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Altitude Training: Definition, Benefits, and Uses

What is Altitude Training?

Altitude training is a specialized approach in which athletes spend time at elevation (typically 6000-9800 feet above sea level) and train to improve their athleticism. Less oxygen in the air makes workouts more challenging and forces the body to adapt by strengthening capillaries, increasing tissue myoglobin concentrations, and increasing hemoglobin levels.

What Benefits Does Altitude Training Offer?

The idea behind altitude training is to force the body to adapt to harsher conditions. That way, when athletes return to sea level, their bodies can more efficiently produce energy and perform better. 

Some adaptations that result from altitude training include:

  • Improved oxygen delivery to muscles. Research comparing the effectiveness of altitude training versus sea-level training shows that the former can improve levels of a hormone called erythropoietin. This hormone stimulates the natural production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around your body.
  • Improved lactic acid tolerance and clearance. Lactic acid is a metabolic by-product of glucose metabolism that accumulates in the muscles during exercise, contributing to the familiar burning sensation and fatigue. Research suggests that altitude training can improve the body’s tolerance for lactic acid as well as lower lactate concentrations in the muscles during and after exercise.
  • Improved aerobic capacity. Studies on experienced runners (Wilhite et al. 2013 and Bahenský et al. 2020) show that altitude training can positively impact VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use), resulting in better performance.

Tips for Incorporating Altitude Training

First, it’s crucial to increase the elevation gradually above what the athlete is accustomed to. 

For example, if an athlete is at sea level now, they could immediately jump to 1000-1200 meters (3280-3940 feet) above sea level and then make gradual jumps of 250-350 meters (820-1150 feet) at a time until they are between 1800 and 3000 meters.

This can reduce the shock to the system and potentially prevent unfavorable side effects like dizziness, nausea, and insomnia.

Second, a temporary decrease in training intensity and volume is beneficial because the athlete will need time to adapt to the lower oxygen concentration in the air. Trying to maintain their previous training plan could lead to overtraining.

Third, an iron supplement could be helpful.

Iron is crucial in making the protein hemoglobin (found in red blood cells and responsible for carrying oxygen molecules). Since altitude training can trigger a higher production of erythropoietin, the body will likely need more iron to produce enough hemoglobin to meet the body’s new demands.


1. What altitude is ideal for altitude training?

The ideal elevation above sea level for altitude training is generally 1800 to 3000 meters or 6000 to 9800 feet. Anything less is likely not enough to force a positive adaptation, whereas higher elevations are much harder to get used to, often leading to insomnia and recovery issues,

2. Does altitude training bring side effects?

Altitude training is generally safe, but it’s difficult to say how each person will respond. Some side effects include nausea, sleep problems, muscle recovery issues, and persistent fatigue.

3. Do altitude masks work?

Altitude masks allegedly mimic altitude training, but that doesn’t seem to be the case because they reduce airflow instead of lowering oxygen concentration in the air you breathe. Plus, for altitude training to be effective, it’s recommended for athletes to spend at least a couple of weeks at elevation to force positive adaptations.

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