Benefits of altitude as Britton and co go to Font Romeu

Fionnuala Britton is set to go altitude training in Font Romeu tomorrow (Friday, September 13) with a number of Irish athletes in preparation for the European Cross Country Championships while a second wave will go over later this month.  

Font Romeu, based in the French Pyrenees, is a favourite training ground for many international athletes – made famous by Paula Radcliffe. Mo Farah was up there recently preparing for the Great North Run half marathon this weekend. UK Athletics regularly hold training camps there.

This is the first part of Chris Jones’s, national endurance coach, build up for the Europeans.  

So with that in mind we have a training article on the benefits of altitude training courtesy of Colin Griffin of Altitude Ireland – you can see a link below.  

We also have a training video by the lake in Font Romeu when we were there with the Ballarat Project in July.  

Altitude Training to
improve endurance performance

Altitude training enhances athletic performance. At altitude
the partial pressure of oxygen is lower than at sea-level, meaning there is
less oxygen per volume of air consumed and diffused in the lungs by the
athlete. It provides a training stimulus that triggers a host of adaptations
that can result in performance benefits. Upon return to sea-level these
benefits include:

Decreased blood lactate at sub maximal
intensities compared to pre-altitude

Increased haemoglobin, haematocrit and red blood
cell mass

Increased capillarization and mitochondrial

Increased VO2 max

Improved exercise economy

Altitude training helps improve oxygen delivery and increase
its pathways to the muscles, and for endurance athletes, the increased oxygen
delivered to the muscles delays the onset of fatigue and makes a given work
effort less energy consuming.

Altitude training

A period of between 18-28 days is generally recommended to
achieve the full benefits of altitude training, at an altitude of between 1600-2500m.
However one must not approach an altitude training camp without careful
planning and following recommended strategies. With a target competition, the
athlete must plan their altitude training camp (or multiple camps) at the right
time in preparation so that their training is maximised in the final few weeks.
Time it too early and you may risk peaking too soon before target competition,
and time it too late and you may not have achieved your peak physical and
physiological condition in time for the race. Timing your return from altitude
is crucial and very individualized.

A blood test is recommended in the 2-3 weeks prior to
undertaking an altitude training camp (or sleeping in an altitude tent) to
ensure that the athlete has a healthy iron status to maximise erythropoiesis
and cater for the high demand on mobilised iron stores during altitude
exposure. It’s important to check that white blood cell count and other immune
system markers are within healthy parameters, as going to altitude with a
stressed immune system and low iron stores can result in serious consequences
that in some severe cases may not be reversible in one season. It is not
advisable to go to altitude if serum ferritin is too low or if suffering from
or at risk of pulmonary obstruction.

Once there, it is important to be aware that altitude places
a great deal of stress on the body as it seeks to acclimatise itself. Heart
rate and ventilation rate increases, immune system is suppressed and basal
metabolism is increased during this initial period of between 4-6 days. It is
important not to overload the body with training stress during this time until
the body has adapted somewhat. Training quality should be low initially and
monitoring of heart rate will determine when the body is ready for more intense
workouts. Repeated exposure to altitude or some pre-acclimatisation will
certainly make that initial adaptation quicker and less stressful upon repeated

The type of training you do at altitude depends on training
focus, time of year and proximity of target races. It is important that the
camp builds the base to prime yourself for key workouts when you return to
sea-level. However it is very easy to overcook things while at altitude in terms
of training intensity. Some less experienced athletes can get carried away when
going to altitude for the first time particularly in an uncontrolled squad
environment and find themselves returning home fatigued (and often anaemic). If
the training is aerobically focussed, an athlete can still maintain their
speed, power and neuromuscular function by including short sprints, hill
sprints and gym sessions into their program. An adjustment of 10-15 seconds per
kilometre, or working at the same heart rate zones as you would at sea-level;
is generally recommended for aerobic endurance, tempo and interval/fartlek
workouts. Recovery rest intervals should be adjusted for the latter to allow
adequate drop in heart rate, muscle re-oxygenation and avoid unwanted accumulation
of lactate acid. Control of training intensity and monitoring of key markers
such as heart rate, sleep and recovery and, where possible, blood lactate
readings of key workouts will certainly help ensure that the balance is right
between training stress and altitude stress.

Live High Train Low

The use of altitude tents which simulates altitude by
creating a hypoxic (low oxygen) environment has become a popular trend among
athletes. It provides a useful substitution for an altitude training camp if work
or family commitments, or indeed financial constraints do not make it possible
to get away on an overseas altitude training camp. For more experienced
athletes the use of an altitude tent prior to an altitude training camp to
pre-acclimatise in order to get more quality out of the camp, or following an
altitude training camp to maintain or even enhance the benefits of altitude
training for an extended period upon return to sea-level. Some athletes such as
Mo Farah bring altitude tents with them to altitude training camps so that that
can maximise their training stimulus by training high and living even higher.

The benefit of using an altitude tent is that you can
achieve the acute benefit of altitude exposure and maximise training quality for
sea-level workouts. The altitude can be set as high as needed (up to 4000m)
depending on the individual requirements of the athlete. In order to maximise
training adaptations and blood response the attitude must be high enough
(2800m+) and exposure must be long enough (12 hours per day) over a minimum 3
week period. Another advantage of using an altitude tent is that it can be used
close to competition even the night before.

Is altitude for

Everybody responds differently to altitude and some more
than others. Genetics are a key factor in your body’s ability to cope with
altitude and indeed respond positively. According to Barry Fudge – senior exercise
physiologist at the English Institute of Sport and British Athletics, who works
closely with Mo Farah; altitude works if:

Multiple exposures and throughout the season
including a ‘mixed altitude’ strategy

The environment is right

Good sports science and coaching support

Progression of the key performance determinants

Training at altitude or sleeping at simulated altitude, if
done properly will improve performance over distances as short as 400m up to
the marathon and indeed over ultra-endurance distances. The biggest limiting
factor to performance is the availability of oxygen. Improving oxygen delivery
and its utilization will improve efficiency, preserve glycogen stores and delay
the onset of fatigue – all of which leads to improved performance!

For more information check out The Altitude Centre Ireland –

Previous post

Sonia ag Rith and mountain women of bronze

Next post

Physio Friday: Campbell at Great North City Games

Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

Con Houlihan once told me that tomorrow is now. In taking on this venture I’ve started to try and put his words into action.

I worked for Con from 2007 till his passing in 2012 taking down his copy and a whole lot more. I have a Con Houlihan section which will go in to more depth on that.

I’m a long-time contributor to the Irish Runner magazine and am also working for the Irish Examiner.

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>