessions are now in altitude, my recovery sessions have also become (much) better quality sessions. And how many times have you heard it being mentioned that your recovery days are what allows improvements in fitness?

I have finished a ten week block of altitude, had a 2 week rest period, and have started again on my next block. For many athletes, the true “gains” are supposed to be seen during the 10-14 day period after stopping altitude. For me, I found I was absolutely “flying” in the last week of altitude, and then during the first week off. By the second week off, I didn’t have the same “unbeatable” feeling as I experienced the previous week. Again, everyone is different.

So can I offer any practical advice?

(1) consult your doctor BEFORE you start altitude training, even if you seem to be perfectly healthy. Altitude training is one more stress on your body, and you never know when something like this might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Be sure you are in a good starting position to gain the benefits from altitude training.

(2) get your iron levels checked BEFORE starting. Athletes (males and females) are prone to iron deficiency in any case, and altitude training will put an additional strain on this part of your body’s physiology.

(3) only do recovery sessions in altitude for the first 6-8 weeks. This allows your body to acclimatise properly.

(4) be prepared for the excessive fatigue and tiredness that you will experience in the first 2 weeks of altitude. After this, you adapt and the fatigue goes away again. It can be difficult to explain to your work colleagues when you want to take a nap at 10am!

(5) consult someone who knows lots about altitude when putting together your program for increasing efforts at altitude.

(6) shop around for altitude centres and compare their pricing and advice / experience. Increasingly in Brisbane there are fitness centres that have installed an altitude chamber that allow unlimited access to altitude as part of your regular gym membership (for only a small increase in fees). Make sure they supply you with a pulse oximeter (to monitor oxygen saturation) for each session that you do. Be aware that the fitness industry in Australia is mostly self-regulated and although you should be able to trust most fitness professionals, you need to look after yourself as well.


Miff said...

Interesting. The only time I felt 'ttude effect was after 10 days of skiing one time, when I travel to Chile for work, I feel the same when I come back, as in high level of output for longer....but well, ummmm, that might mean rolling ST for longer for me. Here's to your high Nat! Miff ;-)

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