You don't have to be a top athlete or take up mountaineering to try altitude training. People looking to get fit fast with reduced impact on aching joints are lining up to work out in similated altitude environments at gyms around the country.
How does it work? The benefits include a balanced pH level and higher oxygen efficiency with less impact on the body. You inhale less oxygen in thinner air, as the heart rate quickens and more red blood cells are created to move oxygen around the body.
There are two key ways to train at altitude. Passive training involves sleeping at altitude with a tent over your bed for a minimum of eight hours a night for at least two months. Intermittent hypoxic training is working out at altitude for a minimum of two training sessions per week to coax the muscles into using oxygen more efficiently.
Learn from the pros
Athletes at the Australian Institute of Sport have known about this for years, with high altitude swimming lanes set up for swimmers and an 'altitude house' built for athletes to 'live high, train low' in a bid to increase performance.
The average punter, however, can spend an hour training in a gym set at 13-14 per cent oxygen level to reap similar benefits. Oxygen at sea level is traditionally 20–21 per cent and altitude gyms simply change the oxygen level to replicate altitude.
Your body is working around 30 per cent harder, burning more calories for the exercise done.Tom Fyfe, Altitude Training Systems
"Training at altitude will make your muscles more efficient at using the oxygen available," says Tom Fyfe from Altitude Training Systems, the leading Australian company providing air compressors for altitude environments.
"[It] may mean that walking up stairs becomes easier, it may mean that outside on the road you can run faster with less effort, or it may mean that just for the one hour work out, your body is working around 30 per cent harder, burning more calories for the exercise done."
The high life
Fyfe's brother in law, Lachlan Gillespie opened an altitude training facility under Manly Leagues Club at Brookvale on Sydney's Northern Beaches last year. The gym is set up like any other, with cycles, treadmills, weights, cable machines, Swiss balls and more. The only difference is the oxygen saturation.
Train here on any given day and expect to share the space with ironman competitor Kendrick Louis, Manly Sea Eagles players, Wallabies and women trekking Mount Kilimanjaro for charity.
"We have clients that have started walking to train for a trek, and felt so good two to three weeks into the training program that they continue with their altitude training when they return," says Fyfe.
"Research has shown that as little as twice per week for three weeks will show a significant change in the muscle oxygenation, making you feel less tired, less breathless doing small tasks, to running a marathon."
All about that basecamp
Joe Bonington from Joe's Basecamp also knows about altitude. The son of Everest mountaineer, Sir Chris Bonington, his extreme 'basecamp style' gym is targeted at cross fit devotees and those who like to work out hard.
"Our world is about training people for outdoor and adventure sports," says Bonington. "People nowadays are time poor, because of that we take our recreational activities more seriously, we want to get out there and enjoy our outdoor sports to the best of our abilities."
Most of Bonington's clients are everyday people who want to improve their chosen sport or adventure activity. "If you're spending money on a ski holiday and you only have seven days in the snow you want to hit it running, without feeling on day two like you've been hit by a truck. A pre-acclimatisation program can also help prevent them from getting the unpleasant and possibly dangerous effects of high altitude mountain sickness."
If you're really dedicated you can even hire altitude tents to place over your bed and sleep at altitude each night, or rent altitude mask with air compression kits to train on a bike at home. Whether you choose to sleep high or train high the benefits are proven for those looking for an extra training edge.
Where to train up
Brisbane Altitude in Milton offers group training sessions in an altitude chamber gym.
Melbourne Altitude Training in Southbank offers yoga, pilates, cycling and fitness classes at altitude.
Prosport in Richmond offers group spin and circuit classes in a ten person altitude gym chamber.
Altitude Training Sydney in Brookvale is a dedicated full-service altitude gym with group classes, personal training and individual training sessions.
Joe's Basecamp near Manly has a small altitude chamber for intimate group training within an adventure training facility.
Peak Altitude Training at Wynyard has group training classes in an altitude chamber.
Check Bodypass for a studio near you.