The Benefits Of High Elevation Training
No one likes to lose. Especially after you have worked and trained hard for months, maybe even years, to be the winner. The bitter taste of defeat is unpleasant, and those that have tasted it will do anything to make sure they don’t taste it again.
For some, that means an upgrade in gear. For others, they need to continue to apply themselves to exercise and training. And then, for others that want to set up their game, even more, there is the option of High Elevation Training.
Elevation training isn’t as complex as some have you believe. In it’s most simplistic form, elevation training is a workout at a different level. It has been used by mixed martial artists, Olympic athletes, even Navy SEALS, to name a few, throughout the years. But don’t let those high caliber athletes frighten you away from elevation training. It has been used by runners as well. Both the elite, endurance runners and the casual, recreational runner have used and can benefit from doing High Elevation Training.
What Is High Elevation Training?
High Elevation Training is any workout done at an altitude that is above sea level.
But since most of the world lives above sea level, minus New Orleans and a handful of other cities, High Elevation Training typically occurs at any altitude over 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). Some elite athletes will go even higher than that, some up to 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) or even 15,000 feet (4,600 meters).
(For reference, the world’s tallest building as of 2106 is the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai. It is just over 2,70 feet (828 meters) tall. High Elevation Training is much higher than that.)
Those that have a fear of heights, don’t feel like you are totally missing out. There are real risks to High Elevation Training and alternatives that you enjoy closer to sea level. We’ll talk about them in future articles.
What Happens To Your Body?
The real attractive to High Elevation Training is what happens to your body, and how if will benefit you, simply because you are at a different altitude.
At a higher altitude, the air is thinner. This means that there are fewer molecules of oxygen for you to breath in and have your body process. Less oxygen being taken in by the body results in less red blood cells, and the body being deprived of required oxygen.
The human body naturally compensates for this by creating erythropoietin (EPO), a protein that increases your body’s red blood cell count. The increased number of red blood cells then aid in delivery oxygen throughout the body.
While that may all sound terrible and downright harmful to your body, the benefits of this are wonderful, whether you are an elite, endurance runner or a casual athlete.
What Are The Benefits?
As was mentioned above, the body goes through some stress because of the change in elevation. But these changes can be a good thing for athletes.
Because you would be training at a higher elevation, you will be able to push yourself to tolerate more discomfort from your workout, without the stress on your muscles and joints. That doesn’t mean that you can push yourself harder with High Elevation Training, only that you can train longer, even if at a slightly less intense pace. This may sound discouraging, but when you return to lower altitudes, your body will be prepared to run faster and further.
Studies with high performing athletes showed an increase of 1 to 3% after High Elevation Training. In more regular, non-professional athletes, they saw a bigger and quicker boost in performance. All because they did some training at a higher altitude.
Unfortunately, there is no direct correlation between time spent High Elevation Training and performance. No easy answer to how long and how hard can be given to give you the best results.
But, time and again, people have seen that the benefits of High Elevation Training have lasted between 10 to 24 days after the fact. An increase in speed, strength, endurance, even in recovery after an event have been routinely experienced by those that maintained a high altitude exposure for an extended period of time.
Again, let me stress, there is no definitive length of time, or intensity of training, or specific altitude to give you the maximum benefit of High Elevation Training.
What we can say definitively is that it works. Especially for those in endurance sports or events, like marathons, High Elevation Training is a good idea.
What Are The Risks?
Like any high-intensity workout, there are risks to your body. The human body can only take so much use and abuse before it will start to fight back. High Elevation Training, even if you are just running, is no different.
Because the body is not getting the oxygen that it has been accustomed to at a lower elevation, the body cannot exercise as intensely as before. Those that try to keep a consistent training regiment after the transition from low elevation to high may run the risk of damaging muscles and ligaments.
While participating in High Elevation Training, you may also experience involuntary weight loss. This may be caused by the loss of appetite due to the altitude change. It can also be caused by the body actually consuming muscle to provide itself with energy to fulfill your workouts.
This may not be the most worrisome of risks for people considering High Elevation Training, but it is something to remember. You are going to high heights to train. Altitude sickness may affect you and severely decrease your ability to train.
Not all of these risks are present at 5,000 feet. Some only present to those that go as high as 15,000 feet. Either way, it would be wise to weigh the risks against the benefits before you plan your trip for High Elevation Training.
What does it take to be first place? That is often the question that people like me ask when we don’t quite make it. Sometimes it is better running equipment. Other times, we need to be more disciplined. But the secret may be in High Elevation Training. It may be the edge that you and I need to conquer those endurance events at sea level.