Altitude Training Rooms - The Evolution
Altitude training is nothing new to athletes. Especially Olympians, whose draw to altitude started with the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 (7000 feet). After that, they discovered its benefits not just for competing at altitude, but also for improving performance at sea level. And there's proof. Check out these stats from the games in Sydney and Athens showing what percentage of medalists + finalists used altitude training camps for their preparation:
For swimmers in the Olympic Games - Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000: 1/3 of the medalists and 5/14 of the finalists used altitude training camps to prepare. In total, that's 45% of the top athletes (9/21) Athens Summer Olympics in 2004: 5/7 of the medalists and 9/14 of the finalists used altitude training camps to prepare. In total, that's 70% of the top athletes (14/20), and an increase since the previous games
*figures from The Use of Altitude Training in Sports
Not all of us are Olympians and can dedicate time to travelling the world and training at various high altitude destinations. So, how can we get that same effect of increased performance and efficient training here at sea level? Well, fortunately, technology has allowed use to introduce simulated altitude environments that mimic what you would experience on top of the mountain. Simulated altitude training is done through things like oxygen masks and high altitude tents sleeping in (live high, train low). Now these are great pieces of equipment that definitely have their benefits - but the problem is, they can be very uncomfortable and restrictive. Most athletes really just want to rip that mask off as soon as they put it on. Plus, when you are on the mountain or at your race, there is no mask restricting your motion, so the environment you are training in doesn't exactly model the environment you are training for. So how can we make altitude training more comfortable? How can we make it feel even more like the real thing? Thankfully, technology has evolved and improved even more to give us a solution to the discomfort and difficulties that comes with masks and other personal-use altitude equipment. The solution is Altitude Chambers. Altitude Chambers are actually rooms (tightly sealed to certain specifications) that use a compressor and gas-filtration system to reduce the concentration in the air, creating a hypoxic environment. These rooms let you exercise and move around freely, just like any regular gym or studio. The only difference is that the oxygen concentration is lowered from its usual 20.8% to typically between 14-16% in order to simulate being at elevations over 4000 feet. What does a Simulated Altitude Chamber look like? Here are some pictures to help you visualize it:
This is a small 1-2 person chamber that you might find inside a larger gym (usually operated by a professional sports team and rarely found in commercial gyms). For this type of a room, you would usually have cardio pieces inside. In this case there is a bike and a treadmill. Here the altitude is at 9000 feet, which is a good elevation to get a reasonably tough workout in.
Here is a great example of a room for group training sessions. It's just like a spin class - but on a mountain! This room is currently in the training facility of a professional soccer team in England (Swansea FC).
This club in Dubai goes all-out (in typical Dubai-fashion), with the largest altitude room in the world at over 1000 square feet. This would definitely be an example of a super luxurious, high-tech gym showcasing just how far altitude training has advanced. This room in particular goes up to altitudes of 13000 feet. So there you have it, all of these rooms are airtight, and account for things like CO2 build-up and efficiency (maintaining altitude). You can see that all of them allow the freedom to move around with no need for an uncomfortable mask to breathe into. Their evolution stemmed from bringing the training methods of elite Olympians to the public, without compromising comfort and freedom of motion.