e are probably all familiar with pictures of top athletes preparing for upcoming competitions in the Engadin (approx.. 1850 m above sea level) or on other altitude levels. It is also not surprising that altitude training (hypoxia training) is part of a top athlete’s standard training plan. The answer to the question why not only top athletes but also recreational athletes like you and me benefit from training at altitudes lies in the increased production of red blood cells and in the increase in energetic turnover. Whether mountain biker, cyclist, jogger, rower, swimmer or weekend hiker 😊: experience the positive effects on performance and health when you train on the “white tops”.
The oxygen percentage in the air is independent of the height above sea level and amounts to approx. 21% of the atmospheric pressure all over the world. It makes no difference, if you are the sea or on the Mount Everest. With an increasing altitude, however, the air becomes thinner and the air pressure decreases. These changes are accompanied by a change in the so-called oxygen partial pressure. Oxygen partial pressure is the partial pressure of oxygen dissolved in the arterial blood as a proportion of the total pressure of all gasses dissolved in the blood.
The higher you are above sea level, the lower the partial pressure of oxygen in the arterial blood. In order to compensate for this reduction, a number of adaptation mechanisms in the body take lace to ensure that the body continues to receive sufficient oxygen. These adaptation mechanisms include, for example, sensitization of breathing activity. The organism compensates for the lower partial pressure of oxygen in the arterial blood with an increase breathing frequency and an increased respiratory minute volume.
At the same time, the body stimulates the production and release of erytrhopoetin (EPO). EPO is produced in the kidneys and stimulates the production of red blood cells (erythrocytes) in the bone narrow. The body produces more hemoglobin, a protein of red blood cells, which is crucial for the binding and transport of oxygen in the blood. The more hemoglobin there is in the blood, the more oxygen can be bound and transported.
Therefore, the decisive point of altitude training is an improved oxygen transport capacity in the blood as well as an improved oxygen utilization, which leads to the following positive effects
Those who want to achieve the best possible training effect (e.g. as preparation for competitions) should think about a longer training period, ideally about 2-4 weeks on at least 1900m-2300m. The different ways of hypoxia training are:
Even those who do not train according to an individual plan can benefit from activities at an altitude level. However, the effects of altitude training will be much weaker: Although it can be assumed that - depending on the altitude and duration of the stay - an increased energy metabolism can be observed; improved endurance performance, for example through (simple) hikes, cannot be expected to the same extent as would be the case with targeted training. At this point, it is important to note that recreational athletes who do not regularly train or stay at an altitude level should plan an acclimatization phase of 2-4 days.
The hypoxia training is, therefore, not only something for competitive athletes. Recreational athletes should also include such a training session in their training plan and benefit from the positive effects triggered by the body's mechanism for adapting to the lower oxygen partial pressure. These are - as many studies show - proven, but individually different, so that everyone has to find their own way. Even without a specific training plan, activities at an altitude level, such as hiking or mountain biking, are healthy for the body and soul. The combination of altitude training and High Intensity Interval Training can enhance the above mentioned effects, because there is an intersection in the training effects between both training methods.
Ain’t no mountain high enough – why not exchange the running track in the Allmend or along the Reuss for one or two trail runs or a mountain bike tour in the mountains, to profit from the positive effects and enjoy the wonderful nature!