Benefits of Altitude Training

Benefits of Altitude Training

High altitude training is a practice that has been used mostly by endurance athletes for decades, but it’s only recently that its use is being exploited by athletes to improve speed and power qualities and its relation to sprinting activity.

What does altitude training involve?

It’s a training strategy used by sportspersons and athletes to improve their sporting performance. It’s performed at high altitudes where it’s more difficult to breathe.

Generally, it’s understood as training taking place at 2400mts above sea level.

Running altitude

Normally, the type of athlete that’s going to use or is thinking of using this training is focused on endurance events.

It is, therefore, a training that will generate a new stimulus for the body, through which we develop other facets of our physical capacity.

How does altitude training work?

The idea is simple: force the body to adapt to the lack of oxygen. In this way, when we compete at low altitude (near sea level) our performance is higher.

Let’s look at what this is based on:

What is Hypoxia?

As we reach higher altitudes, and move away from sea level, the oxygen content of the atmosphere decreases.

In principle, this deficit can lead athletes getting more out of their training sessions. However, a lower oxygen concentration can in turn lead to reduced performance.

Training at high altitude leads to what is known as hypoxia.

Hypoxia training

Hypoxia is a condition of noticeable absence of oxygen, with the acquisition of oxygen by cells being diminished.

The most important consequence of this strategy is to generate an adaptation: resulting in an increase of oxygen transporters in the human body, i.e. red blood cells.

Increased red blood cell production

The stimulation of red blood cell (RBC) production is mostly produced in the kidneys in the presence of increased amounts of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO), stimulated by training conditions.

In general, it takes up to almost 10 days for the organism to train for this synthesis.

Increased red blood cell production

The higher the altitude, the less oxygen in each breath of air, so the heart and lungs will have to work harder.

The red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles.

More red blood cells are synonymous with more oxygen transported to meet the demands of the entire muscular apparatus during physical work.

How is it done?

There are 3 strategies for getting benefit from altitude training:

  • LH + TL: Live High, Train Low. Athletes take advantage of the metabolic improvements caused by the oxygen deficit in a high altitude situation, and then train at sea level, where they can “push themselves” to the max, supplying the maximum O2 available.
  • LL + TH: Live High, Train Low. This method makes use of technology. Among these developments are hypoxic masks and chambers that generate the same O2 concentration conditions as if we were at a high altitude.
  • LH + TH: Live High, Train High and Low. This is a mixture of the above concepts. We can live at high altitude, and then combine hypoxic sessions and those at sea level. We get benefits from both fields.

Training strategy

IHE = Intermittent Hypoxia Exposure; IHT = Intermittent Hypoxia Training; LH + TH = Live High, Train High; LH + TL = Live High, Train Low; LL + TH = Live Low, Train High.

We’ll look at how to simulate high altitude training later in this section.

Benefits of training at altitude

Among the potential effects of altitude training are the following:

  • Muscle oxygenation: Increased red blood cell count due to increased production of EPO (erythropoietin).
  • Increased lactate tolerance.
  • Increased aerobic capacity: higher VO2MAX.
  • Reduction of recovery times from workouts.
  • Natural increase in human growth hormone (HGC).
Improved athletic profile of sportspersons:

This is due to the ability of the muscles to re-oxygenate and are involved in the repletion of PCr (creatine phosphate), recovering faster from high intensity efforts. The phosphocreatine substrate shows the greatest improvement.

What do I need to know before starting altitude training?

Acclimatising to the new circumstances

Certain physiological changes can occur in the body of the athlete who has just settled at a high altitude to begin the altitude training, which will significantly limit their immediate performance.

These include: headache, fatigue, nausea, dyspnoea, increased oxidative stress, loss of plasma volume, dehydration, possible jet lag due to the journey, sunburn due to increased exposure to ultraviolet light, decreased cardiac output…

It is advisable to reduce or limit the volume and intensity of training in the days following your arrival.

Type of training

At the beginning of the period of altitude training, we should reduce the effort involved, otherwise we’ll quickly reach muscle fatigue.

Don’t train too strenuously, as the oxygen debt imposed is considerable, and performance will be severely limited.

In this case, you should opt for quality training, reducing its volume and intensity.

The first sessions will be very gentle and serve as a contact point, to gradually increase the intensity.

Potential catabolism

This is due to the high calorie expenditure and the higher the altitude the more the appetite tends to be suppressed.

At higher altitudes our metabolism remains accelerated, so our resting consumption already increases per se.

Another disadvantage is that at higher altitudes the temperature also decreases, so our system will expend more calories to maintain body temperature.

Where should it be carried out

Unless you live for a long period of time at high altitude, the gains from this type of training don’t last for very long.

That’s why most athletes choose to spend a period of their season in a venue with the conditions they’re looking for and reap the benefits of training at altitude.

In Spain, we can enjoy the facilities offered by the Sierra Nevada High Performance Centre.

How to stimulate altitude training

At sea level, our performance is at its maximum, thanks to the abundant supply of oxygen in the atmosphere, as opposed to when climbing to a higher altitude. Many authors conclude that the ideal would be:

Live High + Train Low

This model advocates that athletes can simultaneously experience the benefits of training at altitude but train at sea level, generating physiological adaptations.

Simulating hypoxia training

Simulating hypoxia training.

These athletes live and sleep at a high altitude (2000-3000mts) but train at a lower level (< 1500mts).

LH + TL on Natural Altitude Level

This model was evaluated in a study: a number of athletes lived at 2500m but trained at 1250m. It was shown that after 28 days post-experimentation, this group saw their VO2MAX improve compared to the control group.

Successive research has been carried out (including preparations for the Olympics), and the athletes subjected to the protocol experienced physiological improvements in the production of erythrocytes.

Obviously, in many cases, the option of living for a season at high altitude is not viable, so we’ll have to look for other solutions, using, in this case, technology:
  • Nitrogen House Room: this system can simulate an altitude of up to 3000mts.
  • Hypoxic Chamber or Tent: this is a sealed enclosure where oxygen-depleted air is administered.
  • Hypobaric Chamber: this can simulate altitudes of up to 5500mts, so that sportspersons and / or athletes can sleep.
  • Masks: used during the sleep phase to provide O2 deficit.

Indoor cycling in hypoxia

Indoor cycling in hypoxia.

Hypoxia Indoor Cycling Classes:
  • You can also go to a centre where classes are given, usually indoor cycling, which simulate the conditions of altitude.
  • These are group classes, held in a large hypoxic chambers.
  • The results that can be obtained are similar to those that would be obtained by training at high altitude.


  1. Hun-young Park, Hyejung Hwang, Jonghoon Park, Seongno Lee, and Kiwon Lim. (2016). The effects of altitude/hypoxic training on oxygen delivery capacity of the blood and aerobic exercise capacity in elite athletes – a meta-analysis.
  2. Jacob A. Sinex, Robert F. Chapman. (2015). Hypoxic training methods for improving endurance exercise performance.
  3. Faiss, R., Léger, B., Vesin, J. M., Fournier, P. E., Eggel, Y., Dériaz, O., & Millet, G. P. (2013). Significant molecular and systemic adaptations after repeated sprint training in hypoxia. PLoS One, 8(2), e56522.
  4. Saugy, J. J., Schmitt, L., Cejuela, R., Faiss, R., Hauser, A., Wehrlin, J. P., … & Millet, G. P. (2014). Comparison of “Live High-Train Low” in Normobaric versus Hypobaric Hypoxia. PloS one, 9(12), e114418.
  5. Athlete Performance Laboratory, United States Olympic Committee, Colorado Springs, CO, USA. Application of altitude/hypoxic training by elite athletes.

Related Entries

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  • Everything you need to know to get starting with Trail Running: Read now.
  • VO2MAX is a very important piece of data for understanding our performance. If you want to find out how to calculate it, visit this link
  • What is the EPOC Effect? Find out by clicking here
Review of Altitude Training

Increased endurance - 100%

Increased lung capacity - 100%

Fat loss - 100%

Improved recovery - 100%

Lactate buffering - 100%

Synthesis of glycolytic enzymes - 100%


HSN Evaluation: 5 /5
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About Javier Colomer
Javier Colomer
"Knowledge Makes Stronger", Javier Colomer's motto, sets out his clearest statement of intentions expressing his knowledge and fitness experience.
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