During the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, athletes and their trainers saw a noticeable decline in the overall performance of competing athletes. Because the event was about 7,350 feet above sea level, many quickly attributed this decline to the decreased oxygen levels at that altitude.
Trainers saw the need for athletes to acclimatize to higher altitudes to ensure this would not happen again. For this reason, they incorporated high altitude training in their athletes’ training programs to prepare for high-altitude events. But instead of just an improvement in performance at altitude, athletes also saw gains in their performance at sea level, giving rise to the types of high altitude training methods we know today.
Learn more about the different types of high altitude training programs below.
Different Types of High Altitude Training
High altitude sports training involves several training methods that vary the athlete’s exposure to hypoxic conditions. Exposure to hypoxic air can occur either at rest, which stimulates acclimatization or during exercise, which provides an added training stimulus. These methods were created to improve athletic performance at sea level regardless of exposure.
Live High-Train High (LHTH)
The LHTH training method is the classic high-altitude training where athletes live and train at height. It was designed to give athletes maximum exposure to hypoxic conditions, ensuring the body fully adapts to performing in areas with less oxygen by providing a constant hypoxic stimulus. This is typically used by athletes and military personnel when training for altitude sickness during high altitude aviation training, as it allows them to acclimatize to the environment faster.
During the early stages of this training regime, athletes experience an initial drop in their maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) by around 7% for every 1000 m above sea level. But after acclimatization, VO2 max returns to normal. It was also shown to increase hemoglobin mass in swimmers, which translated to an increase in their race pace.
Live Low-Train High (LLTH)
The LLTH training regime is a variation of altitude training where athletes are exposed to hypoxic conditions at relatively brief intervals, providing an added stimulus during training. Meanwhile, they can continue with their usual daily routine outside training sessions in their home environment. This allows athletes that use altitude training to enjoy the benefits of hypoxic training while preserving sleep quality, which aids in their recovery.
Some supposed benefits of the LLTH method include an increase in erythrocyte volume that aid in the production of hemoglobin, muscle mitochondrial density, capillary-to-fiber ratio, and fiber cross-sectional area. However, little evidence points to the training method improving VO2 max or even athletic performance. In fact, some evidence suggests that short durations of hypoxic exposure, coupled with a decrease in training intensity due to increased stress, hampers the performance of athletes using this method.
Live High-Train Low (LHTL)
The LHTL training method involves athletes living at high altitudes while training at sea level conditions. This method was developed so that athletes can reap the benefits of acclimatization during resting periods while getting the full benefit of an intense workout at normoxic levels.
The idea behind the LHTL training regime has to do with the increase in stress levels experienced by athletes that use altitude training, leading them to overtrain. To steer clear of the detrimental effects of overtraining, they would compensate by lowering the intensity of training sessions, which was counterproductive. By training low, athletes were able to increase the intensities of their workout sessions, giving them the full benefit of the workout.
LHTL primarily benefits endurance athletes like swimmers and runners. However, it is also largely beneficial for military personnel undergoing high altitude aviation training as prolonged exposure to hypoxia can help when training for altitude sickness.
Intermittent Hypoxic Training (IHT)
IHT refers to the discontinuous use of normobaric or hypobaric hypoxia to reap the benefits of altitude acclimatization and hypoxic training and ultimately enhance sea-level athletic performance. It involves alternating periods of hypoxia and normoxia at set intervals and can be alternated between periods of rest and activity.
The conditions required by IHT need to be simulated due to the relatively low period of time between alternations. For instance, hypoxic conditions can be simulated during high altitude training through oxygen filtration or nitrogen dilution. Meanwhile, normoxic rest can be achieved through oxygen supplementation.
Better Altitude Control with Simulation Technology
It is worth noting that the logistics involved in the training methods above can be challenging to pull off. In many of these training methods, considerable travel time is involved, which may prove too costly while also being taxing and time-consuming. But many athletic training programs have successfully pulled off these training methods thanks to high altitude chamber training using altitude simulation technology.
Altitude simulation accurately mimics hypoxic and normoxic conditions more easily through oxygen supplementation at higher altitudes and oxygen filtration or nitrogen dilution at sea level. Through this technology, athletes can enjoy the physiological benefits of altitude training while successfully navigating the logistics challenges presented by traveling between training phases.