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  • James Cobb

    There’s a good lecture here weighing up the pros and cons of altitude training (in rowing mainly) – youtube.com/watch?v=OAW8df-jG6M

  • A very good article on the topic, the kind of one from which we could actually learn.

  • Arfy

    Good write-up, makes you wonder what data the rich teams monitor when they do altitude. I’m interested to know how the guys structure their activities, do they do all their training on the bike or do they cross-train with something like cross-country skiing? And what sort of activities do they do when the weather turns bad, do they just do ergo sessions or some other indoor fitness activities?

    • Shane Stokes

      Hi Arfy, thanks for that. It’s all on-bike at the camp. They were snowed in for a couple of days and used indoor trainers. Sebastian Weber said he’d like to have been able to do some stretching/core strengthening workouts in the mornings before training but there wasn’t enough room in the hotel to do this. Instead, he encouraged the riders to do it in their rooms.

  • Eat More Lard

    Interesting article especially in relation to the long term effect and ‘memory’ to altitude adaptation. I’ve been climbing over 6000m before without any issues (apart from it being head achingly hard). Subsequent to that I have been on a few trips to NZ where I was staying in a hut at over 2000m and climbing above that regularly, without really noticing the altitude. My counterpoint was climbing up to 3200m in New Mexico on a road bike and suffering like a dog on the last 5 or 6km (over 2800m). Then we have the scenario of Sir Edmund Hillary returning to the Himalaya after his successful summit of Everest and one time suffering so badly with altitude sickness that he never went to altitude again! My conclusion? There’s a lot we don’t understand about the effects of altitude.

  • Daniel

    Interesting article. Made some complicated topics easy to understand. It’s a good point regarding mountain-top finishes and the need for specificity of training.
    It is impossible to separate but I suspect a large part of the “altitude effect” is the isolation of being on top of a mountain with other cyclists. Take a bunch of cyclists to a remote sea level area with few cafes, crappy internet and TV, few shops, minimal traffic, and long, steep gradients and they will be more committed to train, eat, and rest.

    • FJ

      I don’t know about the other locations, but the top of Sierra Nevada in southern Spain is a Ski resort. Plenty of traffic, shops, satellite TV, good internet, restaurants and local brew to hamper the best training efforts :P

      Also, Granada is packed full with bars and clubs, and only 30 minutes drive down

      (yes, I hail from that part of the world)

  • FJ

    Great article! thank you

    So from the above the assumption/belief is that the adaptation lasts anywhere between three and four weeks (obviously decreasing gradually over time). But how long should one of these training camps be before you hit a plateau in blood levels?

    The answer obviously changes between individuals and altitude, but knowing the length of the training camps the pros use should be an indication.

    Two weeks?

    • Shane Stokes

      Hi FJ, thanks for that. We’ll as Iñigo San Millan and post his reply here…

    • Shane Stokes

      Ok, got a reply from Iñigo – here you go:

      In terms of a plateau of blood values, it depends on
      the altitude. The higher the altitude the longer it takes for the body
      to adapt and therefore the higher the hemoglobin and hematocrit levels
      are and the longer they keep climbing. For example, the adaptation to a
      moderate altitude in a place like Boulder, Colorado ( ~1,600m), is quite
      easy for most athletes and levels tend to plateau in ~3-4 weeks. At an
      altitude of Breckenridge, Colorado which is at 3,000m the adaptation
      takes longer but hemoglobin levels may keep rising for ~4 weeks and
      obviously tend the levels keep increasing. It is not rare to see people
      returning from a 1 month expedition to Everest with a hematocrit of
      55-60% showing how difficult the adaptation and how many red blood cells
      the body needs to produce to a data at that altitude.

      In
      moderate altitudes like Boulder for example, 2 weeks may not elicit a
      significant increase in Hct compared to 2 weeks in Breckenridge. I have
      seen many athletes with a good adaptation and training program and
      monitoring increasing 2-4 points their Hct after 3 weeks in Boulder but
      usually not after 2 weeks. I would say the altitude benefits
      independently of the altitude level of the training camp, top between
      1.5-2 weeks after a 3-4 week altitude training camp. After that it,
      stars decreasing and after around the 3rd week the effects of altitude
      tend to dissipate. There is also a debate of “re-adaptation” to sea
      level and when you should program your competition back at sea level.
      Although not 100% proven anecdotical I would say that it is possible
      that the perfect time to compete is between the 5t and the 12th day
      after returning from altitude…

      Another
      thing we didn’t discuss is the quality of training at altitude. At
      higher altitudes (~2,500-3,000m) obviously Hgb and Hct levels increase
      higher but training quality is poorer and people tend to ovetraiin. 3.5h
      ride at that altitude may be the equivalent to 5h at sea level. So,
      your regular 20-22h training week at higher altitude could be close to a
      ~30h week at sea level which can put anyone in a hole due to
      overtraining. Also, at higher altitudes it is more difficult to train at
      high intensities closer or at VO2 max. This is something almost
      everyone complains about. It is difficult to train hard at those
      intensities and it is like the body has a “cap” not allowing it to train
      harder. This can be problematic as there are crucial glycolytic enzymes
      that cannot be stimulated nearly as much as at sea level and therefore
      these glycolytic activity/high intensity capacity can suffer a
      deterioration during the stay at altitude. This is one of the main
      reasons of the “Live high/train low concept”, where you can live at high
      altitude and get the benefits but then train a lower altitude and be
      able to develop all energy systems. The problem is that there are few
      places in the world where you can do this and you need to depend on
      driving back and forth 2-3 hours every day which can interfere with a
      good training camp.Also, at higher altitudes many athletes cannot sleep
      well, therefore recovery can also be impeded at night.

      However,
      at moderate altitudes (1,500-1,800m) for sure there could be
      significant improvements in hematocrit up to 2-4 points and yet training
      quality doesn’t suffer nearly as much so intensity and volume are
      nearly as affected (if that) which makes possible to train at a high
      level all different energy substrates and metabolic adaptations. That’s
      why, in my opinion the “sweat spot” for altitude training is in the
      1,500-1,800m.

      • kristin

        Thanks to Iñigo San Millan and you guys for that reply. Very interesting.

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