1 CWHP Health & Fitness Journal (Spring 2015 Issue) 1 Brandi Quintana and Noah Thompson Abstract Living at high altitude provides athletes with the opportunity to train at high altitude and discover the benefits of living in these unique conditions, but there is a question of how this affects athletes and their training. Researchers and coaches both want to know how long the benefits last once the athletes travel back down to sea level or other lower altitudes. Athletes are always looking for some sort of advantage to gain an edge on their opponent. These advantages can come from highaltitude training, but there are certain athletes who can benefit more from training at higher altitudes and competing at lower elevations and others who may not benefit as much from high altitude training. Living at a higher altitude can increase the amount of oxygen taken into the bloodstream, making it easier to breathe and enhance endurance performance. With there being plenty of sports out there to study, we decided to look at both team sports and individual sports, and how high-altitude training benefits each player and team. The main focus was looking at some theories that pertained to living high and training low and then training high and living high, both of which were discussed in high-altitude training. Methods Training at higher altitudes can yield several benefits. Living and training at elevation enhances endurance performance by increasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and increasing
2 CWHP Health & Fitness Journal (Spring 2015 Issue) 2 the production of red blood cells. These red blood cells, which carry oxygen, help high-endurance athletes run longer and breathe easier (Simpson, 2007). The effects of these extra red blood cells can last for up to two to three months. Some potential problems exist when first being exposed to high-altitude training, though there are techniques to adapt so that you are better able to train. Although not all of these occur at 7,700 feet (2,347 m), the elevation at which Gunnison is located, they still need to be recognized and focused on when training an athlete or team at these levels. That said, there are some issues that can come from high-altitude living and training as well. For example, there can be an increase in red blood cells, which means that the blood cells are carrying more oxygen and can cause the blood to become thicker and the blood flow to be sluggish. This is not a problem at Gunnison, which sits at about 7,700 feet (2,347 m) (Levine & Stray-Gundersen, 2001). At even higher elevations, it is hard for people to lose weight because the body consumes the muscles in order to help provide it with energy and nutrients. Most of these effects happen at much higher elevations, such as 10,000 feet (3,048 m) and above, but an athlete coming from much lower elevations to train in Gunnison must know what to do to get acclimated. In this situation, as the body is trying to acclimate to the higher altitudes and is working harder to help with muscle repair, the immune system weakens and there is a loss in appetite, which makes it much more difficult to consume adequate protein and other nutrients (Burke, 2005). There are some techniques that can help prevent those problems, one of which is live high, train high. At certain elevations, it is okay to live and become acclimated to the altitudes and move on to training at that high elevation. Another technique is to live high, train low, in which case the
3 CWHP Health & Fitness Journal (Spring 2015 Issue) 3 athlete can become acclimated and experience the beneficial effects of being exposed to the higher altitudes. The only problem with living high and training low is the difference between the two altitudes does not have that much effect on your training. While living high has all of the benefits of increasing the red blood cells, training at lower elevations can help with the actual events and/or sports. If a team lives at higher altitudes, then maybe it is best that they become acclimated to that elevation and move on to training at higher rather than lower altitudes (Girard & Chalabi 2013). To get the full effect of high-altitude training, an athlete has to live and train at altitude. Training at altitude and living at sea level will not help with the intensity at higher altitudes. While living at altitude for several weeks, your body adapts to the shortage of oxygen. This goes back to the increase of red blood cells, which creates more oxygen flow through the heart and can carry more oxygen from your lungs to your muscles (Simpson, 2007). There are different techniques to adapt and acclimate to living and training at high altitudes, but there is a question of whether these techniques also help endurance athletes once they get down to sea level. Most of this research has been done on individual athletes such as sprinters and long-distance runners, but we wanted to look at team sports as well to see if there was an effect on them as a whole. Over the past few years, team sports have become faster and faster and the pace is a lot quicker than it once was. There has been an increase in the distance covered in team sport games over the years as well. Therefore, the demand for a higher tempo and energy levels has increased immensely. Can a team as a whole get better with high-altitude training? First, there are different types of altitude training: live low, train high, live high, train low, and live high, train high. With live low, train high, a team would be live at sea level, but run and condition to prepare for higher
4 CWHP Health & Fitness Journal (Spring 2015 Issue) 4 altitudes. With live high, train low, the individuals or team will already be living at higher altitudes but training normally at sea level. Finally, with live high, train high, the athletes train at a higher level and live at a higher level. While these techniques were developed with the individual athlete in mind, high-altitude training would be beneficial for team sports as well, because of the demand for higher intensity (Girard, 2013). Coaches have to remember that in a team sport, each player individually might adapt to the higher altitudes differently. It takes about one week to get acclimated to the higher altitudes, during which the athletes should not perform high-energy workouts. Following acclimatization, the team can train for about three to four weeks with about a week or so of recovery, then return to sea level to participate (Girard, 2013). This protocol can be unrealistic in practice because of weekly games. Unless the team is already at a high altitude, there is no way to get the full red blood cell and maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) benefits. With individual athletes, it is a whole other story. There are plenty of high-endurance athletes who can benefit from high-altitude training. Athletes are getting faster and faster as time goes by and the demand for newer, better training techniques is ongoing. Dr. Joe Vigil, a cross country coach at Adams State University, has won 18 team national championships and coached 89 athletes to individual national championships. Dr. Vigil has trained his athletes at a high altitude for 28 years (Wilber, 2004). He is also currently working with elite post-collegiate runners who live and train at Mammoth Lake in California, at about 8,000 feet (2,438 m) above sea level. Dr. Vigil suggests that altitude training for high-endurance athletes should be conducted at elevations of about 6,900 to 7,900 feet (2,103 to 2,408 m) above sea level.
5 CWHP Health & Fitness Journal (Spring 2015 Issue) 5 There are two goals of altitude training: to enhance the general physical conditioning for the upcoming season and to prepare for a national or international championship. As was discussed in relation to team training, acclimatization takes about one week or more depending on the person, then primary training takes three to four weeks following acclimatization. There should then be a one-week recovery period after the primary training phase before the athlete returns to sea level to compete (Burke, 2005). Even with all of Coach Vigil s success, one might question whether athletes trained at higher altitudes consistently perform better than those training at lower altitudes. Research has shown that the answer is yes. With live high, train high, the distance athlete is able to become acclimated and will be able to experience all the beneficial effects that come with high-altitude training (Jenkins, 2005). Once the athlete goes down to sea level for a couple of days and then competes, he or she should have the full benefits of training high and competing low. Even the athletes who live high and train low can get the benefits that come with the altitude change. These high-endurance athletes can produce more oxygen in their red blood cells, thereby making it easier to achieve a greater VO2max level at sea level or any lower elevation (Jenkins, 2005). Results Athletes are getting bigger, stronger, and faster and the demand for being in the best-conditioned shape is at an all-time high. Athletes work to reach the greatest VO2max they can produce. The
6 CWHP Health & Fitness Journal (Spring 2015 Issue) 6 best ways to achieve that peak VO2max level would be to live high, train high or live high, train low. Both of these methods have been proven to be effective when talking about high-altitude training and the effects it has on the body and performance. Girard (2013) examined sea-level performance after hypoxic exposure to become adapted to altitudes and thinner air and found that with elite endurance athletes there was an enhancement of maximal aerobic power output when adhering to the live high, train low method (Girard, 2013). With live high, train high, it is easier to accumulate hours of hypoxia due to the constant exposure to higher altitudes. With live high, train high, it is notable that well-trained elite-level athletes who lived at altitudes between 6,890 and 13,120 feet (2,100 to 3,999 m) had to be there for 11 to 70 days to become acclimated and get the full benefits of high altitude (Wilber, 2004). This relates directly back to Gunnison, as being at 7,700 feet (2,347 m) can be a great way for an athlete to use the train high, live high method. There was a study done close to Gunnison in Alamosa, Colorado, in which six male elite distance runners from the U.S. national team lived and trained for about seven to 14 days (Wilber, 2004). These six runners were tested over about a 10-week time period with intervals of living at altitude and training at altitude as well. The competitors then competed at sea level and their times were compared to what they posted at the beginning of the season prior to the high-altitude training (Wilber, 2004). After training and living at the higher altitudes, the athletes then returned to sea level to compete for five days. The coaches put the athletes on a training block for 14 days at altitude, five days at sea level competing, 14 days at altitude, five days at sea level, seven days at altitude, 11 days of sea-level competition, and finally seven days of altitude training followed by five days competing at sea level. With this training and performing technique, it was noted that five of the six athletes either set a personal record or a world record in the five to 11 day competition span (Wilber, 2004). Table 1 is the training regimen of the six runners using live
7 CWHP Health & Fitness Journal (Spring 2015 Issue) 7 high, train high and performing at sea level (Wilber, 2004). Table 1: Training Regimen of Six Runners Using Live High, Train High and Performing at Sea Level Days Competing and Training Subject 14 days Training 5 days Competing 14 days Training 5 days Competing 7 days Training 11 days Competing 7 days Training 5 days Competing CM PR PR PR JR WR WR CN PR PR PR TH JM PR PR TR PR PR Adapted from Wilber, 2004; PR: Personal Record; WR: World Record. All of the live high, train high studies have indicated that sea-level performance and endurance both improved after using this type of training method. This can be very effective in the Gunnison area at over 7,700 feet (2,347 m), as well as for training for sports and endurance-type events. Live high, train low can also be a very effective training method. If an athlete can live at altitudes around 8,200 feet (2,499 m) and then train at levels such as 4,000 feet (1,219 m), then he or she is able to see more benefits compared to athletes using the live high, train high method. With live high, train low altitude training, an athlete can see beneficial changes in serum EPO, which is a glycoprotein hormone that controls erythropoiesis, red blood cell (RBC) mass, and hemoglobin, which can lead to significant improvements in VO2max and endurance performance (Wilber, 2004). Gunnison is at such a high altitude and is so deep into the mountains it would take a lot of time and effort to live in Gunnison and then train at a level lower than 5,280 feet (1,609 m), such as Denver. It is also noted that for live high, train low techniques, the resident at altitude must
8 CWHP Health & Fitness Journal (Spring 2015 Issue) 8 be there for more than 12 hours per day for at least three weeks. This again creates a problem for athletes in Gunnison who would have to travel for five-plus hours just to get to a level lower than 5,280 feet (1,609 m). It should be noted that live high, train high is the best method of training for athletes and elite runners. Figure 2 compares three different methods and looks at how much change in time there was in the athlete s performance over the certain number of weeks (Baker & Hopkins, 1998). Figure 2: Three Different Training Methods and Their Effects on Performance Change in 5000-m Live Low Train Low Time (%) Live High Train High Live High Train Low Adapted from Baker & Hopkins, 1998 Training time (Weeks) Conclusion High-altitude training is very effective if done correctly. With all of the new training techniques emerging, altitude training seems to be the most effective if done right by the appropriate athletes. With teams training at high altitude, each player and athlete adapts differently and needs time to get acclimated. It takes a week to get acclimated, or sometimes even longer depending on the person. Once the person is acclimated, training can start after about a week or so, depending on the athlete once again, to get the full affect from all the training, but athletes lose the derived benefits once they are back down in lower elevations for a few weeks. For a whole team to get the
9 CWHP Health & Fitness Journal (Spring 2015 Issue) 9 effect of high-altitude training, the team needs to live and train at high altitude for the whole season. Individual athletes need to be on a different schedule and work around their events and train accordingly. Altitude training could change the way all athletes train and prepare for their sports or events and should be used more often in training regimens. References Baker, A. & Hopkins, W. G. (1998). Altitude training for sea-level competition. Physiology and Physical Education. January 29, 2015 Burke, E. R. (2005). A practical approach to altitude training. Colorado Altitude Training. January 29, 2015, Girard, O. & Chalabi, H. Could altitude training benefit team-sport athletes? British Journal of Sports Medicine. February 27, 2015 Jenkins, M. (2005). High altitude and athletic training. Sports Medicine. February 27, 2015 Levine, B. & Stray-Gundersen, J. (2001). The effects of altitude training are mediated primarily by acclimatization. Simpson, A. (2007) Altitude training, February 18, 2015 Wilber, R. (2004). Altitude Training and Athlete Performance. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics. Additional Readings Berglund, B. (1992, November 1). High-Altitude Training. Terrados, N., Melichna, J., Sylven, C., Jansson, E., & Kaijser, L. (1988). Effects of training at simulated altitude on performance and muscle me.
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