What is Hypoxic Training and Can it Improve Endurance?

Through the years, many types of training have been developed to improve various types of exercise performance. Hypoxic training is one of them. Hypoxic training is a form of therapy aimed at enhancing performance by adapting to limited oxygen. Though there are many forms of hypoxic training, we want to find out whether they can actually improve endurance. But first:

What Are the Types of Hypoxic Training?

As mentioned above, there are many forms of hypoxic training aimed at improving endurance performance and fitness (1). For instance, there is altitude training, hypoventilation training, and hypoxicator or oxygen mask training.

1. Altitude Training

Elite athletes have been using advanced altitude or hypoxic training for many years, despite during the time research being a bit controversial (2). Originally, athletes chose to live and train in areas of moderate to high altitude levels, around 5000 – 14000ft (1500-4000m). This was to help increase their VO2max (measure that determines your aerobic fitness level) and endurance levels.

When talking about altitude training, we are referring to a high altitude of 7,000 – 8,000 feet (2100 – 2400 meters) above sea level, or higher. To put this into perspective, low altitude is around 4,000 feet (1200m) above the sea level or lower. Very high altitude for example, Mount Everest base camp is 17600 ft (5380m) above sea level. In an extremely high altitude environment, you will not be getting adequate oxygen.

During such training, each breath will provide less oxygen to your muscles This may sound like a bad thing. However, if you are an athlete, you need to adapt to such environments so that your performance is improved.

As you work out in high altitude locations, you will put in more effort to perform just like you would nearer to sea level. This enhanced rate of perceived exertion is caused by altitude-induced hypoxia.

This lets athletes get more red blood cells that let their blood to carry more oxygen. As a result, they will perform excellently in low-altitude areas.

2. Hypoventilation Training

Hypoventilation training is a type of physical training. In this kind of training, there is a reduced breathing frequency that is interspersed with normal breathing frequency. It is commonly referred to as breath-controlled training.

This form of training is encouraged by the sporting community. It can benefit athletes who might not be able to access low altitude training centres. If they train with limited oxygen in their body, they will secrete lots of red blood cells.

3. Oxygen Mask Training

If you have seen trainers with oxygen masks, you are probably wondering why they wear it during their sessions. These masks are designed to cut down the amount of oxygen taken in while training.

While using the mask, your lungs and heart are obligated to work harder. Therefore, during a game, your body learns to use oxygen adequately, thereby enhancing your athletic performance.

This concept is inspired by the fact that some runners train in very high altitude areas, which helps to improve the red blood cell count in the body. This gives them a temporary boost in performance when they get back to sea level.

So Can Hypoxic Training Improve Human Endurance?

Yes, hypoxic training can tremendously improve your overall athletic performance. But let us look deeply into how this might work.

Normally, a stimulus is required for even the slightest change to occur. The same goes for muscle cell adaptation. For it to progress consistently, it needs metabolic stressors.

Let us take an example of training in an altitude chamber. It works by enabling a state of hypoxia (low oxygen in your tissues). This form of training has been used for several years. The lack of adequate oxygen acts as a catalyst (speeds up a chemical reaction without being affected itself) for the adaptation that is required.

To make it clear, your body will improve the stimulus that enhances the rate of improvement. Through the years, athletes have taken advantage of training in areas with low oxygen. They do this for the many benefits that they stand to gain, and here are some of them:

  • It increases the amount and density of mitochondria in the cells
  • It boosts the regulation of endothelial growth factors, as well as glycolytic enzyme mRNA (3)

What Are Some of the Drawbacks of Hypoxic Training?

Altitude training involves exposing your body to hypoxic environments. This implies that the amount of oxygen reaching the body tissues has been greatly reduced. It is a kind of change that might help enhance the secretion of red blood cells in the body.

The problem, however, is that during such training, athletes might encounter REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. REM sleep is when the eyes rapidly move from side to side while your eyes are closed during your sleeping. This is due to the limited supply of oxygen in the body, and this may cause athletes to have their sleep significantly affected. This also can affect their rate of recovery.

Fortunately, the reward of hypoxic training seems to outweigh this setback, which is why most athletes still go for it. Another drawback is that exposure to high-altitude areas might affect their ability of athletes to recover between fatiguing and anaerobic exercise.

The Final Word

Despite the few minor drawbacks, hypoxic training is highly recommendable for athletes looking to record an outstanding performance. However, it needs to be maintained for several months to get the desired improvement in athletic performance. In addition to enhancing endurance, hypoxic training helps to improve the red blood cells count in the body. If you have been contemplating hypoxic training, now you can get started as you already know what you stand to gain from it.