There has been a lot of talk lately about high altitude training, particularly in the AFL with teams like Collingwood and North Melbourne heading overseas to try and get an added competitive advantage using this method.
But what exactly are the proposed benefits of training at a high altitude?
Being in high altitude doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to the highest mountain that you can find; it is all relevant to the elevation of the location above sea level.
The main reason athlete do altitude training is all to do with oxygen. Your body needs oxygen to function, in order to live and breath, and for your muscles to contract to get you moving oxygen is a key part of the equation.
Two statements below form the basis for the theory of altitude training
The harder you work, the more oxygen your body needs!
As altitude increases, oxygen density and pressure decreases! This makes it harder to breathe.
At high altitude it is harder for you to breathe in and distribute oxygen to your muscles, meaning your body needs to work harder and become more efficient at utilising the oxygen supply available. Once you return to your normal oxygen rich altitude, as your body has become super effective at using oxygen, it allows your lungs and muscles to work less and produce a greater output, which will conserve energy and improve performance.
As with all training principles, the benefits will not be seen if it used as a one-off training session; the process must be repeated to be worthwhile, which is why teams spend a couple of weeks on a high altitude camp and repeat the process each year (and even mid season). To get the continued benefit of altitude training there are also machines that can help simulate high altitude environments by filtering oxygen out of the inhaled air. These can be large training rooms, or even small machines connected to a breathing apparatus. These are generally used by elite athletes as long term methods of maintaining the effects that the high altitude camps create.
Did you know?
The high altitude of the 1968 Mexico Olympics has been credited as one of the reasons there were some many records broken. In the field events of the athletics, there was an Olympic or World record set in every throwing or jumping type event. Lower oxygen density means less resistance, allowing athletes to throw and jump further. Conversely, though, it was said to be a great struggle for the endurance athletes who found it harder to breathe.