Effects of altitude on athletic performance


Altitude and its effects on athletic performance will be discussed with regard to the following subtopics: adaptations the body makes as a person goes from sea level to a high altitude; changes brought about by aerobic compared to anaerobic exercises at high altitude; and the effects, positive or negative, of training at altitude. A drastic case study will be cited to demonstrate the magnitude of the effect of altitude change on physiology.

At altitudes of over 5,000 feet, the ability to perform physical work is affected--the higher the altitude, the more severe the effects. In general, one can expect a reduction in endurance capacity as measured by the maximal oxygen consumption of 3 to 3.5 percent for every 1,000 feet ascended above 5,000 feet. Work performance and maximum oxygen consumption are reduced by 60 percent or more at extremely high altitudes, i.e., at around 25,000 feet (Fox, 1981, p. 443). Although such reductions in physical performance are large as they...

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300m should not make that much of an effect for average sports, but higher than that, the effect grows gradually, there are reports of people suffering from altitude sickness when ventured higher than 2400m.

Altitude training has been used by athletes from many years now. At higher altitudes, due to the reduced pressure, it becomes harder for the lungs to diffuse oxygen into the blood. Hence in order to compensate, the blood inturn increases its hemoglobin capacity to try to absorb more oxygen. Hence when you train at higher altitudes, your body will then be able to perform better at lower altitudes immediately after.

In your questions when athletes have to compete at higher altitudes, there is a slight effect depending on the altitude, hence for their body to adapt and perform at those altitudes, they shift and start training at that altitude before the...

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If you live near sea level and plan to compete at higher altitudes, early acclimatization and training at altitude will give you a competitive edge. But whether the adaptations your body makes from altitude training will have a positive or prolonged effect on your performance at sea level is uncertain. Understanding how your body adapts to altitude will help you plan your training schedule for peak performance at any level.

A sudden ascent to high altitude can have a profound impact on your athletic performance. Due to lower atmospheric pressure at high altitudes, the partial pressure of oxygen that you breathe in is lower than at sea level, reducing the amount of oxygen available for physical activity. When oxygen is reduced to levels that impair your performance, you are said to be hypoxic. According to exercise physiologist Frank B. Wyatt, PhD of Midwestern State University, at altitudes of around 5,000 feet, your VO2 max, the maximum...

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High-altitude training increases the concentration of red blood cells in the blood. Thus, altitude-trained athletes' blood viscosity starts high and gets even higher as water is lost.

Athletic events are often held at medium altitudes (the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, elevation 7,600 feet). Even at medium altitudes, the effects of altitude need to be addressed. The Mexico City games were responsible for a great deal of interest in the effects of altitude on athletic performance, giving rise to much physiologic research in the area of sports medicine.

Physiologically, the most important feature of high altitude is the diminished pressure of oxygen in the atmosphere. The reduced density of the air affects the mechanics of breathing. The diminished resistance to air flow in the respiratory tract decreases the work required to move a given volume of air into and out of the lungs. Another effect of the decreased air density is a diminished air resistance to...

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Mauro, P.


To determine whether altitude training, and living/sleeping at altitude has any beneficial effect on physical performance in athletic sports. I also aim to identify the positive and negative consequences of living/training at altitude, and suggest possible methods of maximizing performance.


I have considered the evidence in the literature about living and/or training at altitude. A qualitative research study was based solely on this literature review. Major studies conducted in this area, such as that by Stray-Gundersen, 2001, were used as the basis for my research. These studies were examined to try and culminate the information in order to provide athletes with an holistic view of the benefits of living/training at altitude.


To improve sea-level performance, only the live high, train low model has been proven to enhance performance in elite athletes. A 1-3% improvement in sea level...

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(If you're looking for other ways to take your training to the next level, our Bicycling Big Book of Training is a great place to get started!)

1. Training at Sea Level, Competing at Altitude
After competing at altitude, your body will excrete water for the first 72 hours. This results in lowered fluid volume in the blood, which in turn results in an inefficient cardiovascular system. This limits your maximum cardiac output, and can result in increased breathlessness and heart rate for the same level of exertion.

After 72 hours, however, your liver begins to produce an additional blood protein, which progressively restores the blood volume to pre-altitude levels by about day six or seven.

RELATED: Altitude 101: The Skinny on Thin-Air Science

2. Gaining an Edge When Competing at Sea Level
Prolonged training at altitude can sometimes be a benefit at sea level. This is because additional red blood cells (hemoglobin) are produced; the...

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The effects of training and, more recently, sleeping at high altitude on athletic performance have been studied in the West for more than 30 years. During that time, these practices have become an almost essential aspect of the preparation of world-class competitors. Yet the evidence base supporting a beneficial effect altitude exposure for sea-level performance remains flimsy at best.

A telling analysis of the benefits of altitude exposure for sports performance was undertaken by...

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Altitude Training Textbook

For many years, the effect of altitude training on athletic performance has been a topic of interest among coaches, athletes, and sport scientists. Altitude Training and Athletic Performance condenses the latest scientific information into a single, practical source.

Randall L. Wilber, PhD—a sport physiologist at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado—is well qualified to address the physiology of altitude training, limitations to competing and training at altitude, and a host of other popular topics.

Everything you need to know about altitude training and its effect on athletic performance is here. The book provides a complete historical overview of the development of altitude training from the successes and problems that athletes encountered at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics—where current interest in altitude training originated—right up to today's most effective and innovative training...

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Acclimatization to altitude has become an important part of the preparation process for athletes competing above 1500m (4921ft).

Conditions above this level make physical activity more difficult and limits performance (2). But what is the most effective method for acclimation and can training at altitude improve performance at sea level?

This article focuses on the immediate physiological responses to a hypobaric (low atmospheric pressure) environment and the longer-term adaptations that take place in the body.

Although conditions at altitude have been known for many years, in 1968 the Olympic Games in Mexico City drew considerable attention to their specific effect on athletic performance.

High Altitude Environment

Air at altitude is commonly mistaken for being lower in oxygen but this is incorrect. Air, at any level, contains 20.93% oxygen, 0.03% carbon dioxide and 79.04% nitrogen. Instead, as elevation increases, oxygen has a progressively...

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Athletes in every field are increasingly aware of the benefits offered by the use of hypoxic systems. They understand the impact it has on their athletic performance, specifically on their strength, energy, and endurance. Combining sleep at normal elevation and subsequent training two to three times weekly at simulated high altitude increases athletic performance to an extent which would not occur under normal conditions. Scientific studies have shown that performance under these conditions will increase rapidly up to about 10 percent.

Athletes in every field are increasingly aware of the benefits offered by the use of hypoxic systems. They understand the impact it has on their athletic performance, specifically on their strength, energy, and endurance. Combining sleep at normal elevation and subsequent training two to three times weekly at simulated high altitude increases athletic performance to an extent which would not occur under normal conditions. Scientific studies...

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Athletes will typically experience two different types of effects upon their ability to perform at high-altitude venues. The first is physiological, determined by the body's reaction to a thin, less-oxygenated atmosphere. The second effect is impacts that are sport-specific but equally pronounced: how the physical components of a particular sport are altered in high altitude performance.

High altitude is the description given any locale where the athlete begins to experience the limitations that a reduced oxygen intake place upon the body. Scientists generally classify elevations of 6,500 ft (2,000 m) as high altitude because of the pronounced difference in oxygen content; the effect of altitude may be experienced at lower elevations. The human body has a built-in mechanism to counter the effects of low oxygen in the immediate atmosphere. When the body senses that it is not receiving its accustomed level of oxygen, it determines that it must produce a greater number of...

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The effects of high altitude on humans are considerable. The percentage oxygen saturation of hemoglobin determines the content of oxygen in blood. After the human body reaches around 2,100 m (7,000 feet) above sea level, the saturation of oxyhemoglobin begins to plummet.[1] However, the human body has both short-term and long-term adaptations to altitude that allow it to partially compensate for the lack of oxygen. Athletes use these adaptations to help their performance. There is a limit to the level of adaptation; mountaineers refer to the altitudes above 8,000 metres (26,000 ft) as the "death zone", where it is generally believed that no human body can acclimatize.[2][3][4][5]

Effects as a function of altitude[edit]

The human body can perform best at sea level, where the atmospheric pressure is 101,325 Pa or 1013.25 millibars (or 1 atm, by definition). The concentration of oxygen (O2) in sea-level air is 20.9%, so the partial pressure of O2 (pO2) is 21.136 kPa....

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Training at altitude may help athletes gain a competitive edge at sea level; altitude exposure also presents problems to athletes, and these could possibly cancel out benefit

Even moderate altitudes can have a significant effect on athletic performance. Click to see the effects on physical performance at altitude.

All athletes seek a competitive advantage. Although the benefits of some interventions (like training, for example) are clear, most strategies are less well proven. Altitude is no exception to this. Training at high altitude has been used by competitive athletes as a means of improving their potential. However, despite a good deal of research into the topic, its true effects and a recommended approach are still not well established. Additionally, altitude training is usually expensive and fraught with logistical problems.

Benefits of Altitude Exposure

Exposure to high altitude could theoretically improve an athlete’s capacity to exercise....

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Altitude or height (sometimes known as depth) is defined based on the context in which it is used (aviation, geometry, geographical survey, sport, and many more). As a general definition, altitude is a distance measurement, usually in the vertical or "up" direction, between a reference datum and a point or object. The reference datum also often varies according to the context. Although the term altitude is commonly used to mean the height above sea level of a location, in geography the term elevation is often preferred for this usage.

Vertical distance measurements in the "down" direction are commonly referred to as depth.

In aviation[edit]

Vertical distance comparison

In aviation, the term altitude can have several meanings, and is always qualified by explicitly adding a modifier (e.g. "true altitude"), or implicitly through the context of the communication. Parties exchanging altitude information must be clear which definition is being...

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Johannesburg, South Africa averages an elevation of 1753 m - not crazy high, but it can be significant to many people.

Recently got a great question from a bboy who lives in South Africa:

“In Johannesburg, it is said that because we are higher on the plateau that it is harder on our breathing when we break. So when bboys travel from the coast, is it harder for them to battle?” – Bboy Laba

This is true. For athletes who travel often for competition, altitude is something to keep in mind.

Let’s talk about how this works, how the body can adapt, and what can and can’t be done about this interesting phenomenon. Furthermore, is there any truth to the hype around “altitude training”?

This article ended up longer than expected, so check out the summary at the end!


How Altitude Affects Performance Pre-Acclimatization Strategies Altitude Training Summary

Mexico City is known for it's high elevation - 2240 m, almost 4000 m...

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Altitude training, also known as hypoxic training, involves exercising in, living in or otherwise breathing oxygen reduced air for the purpose of improved athletic performance, pre-acclimatization to altitude and/or physical wellness.

Traditionally, individuals had to travel to or live at high elevations to obtain the benefits of this phenomenon. Circa 1995, the patented technology of Hypoxico Inc. eliminated this hardship by allowing high altitude training facilities to be set up anywhere. Through the production of normobaric hypoxic (oxygen reduced) air, we can simulate altitudes of up to 21,000ft/6,400m. As a result, athletes, fitness enthusiasts and health conscious individuals worldwide can take advantage of the benefits associated with altitude training while at...

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When you travel to high altitudes, the air pressure is lower, meaning fewer oxygen molecules are present in the air. Kenneth Baillie, a clinical lecturer in anesthesia and intensive care medicine at the University of Edinburgh, reports for every 1,000 feet that you ascend in elevation, a loss of about 3 percent of oxygen occurs. High altitude is defined at starting at 8,000 feet, where there are about 25 percent fewer oxygen molecules available per breath. The drop in oxygen levels can have a negative effect on the body and the body must find ways to compensate for the lack of oxygen.

Both heart rate and respiratory rate increases as altitude increases. Respiratory rate is how many breaths an individual takes per minute. During initial exposure to altitude the body must increase respiratory rate in order to get more oxygen to the body and expel carbon dioxide. Heart rate increases as respiratory rate increases to help pump oxygen through...

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The above video is a presentation by Peter Attia, M.D.

His talk is somewhat technical, but I always write blog posts hoping 20,000 people will *love* them, not that 1,000,000 will *like* them.

In this presentation, you will learn (in my words, not Pete’s):

– More about nutrition than most MDs learn in med school.
– How ketosis-adapted performance can aid fat loss and high-altitude resilience.
– Why the calorie estimates on treadmills and stationary bikes are complete BS.
– The three primary systems of energy production and basic organic chemistry, both of which aid understanding of all athletics.

Even if you struggle a little with vocabulary, the first 30 minutes are well worth watching a few times.

This talk made me immediately want to jump back on the Cyclical (or “Cyclic”) Ketogenic Diet (CKD), which was conceptually introduced to me in 1996-1998 by the writing of Lyle McDonald, Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale, and the late Dan...

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The horse racing industry is steeped in tradition and folklore dating back 100 years.In many instances the lessons learned over time have proven to be most effective means of training race horses – both thoroughbred and standardbred. However, to gain that competitive edge, trainers and veterinarians are turning to the lessons learned in human exercise science to apply to training the elite athletic horse.

In recent years, heart rate monitoring and blood lactate analysis have gained wide spread acceptance within the horse training community. Since the 1968 Mexico Olympics, elite human athletes have focused on the benefits of altitude training. It is significant that most world records for long distance events are held by athletes who were born, and/or who train at, altitude. These athletes are physiologically more efficient at uptake, delivery and utilization of oxygen. Clearly the exposure to...

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Produced on behalf of BASES by Dr Charles Pedlar, Prof Greg Whyte FBASES, Dr Jack Kreindler, Sarah Hardman and Prof Benjamin Levine

Full pdf click here

Press enquiries: Dr Charles Pedlar, Director of the Centre for Health, Applied Sport and Exercise Science (CHASES) at St Mary’s University College. Email: pedlarc@smuc.ac.uk

Background and evidence

Over 35 million people travel to high altitudes (>3,000m) each year with a greater number travelling to moderate altitude (1,500m - 3,000m) including elite athletes undertaking training or competition (Wilber, 2004). Altitude (i.e., hypobaric hypoxia; HH) results in arterial hypoxemia (low blood oxygen) due to a reduced barometric pressure and an unchanged fraction of inspired oxygen (FiO2; ca. 21%). Simulated altitude (i.e., normobaric hypoxia; NH) results in arterial hypoxemia due to a reduced FiO2 with an unchanged barometric pressure. Commercially available NH environments, such as altitude chambers and...

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