I was fortunate enough to recently have the opportunity to attend a level 1 instructors course with ATS (Altitude Technology Solutions) held by Rob Darley (former UK track cyclist). Although I am not a PT (personal trainer), I have a keen interest in all-things-altitude, especially with my background in veterinary science (lots of physiology!) and large amounts of previous scuba diving experience (altitude is almost the polar opposite).
The ATS course is designed to ensure that personal trainers and/or coaches attain a solid background in the where / why / who / what of altitude training.
Amazingly, intermittent hypoxic training (IHT) has already been around for over 40 years. Some of the triggers for athletes looking into training at altitude included the high-altitude Mexico City Olympics (1968). Surprisingly, even the cycling great Eddy Merckx experimented with altitude training at his home in Belgium while he was preparing to beat the hour record (1972).
As the media has often reported, more and more sports teams (AFL, rugby, other football codes, etc) utilize altitude training in their off-season, pre-season and sometimes even during the season. It is no surprise to note that many Olympic sportspeople also integrate altitude training into their preparation. But the health benefits of altitude are there for anyone. In my health club (Breathe), I regularly see many 50-60 year olds (as well as 20-40 year olds) taking advantage of circuit classes held in the altitude room, as well as using the stationary gym equipment.
By stimulating the body’s metabolism in an hypoxic environment, altitude training allows changes to occur to the body’s normal glucose and fat breakdown methods. The body has to make adaptive changes to become more efficient while exercising at low oxygen levels. The “power house” of most cells in the body, the mitochondria, are heavily influenced by hypoxia. Hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) is a signaling factor in the body, and it plays a key role in activating a broad range of genes that help protect cells against hypoxia. By stimulating the production of HIF, it is thought that altitude training can help re-program the body’s basal oxygen metabolism.
It is hoped that current and future applications of altitude training will not only include performance benefits for the elite athletes, but general health improvement benefits for the general public, rehabilitation for patients after injury / illness, and enhanced fat loss and improved metabolism for the obese population.
So back to the course… it was both theory-based and practical-based. Apart from learning more about the history of IHT, and how altitude influences the body’s physiology, Rob runs the course attendees through the pros and cons of mask and chamber altitude systems; how to use pulse oximeters; how to conduct baseline tests on new clients; and then goes through the how/when/where of exercise programs at altitude, and importantly how to integrate these with sea-level programs. Rob has an easy-to-listen-to style of lecturing, and makes the day go quite quickly. I would definitely recommend doing the course if you are a PT, or just wanting to learn more about altitude.