Up and Down
In 1996, Benjamin Levine and James Stray-Gunderson led a team that conducted a landmark study that was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The researchers divided 39 highly trained runners (men with recent 5K times under 16:30 and women faster than 18:30) into three groups: a high/high group that lived and trained exclusively in Deer Valley, Utah (about 8,000’), a high/low group that lived in Deer Valley but trained in Salt Lake City (about 4,000’) and a low/low group that remained at sea level (near San Diego) for the duration of the experiment. After a 5K time trial and a four-week normalization training period at sea level for all subjects, the groups spent four weeks in their respective environments, and then all of the runners performed sea-level 5K time trials at one, two, and three weeks post-altitude-specific training phase. The researchers found that the high/low group significantly improved their 5K times, while the other two groups did not. This was in spite of the fact that RBC mass and VO2 Max improved by equal amounts in the high/low and high/high groups. This essentially proved that the high/low group’s ability to maintain their fastest training velocities at high heart rates was an absolute requirement for sea-level improvement in 5K performance. In other words, if you’re fast and think that altitude training is for you, then you had better find a way to live high and train low – and owing to basic geography, very few places in the United States present this as an option.
But there’s a work-around, and I’ll discuss it in the next article in the series.
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