Finding the altitude training sweet spot

Mont Blanc mountain massif.

Many competitive runners have tried to use altitude training camps to boost their fitness. Living at altitude increases the size of red blood cells and amount of hemoglobin in the blood. But how high should you go if looking for the optimal altitude?

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New research out of the University of Texas has found what it suggests to be the optimal altitude to live at for endurance training. The study was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

The researchers sent 48 collegiate runners to live at one of four different altitudes outside Salt Lake City to train for one month, testing their 3000m time trial before and after the training camps. All the athletes trained together at a common altitude to test the “live high, train low” theory of working out closer to sea level and living at higher altitudes.

The two groups who lived at 2,085m and 2,454m had better performance increases than the groups at 1,780m and 2,800m, suggesting that the optimal altitude for maximizing altitude training falls in the 2,000-2,500m range. The group at 1,780m showed the least responsiveness to the altitude work, suggesting it may be too low for athletes to see significant benefits from short-term stays at that height.

Fun fact: 

Lake Louise, Alta. is the town with the highest elevation in Canada, at 1,600m.

“These data suggest that when completing an altitude training camp, there is an optimal living altitude for producing improvements in sea level performance,” the authors wrote. “For the athlete engaged in altitude training, the identification of an optimal living altitude holds tremendous practical application.”