Altitude training

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High altitude training center Piatra Arsă ( 1950  m ) in the Bucegi Mountains / Romania ( Lage )
Altitude training at the Swiss Olympic Training Base in the Alps ( 1856  m above sea level ) in St. Moritz ( Lage )

As altitude training is known in the training teaching in the broadest sense by natural or simulated attempt altitude a training effect to be achieved. Since the acclimatization to the lack of oxygen ( hypoxia ) is the most important factor in this type of training due to the decreasing air pressure at high altitudes , one often speaks of hypoxia training . A special form of altitude training is altitude adaptation training, which aims to increase performance at great heights. While the effectiveness of altitude adaptation training, especially for endurance sports, has been well documented, the usefulness of altitude training as preparation for performance in the flatlands is considered controversial.


Kipchoge Keino is considered to be the inventor of high altitude training
Negative pressure hall in the federal performance center Kienbaum ; Altitude training in the GDR with conditions like 4000 m. ü. NN

In alpinism , especially in high-altitude mountaineering and in aviation medicine, the main focus was on performance at very high altitudes. The 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City were held at an altitude of 2240  m . The preparation for these competitions gave the impetus for the first systematic development of methods of altitude adaptation training as preparation for performance at medium altitude. The great success of long-distance runners from the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia, even at low altitudes, led to a concentration on high-altitude training as preparation for competitions in the lowlands. Today, specially equipped high-altitude training centers (mostly at altitudes of around 2,000 m) are often used. Methods such as altitude chambers and training with breathing masks were developed to simulate altitude-specific training effects at low altitudes .

Influences of altitude on athletic performance

Barometric altitude formula: Average air pressure as a function of altitude

The conditions at high altitudes differ from those at low altitudes due to several factors.

  • Oxygen partial pressure : The barometric altitude formula describes the decrease in air pressure with increasing altitude above sea level. For example, the air pressure at sea level is 1013 hPa and at 2500 meters only 740 hPa. The air composition and thus the proportion of oxygen are largely the same (in the area relevant for altitude training) at different altitudes, the oxygen partial pressure decreases with increasing altitude according to the air pressure, so that a Cubic meters of breathing air contains less oxygen at altitude than at sea level. The resulting lack of oxygen can cause altitude sickness at high altitudes and, in extreme cases, death.
  • Air resistance / air density: The air density , which is reduced at altitude, leads to a reduced flow resistance of the body in the air, which is particularly relevant in sports such as throwing , sprinting, cycling or skiing, since high speeds occur here.
  • Water vapor pressure of the air: As the water vapor pressure decreases sharply at altitude , the air you breathe has to be more humidified, which is particularly relevant at low ambient temperatures. This leads to drying out mucous membranes and increased fluid requirements. A lack of water can lead to blood thickening, which has several disadvantages such as greater stress on the heart, impaired oxygen supply to the tissue, a tendency to thrombus and the risk of frostbite due to poorer circulation in peripheral regions of the body.
  • Temperature: Usually, the temperature also decreases at high altitudes, while the daily temperature fluctuations increase.
  • Radiation: Increased radiation, including in the ultraviolet range, stresses the body.
  • Air purity: there is often less air pollution at high altitudes .
  • Psychological factors: The psychological factors such as the different stimuli that affect all the senses from the landscape, social environment or changed living conditions at altitude are still little known. However, there are indications that such circumstances may be relevant. Stress from travel, for example distance from home and jet lag , must also be taken into account.

As a result of these influences are major sporting parameters such as endurance , speed (especially responsiveness), motor balance and motor coordination affected even at a short height stay, but very different reaction thresholds apply. Maximum strength and endurance, on the other hand, are hardly changed under acute hypoxia; effects only become apparent after a prolonged lack of oxygen.

In different sports these are differences of different weight. While in sports, where shorter, anaerobic loads and high speeds occur, the altitude has an overall positive effect on performance, while positive effects such as reduced air resistance subside the negative effects of oxygen deficiency with increasing exercise duration. For example, at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, almost all running events under two minutes were won with a new world record, while all longer distances fell short of the world records of that time. The range was between an improvement of 1% ( 100-meter run ) and a deterioration of over 6% ( marathon run ).

Effects of staying and exercising at altitude

If the altitude is not too great, the body will adapt to the altitude-related hypoxia primarily through increased production of red blood cells ( erythropoiesis ). The capacity for oxygen uptake and transport is increased, the effect is therefore comparable to that of blood doping . However, this effect only occurs after a long period of time (one to several weeks), until then an increase in the hematocrit value predominates, especially at medium and high altitudes, due to a decrease in the water content and thus the volume of the blood plasma ( blood thickening ).

There is also hyperventilation , cardiovascular activation (increased heart rate ). The ability of hemoglobin to bind oxygen is reduced so that it can be more easily delivered to the tissue. At the cell level , too, there are adjustments in the aerobic and anaerobic metabolism of the muscle cells . Hyperventilation results in changes in the acid-base balance . Also neurophysiological changes such as increased reflex activity occur.

These positive effects are offset by the effects of altitude that cannot be compensated for by acclimatization, such as increased minute ventilation , a reduction in the maximum cardiac output and a reduction in the buffer capacity of the blood. Such negative effects can lead to a reduced training intensity and reduce the training effect of staying at high altitudes or destroy them entirely. Some authors are therefore generally critical of altitude training.

Technical possibilities for hypoxia training

Height chamber with ergometer

The previous effects of longer stays at altitude relate to staying at natural altitude with its diverse effects. In order to be able to achieve the essential desired effects of altitude training in an easily controllable framework, many attempts are now being made to replace the natural altitude with artificially produced hypoxia. One possibility for this is training or staying in negative pressure cabins ("baro chambers"). The advantages lie in the stepless, fast simulation of different heights and independence from weather influences, a disadvantage is the often limited space available (especially when you stay for a long time, also associated with psychological stress). The same applies to altitude chambers, which use a change in the composition of the air (reduction in the proportion of oxygen) when the air pressure remains the same. Alternatively, breathing masks are offered in which the exhaled air is inhaled again and the oxygen content is reduced as a result. A disadvantage here is the increasing proportion of carbon dioxide in the air we breathe, which has to be reduced again at great expense through reabsorption. In addition, wearing the mask restricts the athlete's freedom of movement and increases breathing resistance.

natural height Baroque chamber training Training with gas mixture Breathing mask training
generation Altitude stay Training / stay in a vacuum chamber Training / stay in a hypoxic gas mixture hypoxic gas mixture through breathing mask
Physical principle natural air pressure reduction artificial air pressure reduction artificial reduction of the oxygen content of the breath artificial reduction of the oxygen content of the breath
Air pressure decreased decreased unchanged unchanged
Oxygen partial pressure decreased decreased decreased decreased
Water vapor pressure decreased decreased decreased equal / increasing
Air density / air resistance decreased decreased unchanged unchanged
Breathing resistance decreased decreased unchanged / increasing enlarged
Gravity insignificantly reduced unchanged unchanged unchanged
ultraviolet radiation enlarged unchanged unchanged unchanged
Daily temperature difference enlarged unchanged unchanged unchanged
wind enlarged simulated / not available simulated / not available unchanged
Carbon dioxide partial pressure decreased decreased unchanged enlarged


Forms of altitude training

Especially when training at natural altitude, the Live High-Train High (LHTH) concept is usually used . This means that the athlete lives at high altitude for a certain time and also trains there. However, due to the easier accessibility of high-altitude training centers and the availability of high-altitude chambers, alternative methods have been developed in recent years, as this enables a quick change between different altitudes. The Live High-Train Low (LHTL) concept is particularly promising today: athletes who live and sleep at high altitudes but train at normal altitude combine the advantages of altitude acclimatization with the possibility of training at full intensity, which is what happens when training in the height is not possible. Another option is Living Low-Training High (LLTH), where the athlete lives in the lowlands but goes to heights for training. Training concepts in which training phases alternate in hypoxia and under normal conditions are referred to as "intermittent altitude training" or "hypoxia-supported training" and are intended to combine the advantages of training in altitude and valley locations.

Which of these methods is best suited as a training method can depend heavily on the sport in question, but also on the respective athlete, as differences in individual suitability for altitude training are assumed.

Choice of altitude

height Adaptation
Sea level - 2,000 m problem-free
2,000 m Response threshold
2,000 m - 3,000 m full compensation
3,000 m - 4,000 m Fault threshold
4,000 m - 6,000 m insufficient compensation
approx. 6,000 m critical threshold
6,000 m - 8,000 m critical zone
approx. 8,000 m Death threshold

Since there is insufficient acclimatization above approx. 4,000 m and a certain amount of leeway for the loads that occur during training is necessary for meaningful altitude training, greater heights are rarely used in competitive sports. Otherwise, the negative side effect is an excessive reduction in training intensity. Most of the time, training takes place at a much lower altitude, often in the range between 1,900 m and 2,500 m. In alpinism, in particular in high-altitude mountaineering, however, acclimatization to significantly higher altitudes can be useful and necessary, since less stress intensities usually occur here and acclimatization to heights is necessary that never occurs in competitive sports.

When choosing the right height, individual characteristics of the athlete such as B. his previous hypoxia experience taken into account.

Frequency and duration

In most cases, stays of several weeks are recommended for meaningful altitude training. Repetitions of hypoxia training are often considered beneficial, but it is also suspected that too frequent high-altitude stays could be counterproductive. Choosing the right time for hypoxia training phases is also important.

Training intensity

Training with the same intensity is often difficult at high altitudes. It is therefore usually recommended to increase the exposure to the usual level only after an acclimatization phase of several days.

Local hypoxia

From Japan comes the possibility of using a cuff to limit the blood supply to a exercising muscle and thus to carry out local anaerobic training as hypoxia training. This KAATSU training (Japanese abbreviation for resistance training combined with blood flow impairment ) locally improves resistance without changing the overall performance of the body.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Werner Nachbauer: Altitude training. Effect of moderate level exercise on motor performance . Habilitation thesis. Ed .: Institute for Sports Science at the University of Innsbruck . Innsbruck April 1990, p. 19 .
  2. ^ Werner Nachbauer: Altitude training. Effect of moderate level exercise on motor performance . Habilitation thesis. Ed .: Institute for Sports Science at the University of Innsbruck . Innsbruck April 1990, p. 40-41 .
  3. ^ Werner Nachbauer: Altitude training. Effect of moderate level exercise on motor performance . Habilitation thesis. Ed .: Institute for Sports Science at the University of Innsbruck . Innsbruck April 1990, p. 20-21 .
  4. ^ J. Wehrlin: The altitude training concept "Live high - train low" . In: Austrian Society for Alpine and Altitude Medicine (Ed.): Yearbook 2005 . Self-published, Innsbruck 2005, ISBN 3-9501312-5-6 , p. 165-190 .
  5. Michael Vogt, Martin Flück, Hans Hoppeler: "Living low - Training high": An effective altitude training method to improve the athletic performance of trained athletes . In: Austrian Society for Alpine and Altitude Medicine (Hrsg.): Yearbook 2002 . Self-published, Innsbruck 2002, ISBN 3-9501312-2-1 ( "Living low - Training high": An effective altitude training method to improve the athletic performance of trained athletes ( Memento from October 10, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) [PDF; accessed on 28 October 2008]). "Living low - Training high": An effective altitude training method to improve the athletic performance of trained athletes ( Memento from October 10, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  6. Arnd Krüger : KAATSU training. In: competitive sport. 41, 5, 2011, pp. 38-41.
  7. ^ A. Nishimura, M. Sugita, K. Kato, A. Fukuda, A. Sudo, A. Uchida: Hypoxia increases muscle hypertrophy induced by resistance training. In: Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 5 (4), Dec 2010, pp. 497-508.