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Altitude training

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Introduction

Altitude training Since the beginning of the twentieth century the effects of altitude on physical performance have been catalogued by mountaineers. The decision was made to hold the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City at the altitude of 2242 metres (7450 feet) resulted in intense physiological research into the human acclimatisation. Sports people who train at high altitude suffer from acute drops in performance in sport that rely on aerobic capacity. This is due to the lack of oxygen. As shown in the diagrams 1a,b, c the oxygen transport system at sea level and at altitude before and after acclimatisation. The amount at which the haemoglobin is saturated with oxygen depends on the partial pressure of the alveolar air. At sea level, the partial pressure of oxygen in the air is sufficient to ensure that the haemoglobin is fully saturated. At altitude, the partial pressure is much less in the atmosphere, therefore resulting in that the haemoglobin will not be fully saturated. Also because of this there will be less oxygen being carried around the body to the muscles tissues and the aerobic working capacity of these tissues is reduced. There are different types of major physiological changes occur in the body as a result of acclimatisation. Increase in blood haemoglobin concentration: During acclimatisation there is an increase in red blood cell count and therefore an increase in haemoglobin concentration as that is where it is found. ...read more.

Middle

At altitude, the barometric pressure decreases and the air becomes less dense. In addition, the pressure of oxygen also decreases despite the oxygen content remaining constant at 20.94% (dry air). This means that to obtain sufficient oxygen to train at altitude, a number of changes need to be made. Barometric pressure Inspired oxygen pressure Sea level 760 mmHg 150 mmHg 2000ms 596 mmHg 110 mmHg 4000ms 462 mmHg 85 mmHg 6000ms 354 mmHg 65 mmHg 8000ms 267 mmHg 50 mmHg 8848ms 253 mmHg 43 mmHg Above 6000 metres there is no benefits that have been noted and acclimatisation is not possible. The athlete will deteriorate rapidly, losing body weight with a decrease in performance levels. Athletes who wish to train and compete at altitude need to decide whether they are going to complete a period of long gradual acclimatisation or a short, rapid, high quality session. The length of time it takes an individual performer to acclimatise depends on the altitude and level of hypoxic stress that an athlete is under. Above 1500 metres, maximal oxygen consumption decreases by 3%, compared to sea level, for every 300 metres that body ascends. This means that the higher the body ascends the lower the maximal training levels. It takes about three weeks on average for the body to acclimatise to a moderate altitude of 2300m - 2700 metres, similar height to were the Mexico City Olympic Games were held (2242m). ...read more.

Conclusion

The heart rate increases in response to help try and compensate or balance the body's needs. At altitude the air is less dense, which means that there are fewer oxygen (O2) molecules per litre of air. The body would need to consume the same amount of air altitude as they would at sea-level, but for this to happen, the pulmonary ventilation would have to increase. At 5,600 metres above sea-level the atmosphere pressure (Barometric pressure) is one-half to that at sea-level and the number of molecules of oxygen (O2) per litre of air is reduced by one-half. This would mean that the body would need to take twice as many breaths to take in the same amount of O2 to compensate. Quote on Acclimatisation: "...adaptations produced by a change in the natural environment, whether by change of season or place or residence. In contrast, 'acclimation' refers to adaptation produced in a controlled laboratory environment as occurs in special chambers that can stimulate high-altitude and hypoxic environments, as well as extremes of thermal stress." (Mcardle, Katch and Katch) Each adjustment to a higher altitude is progressive, and full acclimatisation requires time. To adapt to the physiology and metabolism that improves tolerance to altitude, it can take between weeks or even months just to adapt. When ascending a mountain it is important that the process is carried out in a gradual manner, because if attempted too rapidly to reach high altitudes they will become sick, the symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, etc. ...read more.

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