How to Maximize Your Altitude Training
Length of Daily Exposure
By understanding that the benefits of altitude training are the result of the body's ability to adapt to altitude, it stands to reason that the body will need to be exposed to simulated altitude for several hours each day to achieve beneficial results. Research investigating the duration of daily exposure required to elicit an adaptive response suggests that a minimum of 6-8 hours per day is required. It is for this reason alone that altitude simulation systems that advocate short periods of severely hypoxic air do not, and cannot result in any tangible performance benefit.
Duration of Exposure
Based on 8-10 hours of daily exposure the physiological benefits of altitude acclimatization will become apparent in as little as 14 days. In controlled research environments, however, maximum benefits are typically achieved after 4-6 weeks of continuous daily exposure.
How High & How Fast?
How quickly one can adjust to altitude and how high one can, or should go is largely dependent on the individual. To avoid unpleasant side effects similar to altitude sickness, it is recommended that you gradually increase the altitude in a stair-step fashion. Forty percent of people that travel from sea level to 8,000 ft in one step will experience symptoms of acute mountain sickness. To avoid unnecessary discomfort CAT recommends that you begin sleeping at 5,000-6,000 ft and remain at that altitude for 5-7 days. Following that initial acclimatization period, you can increase the altitude 1,000 ft every 4-5 days until you reach the desired altitude.
What is the desired altitude? Just as there is individual variability in how quickly certain individuals can acclimatize to altitude, there is a lot of individual variability in terms of the ideal altitude. CAT's tents will attain simulated altitudes of 15,000 ft above sea level; however, there is a compelling body of research that suggests that the benefits of altitude acclimatization can be realized at altitudes in the range of 7,750 - 11,000 ft (2,500-3,500m) above sea level. While the majority of people will respond to altitudes as low as 8,500 ft, 20% of people are non-responders at that altitude and require higher elevations to experience the beneficial effects of altitude simulation technology.
When considering the beneficial effects of altitude training, the old mantra "if a little is good, more is better" is not necessarily the case. By sleeping at an excessively high altitude you run the risk of not sleeping well. One of the known benefits of altitude training is that it aids in the recovery process, but if you are not sleeping well you will not be recovering maximally. In addition to not recovering well, excessive altitudes have also been demonstrated to result in a reduction of lean muscle mass. This "detraining" phenomenon underscores the reason why sustained exercise at high altitudes is far less beneficial than sleeping high and training low.
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