Have you participated in any sport team back in high school? Or do you have any friends who are part of the school team and train hard everyday after school? Chances are you have probably heard of some athletes living at high altitude in order to attain a better cardiopulmonary system. This is called the “Live High, Train Low” theory. You might be wondering how this training strategy is utilized by athletes and how can our bodies are able to adapt and function to such a low oxygen level environment.
Lets take a look at the high altitude environment. For instance lets take a look at Alpine, Arizona which is located at an elevation of 8,000 feet (~2,500m). The amount of oxygen is significantly less than other places at sea level. The amount of O2 that is required for a runner to run at sea level is the equivalent amount of O2 that is required to an equivalent distance at Alpine, so you can see that it will take a lot more difficulty for the runner to run at Alpine compared to running at sea level.
The ideology of “Live High, Train Low” is to increase both the mass of hemoglobin and red blood cell volume in the body. Hemoglobin is the oxygen-transporter located in red blood cells. Oxygenated blood is pumped to muscles and organs all throughout the body in order to maintain daily bodily functions and activities, especially during periods of exercise. Initially, when athletes first arrive at a high altitude environment they will begin to breathe harder and their heart rate will increase significantly in response to the scarce amount of O2 available, as their bodies are accustomed to sea level conditions where there is more available O2.
Within a few days of living at high altitude the athlete’s body will begin to acclimate to the new environment, and as a result their breathing and heart rate will return to basal levels. According to ScienceDaily, a research team, led by B.D. Levine, worked with a group of track and cross-country runners to conduct an experiment to see how the “Live High, Train Low” training method affected their performance at different levels of high altitudes. The result of this study showed that the runners had an optimal acclimatization when living at altitude range between 2000m to 2500m.
It is amazing how we are capable of adapting to a range of different living environments. Having the ability of acclimatization is the human body’s greatest defense against abiotic disadvantages, such as global warming.
Posted by Yim Hui