What Is Altitude Training?

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Altitude training has the potential to heavily effect ones performance within endurance events. It began being studied around the 1968 Olympics which were held in Mexico City. During the Olympics it was found that endurance event athletes were severely under performing compared to previous records, on the other hand, it was found athletes that performed in anaerobic events were breaking more records than ever.

Upon further investigation it was found that due to pressure differences at altitudes, it became increasingly difficult for athletes from lower altitude regions to cope with the higher altitude conditions. At higher altitude the air is thinner and for each breathe that you take, your body will be absorbing less oxygen. It is said that people who live and train at higher altitudes adapt to these conditions.

Spitzenläufer beim Training im Engadin Photo by Christof Sonderegger

At high altitudes there is less haemoglobin saturation. Naturally this stimulates the production of erythropoietin or EPO. EPO is released in the kidneys and stimulates red blood cell production from the bone marrow, the production of more red blood cells will result in an increased oxygen delivery. To conclude, training at altitude will help your body to adapt to the lower availability of oxygen. Going back to lower altitude after training at these conditions will lead to increased performance. This will work for around 14 days before the body returns back to it’s original state.

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EPO does occur naturally in the body, however EPO is made synthetically in order to help treat people with kidney failure. Having synthetic versions of EPO available it’s made it much easier for people to abuse this substance in order to gain an unfair advantage in the sporting world. This is where the term blood doping was coined. The fact is though, abusing EPO can lead to thicker blood which can increase the chances of a blood clot, heart attack and also strokes. There are many risks to it and also it puts you at an unfair advantage against your competition.

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