Mo Farah did it before the 2012 Olympics, Anthony Joshua before a big fight. From Olympians to professional rugby players, to that colleague who keeps pestering everybody in the office to sponsor his ultra-marathon, every athlete who wants a competitive advantage is looking to get high.
Altitude training has always been part and parcel of preparations for those seeking to scale mountains or ski down them.
You can’t expect to stick your head 3,000m above sea level – where oxygen levels are around 7% lower – and perform at your peak without a little acclimatisation.
But training at high altitudes (anything between 2,000m and 2,800m) also has its fitness advantages; improving speed and endurance.
And, at the City’s Altitude Centre, you only have to climb one set of stairs to reach them.
What is it?
Altitude training involves exercising in or simply inhaling the oxygen-reduced air that you find at high altitudes. And because not all of us are in a position to jump on a flight to the Himalayas for our Saturday jog, facilities like the Altitude Centre offer simulated high-altitude training environments that deliver the same benefits as the real deal. The workout space looks like any regular personal training facility; rows of cardio machines, weights and workout mats, but there’s something in the air – or, not.
The air in the chamber is around 15% oxygen, which is the level you might expect at around 2,700m above sea level or some of the highest peaks in Europe.
Clients can take to the treadmills or bikes, or sign up for a classes run by the Altitude Centre’s performance coaches: solo and group run and cycle classes, or group circuit classes that incorporate cardio, strength and conditioning.
How does it work?
A hypoxic machine filters oxygen out of the air, which is delivered into the atmosphere or in more concentrated doses via a face mask. Serious mountaineers and athletes can even hire one of the Altitude Centre’s hypoxic tents to sleep in for up to eight hours of exposure.
Our 45-minute kettlebell class takes place in the chamber – no medical-looking face masks – and trainer Nick runs through a fairly typical circuit-based strength class with squats, lunges, swings, deadlifts, and bicep curls using a variety of weights.
The group starts off fairly cocky, but 20 minutes in we can all feel the effects of the reduced oxygen and our heart rates have shot up. The air doesn’t feel too thin exactly, but the laboured breathing around the room is enough to suggest our hearts are working much harder to pump oxygen around our bodies than they would in a regular gym.
What are the benefits?
The advantages of pre-acclimatisation for mountaineers and adventure seekers are well-documented, but it might surprise the average gym junkie to learn that starving the body of oxygen for short periods can actually have a positive impact on general performance, as well as health and wellbeing.
To compensate for the decrease in oxygen your body releases the hormone, erythropoietin (or EPO) which triggers red blood cell production to deliver more oxygen to your muscles so they perform more effectively at ground level.
This means you get a more effective workout in less time; a big plus for City workers who can squeeze a 30-minute HIIT class into their lunch hour but reap the fat burn and strength building benefits of a 60-minute workout.
This also works for those recovering from an injury; you can reduce the load on muscles and joints while keeping your heart rate up and maintaining cardiovascular fitness
General health benefits to altitude training range from increased serotonin levels (the happy chemical – ensuring post-workout euphoria) to controlling blood sugar and insulin response, which can help reduce your chance of developing diabetes.
A consultation at £129, which will set you up on the right path to your training goals, while exercise sessions start at £20 for a single. Packages are cheaper, and there are membership deals available for people that are in it for the long haul.
READER OFFER: Get 15% off your first booking at the Altitude Centre. To redeem discount simply enter the code citymatters15 at the checkout.