Height training ABC - What is height?

The realization that staying or training on height can be advantageous for the sports performance, received a big boost during the 1968 Mexico Olympics. At the Games it became clear that athletes who had been training and staying at heights for a long time performed remarkably better than athletes who had prepared themselves at sea level. These findings were largely due to the altitude at which Mexico City is located: 2240 m. In athletics, it was also striking that the endurance numbers were much worse due to the oxygen deficiency, while several records on the sprint and technical numbers were broken. thanks to the smaller air resistance at height. From that moment on, athletes and their coaches started to wonder how they can use a low-oxygen environment to improve performance.

What is height?

The air you breathe has a certain air pressure. This is determined by the amount of air that is above your head to the atmosphere. Compare it with the pressure you feel under water: just below the surface of the water you feel almost nothing, while your ears are already buzzing at a few meters depth. The more air or water above your head, the greater the pressure. Our body is perfectly adapted to the situation at sea level: there our blood can be almost completely (97 to 100%) bound to oxygen.

At the top of Mount Everest (around 8,850m), the air pressure is only a third of that at sea level. There, our bodies find it extremely difficult to absorb the oxygen in the air into the blood. A common misconception is that there is less oxygen in the air at altitude. The air has the same composition at any altitude, but it is the reduced air pressure at altitude that makes it more difficult for our bodies to absorb oxygen.

In the mountains, the amount of oxygen in the blood therefore falls due to lower air pressure. When you are going to simulate the altitude using a altitude tent, or by breathing in oxygen-depleted air during training. The air pressure remains the same. With this method the oxygen percentage is reduced by filtering a small percentage of oxygen molecules from the air.

This article is published in the Running.be magazine.

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