Hypoxic Training for the Athlete

Hypoxia:  the condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply.

In years past, hypoxic training was only for those who lived at altitude, Olympic athletes, and the very wealthy.  With the opening of Airfit at The QUAD, people living in the Northern California Bay Area are now able to train in a hypoxic environment. At the AirFit studio, the oxygen content of the air can be manipulated to simulate an environment from sea level all the way to 22,000 feet of elevation. Athletes in every sport are now realizing the performance benefits that altitude training can have on strength, power and endurance.

Scientific studies have shown that hypoxic training results in increased aerobic capacity, muscle strength, and hypertrophy, as well as improvements in VO2 Max and lactate threshold. Training in hypoxia increases mitochondrial and capillary density, capillary-to-fiber ratio, fiber cross-section area, myoglobin content and oxidative enzyme activity. Altitude training improves physical performance at sea-level and at altitude by enhancing muscle function and increasing the transport and uptake of oxygen by the body. Through exercising in a hypoxic environment, individuals can naturally increase power, endurance and recovery.

In a study by Nishimura et. al., the authors found that compared with normoxic conditions, resistance training under hypoxic conditions efficiently improves muscle strength and rapidly induces muscle hypertrophy without an obvious increase in the rate of perceived exertion (RPE). In their report titled, ‘Short intermittent Hypoxia for Improvement of Athletic Performance: Reality or Placebo? ’, Debevec and Mekjavic report that studies investigating different hypoxic modalities have unequivocally established that a sufficient hypoxic dose can improve maximal aerobic capacity and other performance-related physiological variables at sea level and altitude and can thus be advantageous for performance.

In the study by Terrados et al., muscle biopsies of the vastus lateralis (quadriceps muscle)showed an enhancement of capillary length density after intermittent hypoxic training (IHT), as well as a greater increase in mitochondrial volume density after IHT than after training at sea level. Interestingly, the greatest increases in both these parameters occurred in the IHT group who trained at high intensity. Thus, when IHT was performed at high intensity, it induced greater muscle adaptations. Moreover, hypoxic protocols improved VO2max endurance performance not only in hypoxic conditions but also at sea level.

The proper altitude training program can substantially boost the body’s oxygen transport systems through enhanced ventilation, naturally increased EPO production and increased mitochondrial efficiency. This will allow more efficient energy production both aerobically as well as anaerobically. Ultimately this will allow the athlete to experience:

  • Increased endurance and speed
  • Less fatigue
  • Improved recovery

No matter if you are a professional athlete looking for an edge on your competition, a weekend warrior just looking for a great workout, or a time crunched athlete with a family, IHT can be an invaluable asset to your training.

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