So how does this relate to improving your performance? Sprinting (anaerobic) performance has been researched and improvements have been seen for athletes. Conducting moderate intensity cycling in hypoxia for a number of weeks (10) can see an improvement in a 30 second all out sprint.6 From this research, it can be suggested that you could see an improved sea level sprint from training at hypoxia due to an improved Glycolytic flux, which is the rate at which molecules are processed through the breakdown of glucose.5 Furthermore, other research has shown that performing repetitions of 10 & 20 second sprints during IHT can improve sprint power by 5-7 %, but in addition to this improvement following a block of IHT, fatigue resistance was improved during repeated sprints at sea level.7 A 38 % improvement in repeated sprint ability was seen in club level cyclists from 4 week’s worth of sprint based (10 second sprints) interval sessions.7 Researchers believed this occurred due to an improved oxygen pathway to fast twitch glycolytic muscle fibres, in turn making them more resilient to fatigue & faster recovering.11
Sprint power and fatigue resistance during repeated sprinting are a key determinant of many cycling races, therefore having a more powerful sprint could see you beating your nearest rivals and a greater resistance to sprint fatigue may allow you to hang in there for the last crucial attacks of a race.
Though having a great sprint may not be best suited to what you do as an athlete, but aerobic exercise improvements can also be seen through IHT. While some studies have suggested that aerobic performances (10 min Time Trial) have not improved from partaking in IHT 8, another study published results that showed a 2.4 % improvement in cyclists 30 km TT performances following a three week bout of high intensity hypoxic training. This can suggest that previous studies which have reported non-improved performances following IHT was due to the intensity of the sessions being below lactate threshold. Therefore when performing IHT, it is important that exercise intensity is in excess of the participants lactate threshold. To see benefits occur from sea level training, interval sessions mimicking IHT would have to be done for a longer duration (1< hr) therefore meaning that IHT is more time effective for the time crunched athlete that may have limited hour to train throughout the week.
A further benefit is the increased weight loss that occurs in some instances when partaking in IHT as opposed to alternative training methods at sea level. Skeletal muscle is required to work to a greater extent thus causing an increase in Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). The increased oxygen deficit occurs due to bodily functions post exercise, such as; Resynthesis of muscle glycogen from lactate, restoring body temperature to its normal level, restoring oxygen to venous blood & skeletal blood and to aid muscle recovery via protein synthesis. These functions of the human body will use calories to fuel the process, therefore if the process is greater, a higher calorie usage will occur.
In addition to this, body composition has been found to be significantly improved with regular/weekly hypoxic training sessions without compromising the muscles (the reduction of lean muscle mass i.e. muscle wasting, which would account for the majority of weight lost at in climbers at extreme altitude), in excess of 5000 m.5 IHT has previously been used to decrease appetite and increase energy expenditure, and is used as a more novel and effective method to assist with weight loss, given the increase demand worldwide to do so.
As this article has documented, there are a number of beneficial outcomes for partaking in Intermittent Hypoxic Training. These range from sport specific determinants, such as repeated sprinting and 30 km TT performance. But let’s not forget that a wider population could also benefit as well. With IHT having the ability to potentially alter body composition through increased calorific burn, people who complete exercise for other reasons as oppose to competing may also feel that it is a must for their training regime. With IHT still being a relatively new area of sports science, factors such as the ‘gold standard’ training session plan and the optimal dosage are yet to be investigated. But one thing is for certain, you can benefit from a little bit of hard work at altitude!
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