Altitude Training and Rowing

New York Times Photo

Over on Row2K I noticed a posting about Hypoxic Altitude Systems - essentially tents or controlled environment rooms that you sleep or even live in that maintain a low oxygen environment - simulating being at altitude. It isn't clear who has created this piece. It has the feel of an "advertorial" - incidentally something that is common practice on Row2K - they post "articles" about a sponsors product as if it were a news item. Not that there is anything wrong with it, and I am not suggesting that this article was paid for - but it isn't always clear that many row2K postings are paid for, and it is worth keeping in mind when you're surfing.

The altitude posting does not list who has written it, although an email address is given for more information. This may be solid stuff, but it has the feel of one of those "be careful what you read on the internet" situations. It is interesting that they seem to be rallying support against a WADA (world Anti-Doping Agency) proposal to ban "altitude tents." The names of scientists on the list of those complaining to WADA is impressive. The point made by James Stray-Gundersen - fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine - that in order to qualify as banned something must fulfil two of three criteria 1. It must be performance enhancing 2. It is harmful to an athlete's health and 3. It is not in the "spirit of sport." Gunderson notes that to an elite athlete numbers 1 and 2 hold true for simple training!

A related interesting article was published in the New York Times that details WADAs concern and notes that they will come to a decision in September.

There seems to be strong opposition to such a ruling by WADA - largely because the tents simply simulate something other athletes either have natural access to, or have access to through financial means - namely the ability to live at actual altitude.

The articles do not detail the advantages of altitude. It used to be the feeling that altitude, with its reduced oxygen would provide a training stimulus and a natural increase in red blood cell production. What came to be accepted though was that the altitude impaired an athlete's ability to train with sufficient intensity. So altitude training shifted in use to the "Live High, Train Low" philosophy. In this method one must live at altitude so that the passive benefits of increased red blood cell production can take place - but close enough to be able to go down closer to sea level for training sessions - where the oxygen permits higher training intensities.

Locations for this type of training of course are even rarer, so the tents and altitude rooms came to be. They allow an athlete to sleep - or spend even more time - at simulated altitude and then emerge already near sea level to train.

One of the suppliers of such systems is Colorado Altitude Systems - perhaps they are behind the row2K posting. On their site they have a testamonial from US Rower Tim Larsen.

I will follow up tomorrow with more on the science behind the altitude rooms.

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