As some of the most intense, dedicated competitors on the planet, triathletes are always looking for new ways to improve endurance performance. One such way is to train at high altitudes. As elevation increases, the air becomes thinner, causing reduced oxygen pressure relative to sea level. When training at high altitudes, a triathlete's energy levels are therefore lower than normal. Triathletes find reaching their normal swim times a little more difficult, cycling becomes slower uphill but faster downhill due to a reduction in wind resistance, and running pace is typically significantly slower, reports Tri-eCoach.
The physiological adaptations induced from high-altitude training provide a number of significant benefits for triathletes; the greatest advantages are realized when they maintain sea level training intensities during high altitude training.
Noted by Sky High Training, here are 7 benefits of high altitude training:
1. Increase in Hemoglobin Concentration – High-altitude training causes an increase in total red cell volume along with a decrease in plasma volume, leading to higher concentrations of hemoglobin. For triathletes, maintaining a constant blood volume is then easier. This benefit is most significant for triathletes who have lower baseline hemoglobin and red blood cell volumes prior to high-altitude training.
2. Increase in Skeletal Muscle Capillarity - Increases in skeletal muscle capillarity enhance the ability of the exercising muscles to extract oxygen from the blood.
3. Enhanced Rate of Oxygen Utilization - Oxygen utilization rates are enhanced by increased concentrations of myoglobin, mitochondrial oxidative enzyme activity, and mitochondria brought about by high altitude training. This improves the triathlete's aerobic energy production.
4. Lower Concentration of Hydrogen Ions - The improved capacity of skeletal muscles and blood garnered from high-altitude trainingvprotects against a build-up of hydrogen ions. In high concentrations, hydrogen ions are instrumental in skeletal muscle fatigue during both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
5. Enhanced Pain Tolerance – High-altitude training causes respiration rates to increase, helping triathletes develop an enhanced tolerance to pain, along with the mental capability to push physiological limits on return to sea level training.
6. Increased Buffer Capacity of Blood – In a study conducted by Sky High, participants were discovered to have an increased buffer capacity of blood against CO2 and lactic acid after two weeks of moderate training at a high altitude. For triathletes, this is particularly beneficial metric for improving endurance performance.
7. Increased Lactate Threshold - For some triathletes, high altitude training can help increase lactate threshold.
To benefit most from the above, the triathlete should train at high-altitudes a number of days before any competition. According to Sky High Training, triathletes generally experience their poorest performance one to eleven days following high altitude training; normal performance eight to seventeen days after, and maximal performance between fifteen and twenty-eight days after returning to sea level.
Triathletes looking to improve endurance performance and induce positive physiological adaptations should consider the many benefits of high-altitude training.