Why do athletes train at high altitudes?

+86 votes
asked Aug 1, 2015 in Science by Taisiya (970 points)
What does high altitude actually do for training athletes? I have heard of athletes doing this for years. It seems it would be more strenuous but does it actually benefit the athletes?

2 Answers

+26 votes
answered Aug 10, 2015 by Rose (1,250 points)

High altitude does indeed make training more strenuous. Actually anyone who moves from a lower altitude to a higher altitude deals with physical changes that are strenuous on the body. Higher altitude raises your respiratory rate so the speed at which your heart beats becomes elevated. There is less oxygen in the atmosphere in higher elevations, so your body has to adjust. This adjustment takes energy and, in a training athlete, makes a person’s body work harder.

The previous stated physical changes are considered short term. These changes occur almost immediately. There are also long term changes.

  • Your maximum heart rate and maximum cardiac output will decrease.
  • Your red blood cells will increase in number.
  • Your kidneys will work in overtime excreting a base to balance the acid in the body.
  • Your red blood cells become better at giving tissues more oxygen.
  • Good enzymes, such as mitochondria, will increase.

Some of these changes are of immediate benefit to athletes and some allow the athletes to work on endurance while the changes are taking place. This is why athletes like training at high altitudes.

For details: http://www.untamedscience.com/biology/human/circulatory-system/altitude/

+9 votes
answered Aug 11, 2015 by Patrick (1,300 points)
When people reside, or train, in higher elevations the body produces red blood cells at an increased rate. Red blood cells are the cells that bring oxygen to muscles. Extra oxygen in the muscles is beneficial for athletes as they are constantly using, and abusing, their muscles. That's why do athletes train at high altitudes.

High altitude training is recommended and beneficial for long-distance runners but is not recommended for sprinters. Long-distance runners are benefited from the extra oxygen because they use the aerobic energy system and the extra red blood cells are easily exchanged to improve their muscle ability.

Sprinters, speed runners who use the anaerobic energy system, are unable to exchange the extra oxygen. In high altitudes, sprinters will actually accumulate a high build-up of lactate. This higher level of lactate will actually cause the sprinter’s muscles to stop working properly. The only reason sprinters would want to train in high altitudes is to learn to tolerate the build-up of lactate. If they can achieve this tolerance, they can better perform at any altitude.
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