Professor Chris McLellan PhD has more than 20 years of global experience as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and High Performance Coordinator in professional sport.
As a Professor in the field of Exercise and Sports Science, he brings an unprecedented combination of expertise and experience. He is also a leading authority on athlete preparation, performance nutrition and supplementation, hormonal adaptation and exercise, injury rehabilitation, simulated altitude training and body composition.
What is altitude training versus simulated altitude training?
Traditionally, altitude training involved travelling to venues around the world that are located 1800m or move above sea level to take advantage of changes in the environment to stimulate accelerated responses to exercise.
This traditional approach of training was and still is used by athletes who were endeavouring to improve performance through changes in the oxygen-carrying capacity of their blood to increase VO2max. There is a well-recognised measure of aerobic endurance capacity. The air we breathe at sea level is roughly 79% Nitrogen 20.9% oxygen and a mix of smaller gasses. Fundamentally, simulated altitude training (SAT) involves reducing the amount of oxygen in the room to mimic the terrestrial altitude environment.
The evolution of SAT chambers that are now becoming commonplace in commercial gyms and training centres have provided an opportunity for everyone to experience the benefits of exercising in a low oxygen environment.
Is simulated altitude training SAT suitable for everyone?
As a general rule, SAT is a suitable form of training for most populations. However certain populations should obtain a medical clearance prior to undertaking exercise in a SAT chamber. For example, anyone taking any prescribed medication that may have an impact upon exercise has current injuries or a known or suspected cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological, metabolic or musculoskeletal conditions.
Caution should also be taken during pregnancy, with children and anyone demonstrating signs or symptoms of an acute illness such as colds and flu. In the absence of the aforementioned circumstances that require medical clearance prior to undertaking SAT, whether an individual is exercising to decrease body fat, improve lean muscle mass, increase their endurance or improve their exercise capacity, then simulated altitude training is a suitable option for most people.
Should a pre-assessment be undertaken prior to embarking on altitude training and if so, what should it involve?
Yes, anyone commencing an exercise programme for the first time, or if they have not exercised in a SAT chamber previously should undertake a pre assessment to ensure they get the most out of their program. Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions or taking any prescribed medication that may have an impact upon exercise should speak to their general practitioner and obtain a clearance where required.
A prescreening assessment should include a pre-exercise questionnaire known in the fitness industry as a physical activity readiness questionnaire (PAR-Q). In addition to the adult pre-exercise screening tool developed by Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) as part of the pre-screening process, individuals should also undertake a passive exposure test, followed by an active altitude tolerance test that involves an incremental exercise regime to determine an individual’s response to the SAT environment.
Is altitude training a replacement for normal gym sessions or in addition to?
Simulated altitude training can be incorporated into an individual’s existing training program rather than being an additional form of training. SAT is ideal for cardio workouts, HIIT, circuits, group fitness and traditional weight training. It can easily be incorporated into an individual’s existing programme.
What ‘above sea levels’ heights are possible and safe in a simulated altitude training room?
The ‘above sea level’ heights that can be simulated will vary with the specific setup of each training facility. Some SAT chambers are designed to simulate very high altitudes of >5500m however most SAT chambers will be set between 2500m and 3500m (or approximately 15% to 13% oxygen) to enable people to achieve good results in a very safe environment.
What are three key benefits derived from the use of simulated altitude training?
There are a number of benefits associated with SAT however the three advantages commonly associated with the recreational gym goer would likely be;
- Improved aerobic condition and tolerance of high intensity exercise
- Improved fat loss and cardiovascular health
- increased muscle endurance, strength and muscle mass development
Other benefits may include improved sleep, improved insulin and glucose sensitivity for weight management and body composition and potentially reduced appetite.
How long does it take to see results?
As is the case with any form of exercise, how quickly you see results is determined by a wide range of variables including how often you exercise and for how long, what type of exercise you are doing, your nutritional intake, medications or other medical conditions, lifestyle and other habits. It’s very difficult to nominate a specific time frame in which people will see results. The key to achieving results is consistency.
Do I need to measure my blood parameters whilst training?
Yes, during the pre-SAT exercise assessment, your health and fitness professional should measure your blood oxygen saturation using a pulse oximeter, heart rate and perceived exertion passively and actively for future reference. Oxygen saturation is the measurement of oxygen levels in the blood displayed as a percentage of total oxygen carrying capacity (sa02 %). The pulse oximeter is a non-invasive device placed on your finger that measures sa02 % plus the heart rate in BPM.
Should I consider simulated altitude training as an additional service at my gym or studio?
In my opinion, simulated altitude training is definitely something I recommend for anyone looking to get the best results possible from their workouts.
Whether your goal is to reduce body fat, improve cardiovascular endurance, develop lean muscle, ‘tone up’ (drop body fat and gain or maintain muscle), aid recovery after injury or preparation for an elite event such as a to trek to base camp in the Himalayas, marathon, upcoming football season or bodybuilding, SAT can be including in your exercise regime to optimise your results.
Foundation Altitude Training courses running now – fitnessscience.com.au
Article written for the What’s New in Fitness Magazine – Spring 2017 Edition.