Training in altitude: Living high, training high versus living high, training low
“Altitude training” has been used by coaches in many sports intending to enhance sea level performance. Altitude training has almost become a prerequisite for preparation for top international performance in some sports. Coaches and athletes share experiences about how altitude training has been, in large part, responsible for particular competitive successes. The early literature on altitude training is essentially a “wash” with some studies demonstrating various effects that may be construed as positive toward sea level performance, while others are unable to demonstrate benefit. Levine and Stray-Gundersen produced a series of studies that separated the effects of acclimatization to moderate altitude (Living High) from the effects of exercising at altitude (Training High). These and other studies have demonstrated that at least one of the effects of living at altitude is to stimulate erythropoiesis, if high enough (?2100m), which results in a meaningful increase in total hemoglobin mass or red cell mass, if at that altitude long enough (?4 weeks).
However, sea level athletic performance is influenced by many more things than the amount of hemoglobin one has. This lecture discusses the literature addressing the benefits of the training at altitude versus training at sea level. Published data on this topic are reviewed and some unpublished data and actual elite level training camp data from several sports are also presented and discussed. While recognizing that there are many uncontrolled factors in race performance, we conclude that, particularly for “endurance” sports, similar levels of oxygen flux required in the competition must be part of the weekly altitude training program to avoid loss of that ability to generate high rates of oxygen flux required for successful sea level international level competition.