Live High, Train Low – MMA, Boxing & the Research of High Altitude Training
For information purposes only. Exercise at your own risk.
After Tito Ortiz was “out-cardio’d” by Frank Shamrock, the story goes that Tito began to focus on his endurance and began training at high altitude in Big Bear, California.
But why? What is the advantage of training at high altitude?
When the Olympic Games were held in Mexico City in 1968, the results for the long and middle distance events were not particularly impressive.
The 1500m was won by Kino, in an Olympic record time, but Biwott won the 300m in a time 4% greater than the world record, Temu won the 10,000m in a time 7% greater than the world record, and Wolde’s winning time for the marathon was 8.5% longer than the world record.
From this athletes and sport scientists began to investigate in more depth, the effect of altitude upon performance, and also the physiological adaptations that take place during altitude training.
Daniels and Oldbridge in 1970 studied the effect of intermittent altitude training on 3 and 1 mile running events. In accordance with other studies such as those carried out by Balke (1965) and Dill & Adams (1971), it was concluded that altitude training had a beneficial effect upon endurance performance.
In contrast however, studies conducted by Buskrik et al (1967) and Faulkner et al (1968) showed no effect of altitude training.
These studies were criticised for having low training intensities, and the short duration spent training at altitude. One of the best controlled of the earlier studies, was conducted by Adams et al (1975). A cross over , randomised design was adopted, within which 12 subjects completed 3 weeks training at sea level and 3 weeks at altitude. The study concluded that there was no effect on aerobic capacity after the altitude training.
Davies & Sargeant (1974) adopted a less conventional protocol. They studied the effect of training for cycling, with one leg in normoxic (normal) conditions and the other under hypoxic (les oxygen) conditions. Both legs demonstrated an increased aerobic capacity, but, although the hypoxic leg had increased to a greater extent than the normoxic leg, the difference was insignificant.
In addition, in 1991 Klausen et al’s study upon cross country skiers showed no significant benefit of altitude training. This led to a statement in 1996 by Wolski et al that ‘at the present time, there is no evidence in the scientific literature to suggest that altitude training could benefit any type of athlete who is interested in improving sea level performance’.
In 1997, Levine et al stepped into the frame with a more highly controlled and thorough experiment than those that had gone before. This study addressed many of the limitations of the previous studies including: control of the training, adequate number of subjects, balanced, randomised design and the subjects were given iron supplementation in an attempt to catalyse the theoretical increase in haemoglobin.
The study had 3 groups. A ‘low-low’ group, within which subjects lived at a low altitude and trained at a low altitude; a high-low group, whereby subjects lived at high altitude and trained at low altitude; and a high-high group, with subjects both living and training at high altitude.
The subjects in the H-H and H-L groups showed increased levels of haemoglobin, increased aerobic capacity. The H-L maximal steady state group also demonstrated an increased value of maximal steady state v02, increased velocity at V02 max, and showed the greatest improvement in a 5km time trial. The only limitation of this study, is that non-elite athletes were used.
The advantages of High altitude training include, increased haemoglobin, increased red blood cell mass, increased ventilatory capacity, and increased capillary density.
Disadvantages include a risk of acute mountain sickness, decreased vo2max (when at altitude), decreased training intensity and decreased plasma volume. It would appear that the most effective way to train, is to do so at 1250 to 2500m above sea level, and live high and train low!
Since the Wim Hof method has been backed by science and proven to prevent mountain sickness, it would be interesting to see if the method could help altitude training create greater fitness benefits.
Altitude masks don’t reproduce the same effects or environment as altitude. They work by resisting and building respiratory muscles. Calling them “Altitude Masks” is a marketing technique.