In order to be an Olympic athlete you must be willing to put your body through the most challenging and uncomfortable positions. These elite athletes alter their training and living conditions in order to give their body an advantage during competition. The United States Olympic Training Center is located in Colorado with altitude that towers 8,000 feet above sea level. Olympic athletes who want that “edge” or want to improve their performance in their sport, live here in preparation for the Olympic Games. They follow the training method Live High, Train Low where there body must acclimate to the high altitudes while living and then train at lower altitudes.
When a person breathes, oxygen infiltrates into their lungs and then defuses into the red blood cells but at higher altitudes, the air is thinner which makes it more difficult to breathe because there is less oxygen per volume of air. When the body can’t get enough oxygen into the lungs, erythropoietin triggers more red blood cells to transport to the muscles. Athletes want to produce more red blood cells, especially hemoglobin because they want to increase the carrying capacity of oxygen into the muscles which then fuels the body with more energy. When there are more red blood cells in the body more oxygen can pass which increases performance and will maximize training intensity when an athlete moves to a lower altitude. This training method has positive effects to the body, for example a lower heart rate and lactate, increase hematocrit, and the density of the mitochondria increases as well.
The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine published a study whose aim was to see how living in high altitudes and then training at low altitudes effects the blood characteristics and times of triathlon runners. The study eliminated bias as both men and women followed the same protocol over the course of 17 days and there was also a placebo group. They found a 3.2 percent increase in hemoglobin mass. The results also revealed a positive shift towards the lactate-power so the athletes ran at a faster speed. Runners improved 2.8 percent which does illustrate that following this training method is advantageous for a serious competitor because olympic athletes compete at the highest stage where every second matters.
In a 1998 literature review by Dr. Baker, she wanted to find out the effects on the athletes who endured in living high and training low. She focused on five studies of athletes who lived at high altitude where the air was thin and then trained close to sea level. She found there to be an improvement in the time of runners who followed this training method in every study. The improvement was only 2-3 percent but for an elite athlete that is the difference between winning and loosing. In one experiment of 22 runners, 54 percent of them found positively responded to living at a high altitude and then training in a low altitude. From these studies it is easy to conclude that this method provides advantages for runners who want to improve their speed and endurance. When the body finally adapt to the the thin air it can increase its carrying capacity of oxygen which allows them to run at a better pace for a greater amount of time.
The training procedure which requires athletes to live in high altitudes and then train in low altitudes with more red blood cells and oxygen is beneficial at a smaller degree. It must be noted that improvements are recognized at such a small amount that a normal athlete who doesn’t participate at the highest level shouldn’t make a major life change and follow this training method. It is feasible and influential for the best athletes in the world who are looking for that gold medal. Maximum strength and power sports won’t reap the benefits but this type of procedure can significantly help runners, cyclers, swimmers, skiers and even some other sports.