Heart racing, lungs tightening and it seems like you are about to fall over as your head feels lighter and lighter. This may be a sign you have traveled to a higher elevation than your body is used to climbing.
There is a common theory that those who want to train for a marathon or race should try running or exercising at a higher elevation. Those who believe in this feel that doing so will make their bodies adjust to the higher elevation, making it easier to run at lower elevations later. However, this may not be plausible.
Because of the many body-changing factors that go along with a higher-elevation workout, “we compromise our ability to train well when we’re at (higher) altitude,” said Dr. Trevor Gillum, assistant professor of kinesiology at California Baptist University.
“The quality of the workout is inhibited at higher elevation, so it makes sense to train well here, at lower elevation.”
Gillum explained that when someone trains at a higher altitude, his or her body adjusts to lower oxygen levels, making both the heart rate and breathing rate increase. All of this supplies more oxygenated blood to the body’s tissues.
This makes the intensity and effectiveness of a workout lesser than if one were to train at lower levels.
“The quality of your exercise is compromised,” Gillum said of higher levels.
Training at high altitudes makes sense if the race would be at a higher altitude, Gillum said. This means runners competing in a race at 5,000 feet should train at that elevation.
Raizah S. Singh, psychology graduate student, is on the women’s cross-country team and is one who has run with the team at higher elevations.
“It’s beneficial to train at higher elevation mostly because you get a better lung workout as well,” Singh said.
Singh has also been a part of the cross-country team at California State University of Los Angeles and could see the difference between taking the opportunity to run at higher elevation.
“(The CBU team) just did it once. We’ll go for a week and it’s usually in the summer time; we’ll do workouts we do here at school, up at higher elevation … it could range from speed work, or just a long run,” Singh said.
According to Gillum, Nike Inc. has developed the Nike Project in Portland, Ore.
“They have this entire house that’s set at about 12,000 feet. It’s a hypobaric environment. They sleep at 12,000 feet, they eat at 12,000 feet and they walk out the door and they’re at sea level,” Gillum said.
This is the beneficial way to manipulate one’s body to adjust to different altitudes — achieving the best training results.
“So they’re running at sea-level where they can maximize their aerobic training. But where they live for about 16 – 18 hours of the day is in that hypobaric environment,” Gillum said.
There are differing views on the benefits of training at higher altitudes. While there are scientific reasons not to, the bonding experience with a team may make all the difference. Remember these facts the next time you train.