Anyone who has ever been in the mountains at higher altitudes knows it: the feeling that the air is getting thinner. Breath and heart rate rise, even not so heavy physical activities feel heavier and drive the sweat on the forehead. These are the first reactions of the body to the changed external conditions at altitude. Our organism acclimatizes. Athletes use this mechanism in altitude training to improve their performance.
The oxygen content in the air is 20.9% and remains roughly constant even at different altitudes. With increasing altitude, however, the air pressure decreases and with it also the oxygen partial pressure, i.e. the oxygen content of the air decreases and less oxygen gets into the blood via the lungs and finally into the tissue. Accordingly, our performance decreases and, especially on the first day at altitude, physical activities feel more intense than normal (e.g. at sea level).
On the light oxygen deficiency, also called hypoxia, our organism reacts with increased release of the endogenous hormone erythropoietin (EPO), which leads to an increase of red blood cells (erythrocytes). Due to the increased number of erythrocytes in the blood, more oxygen is transported in order to ensure a sufficient supply of our body with oxygen. Back at sea level, this has a performance-enhancing effect, which is mainly used by competitive athletes. However, basically any athlete can benefit from altitude training (hypoxia training), especially endurance athletes.
Types of altitude training
There are generally three types of altitude training: Live High – Train High, Live High – Train Low and Live Low – Train High. Being Live High – Train High, the typical altitude training, training takes place at altitude and the athlete also stays at altitude to live and sleep. In case of Live High – Train Low, however, the athlete lives, sleeps and regenerates at altitude, but trains at sea level or significantly lower altitude. This form of altitude training aims to combine the positive effects of altitude acclimatization with the opportunity to train with greater intensity. With the Live Low – Train High method it is exactly the other way around, here only the training takes place at altitude. This type of altitude training allows the body to regenerate more quickly, but is less effective due to the reduced time spent at altitude and the reduced training intensity.
Training intensity and duration
During the first few days at altitude you clearly notice that your physical performance is reduced. While our organism adapts to the changed conditions, the volume and intensity of training should be reduced. After three to four days you can already feel how your body is acclimatizing and training intensity can be slowly increased. We take this into account when planning the routes of our cycling camps and trips, so that you don’t push yourself too hard.
Altitude Training Camps
For many cyclists, one or two training camps a year are a must nowadays. Free from everyday stress, you can concentrate fully on sport and cycling, increase the volume of training and regenerate better. In order to achieve even greater training effects, many cyclists combine the training camp with a stay at altitude. After returning to lower altitudes, the body’s physiological adaptation processes to the altitude result in an improved oxygen supply to the muscles and an increase in performance, which athletes use to their advantage. That’s why altitude training camps have become an integral part of competition preparation for professionals.
Locations for Altitude Training Camps
In order to benefit from the body’s acclimatization processes, an altitude training camp must take place at a sufficient altitude. However, the location you choose should not be too high, otherwise the training intensity will decrease too much. 1,900 m to 2,500 m is generally considered the optimal altitude for high-altitude training camps.
Very few places in the world offer ideal conditions for the classic form of altitude training (“Live High, Train High”). Well-known regions for altitude training camps are for instance St. Moritz in Switzerland, the French Alps, Kühtai in Austria, the Sierra Nevada in Spain, the Teide on Tenerife, Iten in Kenya or Boulder in the USA. In addition to these well-known altitude training regions, Colombia is considered an insider tip as a top location for cycling altitude training. A number of professional teams and cycling pros have discovered the Andean region of Colombia, and in particular the Oriente Antioqueño, for their high-altitude training camps.
*depending on exchange rate