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What You Need To Know About Training at Altitude
March 18th, 2019
alpine athlete pours Liquid IV into her water bottle.

For any athlete or exercise-minded adult, a training regime that fits your fitness level and long-term goals is critical to future success. The type of training you’re doing will dictate which muscles you’re strengthening--and what parts of your body might have to work a little bit harder than the rest. Across much of the large part of the United States, athletes rarely have to take altitude into account when it comes to planning their fitness regimes, but for the few that do, there are a number of important things to consider.

Whether you live at altitude or are planning to take a nice long run on your vacation to Colorado, being cognizant of the factors related to training at altitude will help you to maintain your fitness success without succumbing to the challenges that higher, thinner air can bring.

Things To Keep In Mind When Training at Altitude

Although training at altitude can be beneficial to your fitness and health, there are a few important considerations to keep in mind as you plan out your high-altitude fitness plan.

Training at Altitude Should Change Your Fitness Tactics

First thing's first, if you live at sea-level, it’s not wise to pretend that running your 6.2 miles at 6,000 feet will be the exact same run it is at 15 feet. Training at altitude will change the way you approach your workouts, especially if it’s your first time. General recommendations for adjusting your training at altitude include decreasing your mileage slightly, setting a time limit on your exercise regime, and keeping yourself to an even pace for the first few workouts. Although the body can acclimate to higher altitudes in as soon as a few days, strenuous exercise will likely feel more difficult for the first 7-10 days as your body fully adjusts to the thinner air. Although it can be tempting to go as hard as possible at altitude, there are better ways for your body to adjust naturally, and without the perils of altitude-related illness.

Training at Altitude Requires Extra Rest and Recovery

When you’re training at altitude, particularly for the first time, recovery from your workout should not be underestimated. Scientifically, your body responds differently in high altitude than it does at sea level, and even if you’re losing the same amount of sweat and calories, replenishing becomes even more important than at sea-level. In addition, since the air is thinner, your muscles will need some extra time to recover as they adjust to the lower barometric pressure and the thin air. Allotting more time than you normally would for recovery after a workout at altitude is highly recommended.

Training at Altitude Requires Extra Hydration

Athlete pours Liquid IV into water bottle after training session.

You might not feel it happening, but perhaps the largest impact that training at altitude can have is on your hydration levels. Since you’re closer to the sun and getting less oxygen with every breath, your body becomes dehydrated more quickly, and you don’t need to have experienced altitude sickness to know that it’s not a fun affliction at 7000 feet. If Liquid I.V. is an important hydration resource at sea level, then it’s doubly important at altitude. Even if you’re not thirsty, we recommend taking some with you everywhere you go at altitude, whether it’s to the gym or on a high-altitude hike. Given how quickly the symptoms of altitude sickness can set in, proper hydration could be the difference between a solid afternoon workout and a headache waiting to happen.

The Potential Benefits of Training at Altitude

Aside from the adjustments you should make to your normal routine, training at altitude can have some benefits for your fitness levels and exercise regime.

Training at Altitude Can Make You More Fit

Because of the way your body takes in oxygen while you exercise, training at altitude will make you more fit in the long run. A couple of runs on your high-altitude vacation might not do the trick, but training for longer periods of time in a high-altitude environment has shown benefits across the athletic spectrum, from running to wrestling to ice skating. There’s a good reason that the Olympic Training Center is located in Colorado Springs, CO at 6000 feet. Training at altitude will maximize your ability to take in oxygen as your lungs work to get the most air possible with every breath, therefore improving performance across the span of a few weeks to a few months. It will also increase your body’s lactate threshold, which is essentially your body’s ability to get past the “burning” stage of exercise.

Training at Altitude Can Help You Sleep

It might seem counterintuitive, but the longer you train at altitude, the more likely you are to notice a difference in the quality of your sleeping habits. As your maximal oxygen intake increases, your body gets used to taking productive breaths, and your improved power output will result in your body hitting a place of peak performance. This can lead to better sleep and aid the recovery process overall.

Training at Altitude Can Make You Better at Sea Level

Looking to win that race on the coast? Try training at altitude for a while. As your body adjusts, your lung capacity expands, your peak power is heightened, and returning to sea level will feel like a breeze (at least for awhile). Many of the world’s most talented and experienced athletes spend much of their training year in locations with high-altitude access, so that competitions at lower altitudes feel that much easier to complete.

Have any tips for training at altitude? Let us know in the comments below!

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