Have you heard of altitude training? It’s something I’ve been meaning to try for some time (ie. avoiding, because it scared me).
My perception of altitude training was that it was for the pros. The elite athletes. The ones playing sport at the highest level. Or preparing for a triathlon. Or a big trek somewhere exotic (and high!).
I didn’t think it was for someone like me, a regular fitness enthusiast with no Iron Man ambitions to speak of. Because I thought it’d be too freaking hard, basically, haha.
But last Friday, I felt the fear and did it anyway. I finally took the plunge and gave it a go, at the state-of-the-art ‘alti-gym’ Altitude Australia in Brookvale on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
What is altitude training?
Altitude training is training in simulated high-altitude conditions. You do your workout in an ‘altitude chamber’ (see, it sounds scary, doesn’t it?) where the oxygen levels are reduced to mimic the air you’d breathe if you were up a really high mountain. About half way between Mount Kosciuszko and Mount Everest.
The chamber is pumped with extra nitrogen, which we breathe normally anyway, they just increase the ratio, to reduce the percentage of oxygen in the air. Normally we breathe about 21% oxygen. In the altitude chamber, the oxygen reduces to between 11 and 16% (it was 13% the day I trained there).
Why is altitude training a good thing?
Because there’s less oxygen in the air, our body has to work harder to complete the same workout.
Which means that it has to work more efficiently.
So you can burn more calories in the chamber than you would if you did the same workout in a regular gym. Or achieve the same results in a shorter period of time, if that’s the way you prefer to look at it 😉
The upshot is that when you start training outdoors again (or indoors) at sea level, you’ll find it easier. And so you’ll be able to go harder/faster/stronger/longer. You’ll be fitter.
Yes, altitude training is used by professional sports people like the Swannies and Sea Eagles. It’s used by trekkers and competitors to acclimatise their bodies before setting off on a high altitude adventure or event. And yes, it’s used by Olympians. But it’s also used by normal people who just want to get fit. People like me!
How did I go?
You know what? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVED it!
Whatever I was expecting didn’t happen (I had visions of extreme shortness of breath, embarrassingly early muscle fatigue, and even fainting, haha). I didn’t even feel a change in my breathing entering the chamber (nor exiting it, although some people do apparently).
I found that I could complete the workout in a relatively normal way (ie. very sweaty), I hit the goals that the co-owner and coach, Lachlan, had set and it felt goooood!
We did a warm up interval session on the bike and then a circuit of strength, cardio and core. At any time, you can check the oxygen levels in your blood using medical-grade monitors (those ones you put on your finger in hospital) to make sure you’re working at the optimal level.
I honestly got such a buzz from it. I’m not sure whether it was simply because it was an epic workout. Or because it was so different from what I was expecting, or the way the varying oxygen levels physically affected my body and brain. Or a combination of all three. But I certainly left on a high wanting to go back for more.
So, contrary to my perception, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to train at altitude, but you sure do feel like one when you’ve done it.
If you’re in Sydney, head to Altitude Australia for a trial. The sibling directors of the facility, Lachlan and Gabrielle, couldn’t be more welcoming, knowledgeable and encouraging. You’ll be right at home. At home in the mountains 🙂