Altitude Training Will Help You Train More Efficiently

Sharone Aharone, USA Triathlon Elite Level III coach

Let’s assume for a second that there is a better and more efficient way to get faster. A change from your normal routine that will get you to Boston, hit a 20-minute 5k or break the coveted 3-hour marathon. Would you try it?  

Altitude training caught my attention back in 2006, when I was working with USA Triathlon program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. A year ago, I decided to revisit the concept of this form of training and how it could benefit our athletes at Well-Fit. I had two questions that I needed to answer:

  • Does this method of training increase your fitness and overall performance?
  • How can we, here in Chicago, efficiently train at altitude?

Last February we opened the doors to the first and only Altitude Training Center in the Midwest. So far, we have seen incredible results in athletes of all levels.

Research has shown that moving your speed work into an altitude chamber, simulating 8,000-12,000ft, can increase performance by 25-35% as compared to training at sea level conditions. Our findings are very similar. For example, we have seen our athletes improving on their 12 minute all out test pace by anywhere from 8- 44 seconds per mile (depending on their starting speed). This was acheived after only 4 weeks of training at altitude

Time can be a big factor for runners. Finding time to train can be challenging, let alone trying to incorporate something totally new.  However, utilizing the altitude room for your speed work is a great solution. Training protocols are much shorter than normal speed work sessions and very simple. Only 35 to 45 minutes per workout is sufficient. To experience the benefits, we suggest training at altitude two times per week for a minimum of 4 weeks.

Below is an example of a 4 weeks altitude speed session plan:

A workout total time of 35 to 45 minutes that can produce an average pace improvement of 25 seconds/mile over the course of four weeks.

How should you incorporate altitude training into my regular training plan? The answer is very simple, replace the high intensity workout on your plan with an altitude workout (similar to the one above). Accordingly, don’t try to add the altitude sessions to your current program. This can put too much load on your body and can lead to fatigue and over training.

For an even greater benefit, I suggest incorporating altitude training throughout your training season and in between races. However, for a shorter phase of altitude training we recommend a minimum of two sessions per week for 4 weeks, starting 5 weeks before race day. We call this the Altitude “Booster” Program.