Exercising at Altitude

Friday, 4 October 2013

Facebook friends & Instagram followers will have seen my updates on the struggle that I had exercising during our recent trip to Colombia. And it's nothing to do with lack of opportunity...

I usually work out 5-6 times per week and find it's really hard to get back into it after a few weeks away. So this time, with the bonus of having recently bought a bigger suitcase, I threw in my exercise gear ready to hit the gym in the apartment building where we stay while we're in Bogota.

But it was more like the gym hit me!! 

Bogota is one of the highest capital cities in the world at 2,625m (8,612ft) above sea level. London, where we live, is just 14m (46ft). I knew that athletes often go to train at higher altitudes in order to increase their fitness levels, but I hadn't really thought about it that much before I donned the lycra and trainers.

I usually feel a bit tired when we are in Bogota, but I'd always assumed that this was a combination of jet lag and my body winding down due to being on holiday and not doing very much. Now I realise it's due, in some part at least, to the change in altitude.

I did a quick bit of research online and found out that during the first few days at a higher altitude where thinner air contains less oxygen, this is what happens to your body: 
  • breathing rate increases
  • blood pH decreases, becoming more acidic
  • muscle pH also decreases and becomes more acidic
  • use of carbohydrates as an energy source increases
  • use of fat as an energy source decreases
My breathing rate certainly increased! During the first few days I had to stick my head out of the gym window ~ I felt that I couldn't get enough air to compensate after cardio exercise ~ it was actually quite scary.

Each workout was really quite a struggle until the later part of the second week when my body had become more used to its daily punishment... 

On returning to London this week and going back to my regular gym, I was pleased to find that I could breathe properly again and that in was in fact a bit easier than it had been before I left. I can therefore conclude that although exercising at high altitude is a killer, it can definitely increase your overall level of fitness. 

I wonder if there's a market in London for simulating high altitude conditions in gyms as a way to get fitter faster? Can it even be done? An interesting consideration nevertheless!

Do you have any experiences of working out in different or difficult conditions?

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