Johan Museeuw did it, Lance Armstrong also and Sven Nys still does it. The brothers Jonathan and Kevin Borlée have also been sleeping in it for three years now and then. The 400m runners even do it together. Welcome to the low-oxygen tent. Better known as a height tent.
Together in the height tent
The dedication and attitude of the brothers will not depend: they live as fathers. When they pitch their low-oxygen tent, the twins even sleep in the same bed. They are not the first to use such a tent. Altitude tents and rooms were already in use in East Germany. Around the year 2000 many cyclists also started to sleep, including seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong. In sports where endurance is important, the tents are integrated. Former world record holder marathon Khalid Khannouchi also participated.
Jacques Borlée, the personal trainer of the brothers and the Belgian 4x400m team: "My philosophy is that I don't want to hear a word about doping. But there are many others technology available and you must use it. You should be stupid not to. By the way, we collaborate with the Université Catholique de Louvain, including physiologist Marc Francaux. We look forward to it. "
Borlée asked himself three questions before he got a height tent in Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe. 'It is important that the health of my children remains guaranteed, that the use of the tent does not produce any harmful effects and that Jonathan and Kevin also psychologically digest sleeping in the tent. Until now we succeed, although we will find out whether it is interesting to reduce the number of weeks they sleep in the tent. Now it is a maximum of four consecutive weeks and that is what she is up to. "
How should we imagine this height tent? "She's the length of a bed, is transparent, measures two meters in four and is in the bedroom." Next to it is an oxygen pump, which looks like an electric heater, and which pumps oxygen into the tent via a cable. If the brothers use the tent, they sleep together in it and that is why sleeping in a tent should be annoying: there is no question of privacy.
Really cheap is not the thing at all: a tent including what options costs between 4,000 and 5,000 euros, a good deal less than a low-oxygen room that costs between 20,000 and 25,000 euros. Borlée: "I'm not a Rotschild, that's why I bought a tent and not a room."
An altitude chamber is used to improve endurance and recovery. With the oxygen machine you simulate a virtual stay at the altitude you want: you set the desired altitude and the machine adjusts the oxygen content. The thinner the altitude, the less oxygen is pumped into the tent. So you go to altitude training in your own bed. And you don't have to make any effort because you are sleeping. Advantage: you save the travel time to the mountains. You avoid jet lag and have no expenses on site. By the way, at high altitude muscle breakdown happens faster, so you avoid that too. The tent sleeper breathes in air that is poorer in oxygen than normal, which causes his heart and lungs to respond by increasing in size.
Borlée: "If you go to sleep in the tent, adjust the height so that it gradually increases, to around 2,600 to 2,800 meters." The higher the virtual height, the less oxygen is present in the tent. The body defends itself and seeks compensation: it works by making more red blood cells. The lungs then absorb more oxygen, the oxygen transport improves and the cells receive more energy. The result: improve your endurance and recovery.
The motor of the oxygen pump is next to the tent and that makes a relatively large amount of noise.
Apparently, this disadvantage does not outweigh the advantages. 'Within twenty minutes you can be at a virtual altitude of 2,500 metres'. The haematocrit, the volume of red blood cells in the blood, increases by one to two units, according to Dad Borlée. Jonathan and Kevin have a natural haematocrit value of 46, which can rise to 48. Actually, an injection of the synthetic hormone epo is much easier, but it is a banned product and therefore on the doping list.
'And so we are never concerned with that. The effect on the recovery of the body is indisputable after four weeks of sleeping under the tent, "Borlée believes. 'My sons recover much better from their efforts during the training sessions. So you can significantly increase the training size in the winter, because the recovery is much better.
But how often have the brothers slept in such a tent? "Three times four weeks in recent years," it is said. 'Especially as a preparation for competitions. Those four weeks produce the greatest effect.
Live high, train low
The basic principle is live high, train low or: live high, train low. In a low-oxygen tent you live 'high', without experiencing the disadvantages of actually staying at a great height. One of the most important drawbacks is that you can never train as well at high altitudes as at sea level: because the air there is poorer in oxygen, you can train less and less intensively there. That is why descending to train is better, possibly even at sea level. After training you will return to altitude to sleep there. Finally: low-oxygen tents are useful for endurance athletes, but not for spurters? Borlée: 'If, like my sons, you have to run five competitions in four days recently, which is a daily routine at international tournaments, you really have to have sufficient endurance. Hence. "
By Frank Van de Winkel (Nieuwsblad - 2009)
(Editor: You can rent a high altitude tent from 125 euros/week via Altitude Dream)