ESSA Conference

Altitude Services Pty. Ltd. General Manager Rod Cedaro recently attended the Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) annual conference in Adelaide.

“This was a great opportunity this year. Some of the leading researchers and exercise scientists in the world with expertise in altitude training where there. It was great to listen to their presentations as well as pick their brains over coffee and dinner during the four days of the conference” commented Cedaro.

From an altitude training perspective the key points to come out of the conference were:

Underlying message – altitude training works!

1. David Bishop (Research scientist Victoria University): His group found an increase in mitochondria respiration after 14 days of 24 hour per day exposure in humans (2800m). Evidence suggested possible increase in the number of mitochondria meaning the athletes became more aerobic following altitude exposure. The study controlled for weight loss and provided training in the simulated altitude in the hypoxic hotel.

2. Brendan Scott (young researcher): Looked at “Physical Performance and perception of effort, fatigue and soreness during high intensity resistance exercise in hypoxia”. Conclusions: Hypoxia increases muscle hypertrophy and strength without having to increase additional stress via mechanical loads. This has direct application to sprinters in particular.

3. Aaron Coutts (former Carlton Performance Coach now working at Sydney University): “Effects of high intensity interval training in concurrent heat and normobaric hypoxia on physiological and performance adaptations.” This research found heat (32 degrees) and hypoxia (2000m) increased both haemoglobin and blood volume (plasma expansion) in hot and humid conditions. These athletes had 12 hour hypoxia and heat exposures to produce blood changes.

4. Chris Gore (Head of Sports Physiology Department – Australian Institute of Sport) concluded: (i) Haemoglobin (Hb) is directly related to VO2max – a 1gram increase in Hb equates to an approximate increase of 1ml/kg body weight in VO2max or 3.3ml O2/min improvement, (ii) if you can increase Hb you will increase VO2max. (ii) The longer the stay the better – the AIS found 18 days over 4000m most effective for increasing blood markers, they found 1300-2950m (had no effect), 3000-3100m (works), 3200-4300m (is more effective), 4350m (most effective). (iii) The trade-off between fatigue and physiological adaptation. AIS hypoxic facility is set at 1850-3000m for minimum of 2 weeks. (iv) They found a 1% increase on Hb for every 100 hours of altitude exposure which equates to ~3 weeks of sleep high/train low. Largely done at 3000m

5. Laura Garvican-Lewis (Research scientist Australian Institute of Sport and Canberra University): Altitude training works but with certain caveats: (i) Just because an athlete responds once doesn’t mean they always will, (ii) Hb mass is NOT definitive in performance – you can get performance improvement without changing Hb mass, (iii) you need to follow a “recipe” with altitude exposure (a) ensure iron status is optimized for 3 weeks prior to exposure, (b) make sure there is no sickness/inflammatory process involvement during exposure period, (c) check thyroid function is normal, (d) exercise intensity needs to be lowered and progressively increased during the altitude exposure period, (e) anti-inflammatory medication decrease EPO response, (f) athletes need to be in an “optimal adaptive state” to benefit from altitude exposure. (g) Best responses seen (in optimal adaptive state) with 3000m exposure for 2-4 weeks of 14 hours per day exposure. (h) You need to optimize recovery periods, (i) monitor sleeping habits, (j) build into training camps – slow progressive build up of training loads – week 1 acclimatization, week 2 volume onus, week 3 intensity focus – first high intensity session should not be completed until 10 days post initial altitude exposure. Week 3 (high intensity) – build plenty of recovery into the sessions/week as well. (k) There are arguments for immediate competition post exposure, 3 weeks post exposure up to 6 weeks post exposure – this needs to be experimented with the athlete on individual basis.

6. David Buttifant (High Performance Manager- Carlton Football Club – AFL): (i) Altitude training allows you to increase the physiological load without the mechanical loads of heavy training which often lead to injury, (ii) you can condense your adaptation/conditioning periods significantly with altitude exposure, (iii) in order to get optimal adaptation athletes HAVE TO BE healthy when participating in altitude camps, (iv) body weight can decrease up to 3kg post an altitude camp, (v) during a high altitude exposure period, have intermittent periods of lower altitude exposure spread throughout the high altitude period every 7-10 days to allow recovery and adaptation.