Altitude Breathing & Training for Peak Performance

The 1968 Summer Olympic Games held in Mexico City introduced the effects of altitude on athletic performance, and ever since, altitude training has been a part of the training and recovery programs of athletes pursuing their potential.  Mexico City is 2,200m above sea level, a difference that pleasantly surprised some athletes, and not so pleasantly surprised others. Sprinters and athletes for whom air/wind resistance plays a significant role in performance were pleasantly surprised by the altitude and thinner air which led to improvements in their performances (vs at sea level). Endurance athletes experienced an unpleasant surprise. For these athletes the thinner air made competing with sea level effort next to impossible; athletes had to slow down to a sustainable effort or blew up attempting to hold their typical sea level effort. Ever since the Mexico City Olympics, endurance athletes have taken to altitude breathing and altitude training to improve their performance potential at altitude and even more so at sea level.

Options for athletes pursuing increased performance potential via altitude breathing/training:

  • Altitude training camps are available typically to those on sponsored teams (e.g. UCI WorldTour level teams). With the backing of a corporate sponsor, its possible to travel and train in the typically exotic locations that are perfect for altitude training. With acclimatization to altitude taking anywhere from 7-10 days, training camps need to be multiple weeks in duration in order for athletes to truly be able to obtain physiological effects from being at altitude and then training at altitude; training camps of shorter duration are simply expensive vacations at exotic locations.
  • Living at altitude is common amongst triathletes with Boulder, Colorado being one such location. Many pro cyclists as well as pro triathletes call the mountainous regions of southern Europe home, and its no surprise that many top endurance runners from East Africa return to their homelands in Kenya and Ethiopia in order to train in the mountainous regions they grew up in.
  • Altitude breathing is the most convenient and most cost effective way for athletes who do not have access to prolonged altitude training camps or have the ability to move to living at altitude. Athletes such as US Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps trained at sea level, but then recovered making use of altitude ventilators to mimic altitude when napping and sleeping.

In fact, the “train low / recover high” concept utilized by Phelps is likely the optimal long term strategy for athletes to benefit from altitude breathing/training as it eliminates potentially prolonged periods of acclimatization to altitude which can all but eliminate training while allowing athletes to retain their home and lifestyle as close to normal as possible.

As a registered physiotherapist who has worked with respiratory pathologies, who has performed respiratory rehab on those suffering from a range of respiratory conditions, and both as an athlete and experienced in working with athletes, those pursuing their potential can be confident that they are working with a coach who is well versed in the anatomy, physiology and function of the cardiovascular-respiratory system and knowledgeable in how to obtain peak performance from these systems.  Altitude breathing & training are made available to TOETT athletes approved by Coach MJ.