Whether you’re training for trekking, climbing or mountaineering, there is no rule book. These are not olympic sports with decades of athletic development, sport science dollars or proven techniques. For the average trekker or climber there is just a whole lot of misinformation on the internet about how to train for a trek, it’s sad but true.
In this post I address altitude training in particular, and I outline why myself and many alpine training experts, have eliminated altitude training from their training plans. By the end of this post, you’ll have the benefit of a small part of this training knowledge, and you too, can learn from my mistakes.
In April 2015, between the two major earthquakes that killed 21 people on Everest and caused more than 8000 deaths, I was perched on the side of a nearby mountain called Ama Dablam with 9 other climbers. I had trained extremely hard (and smart) for this mountain. I had researched and stuck to a training plan, consulted mountain-sport specific coaches, asked experienced mountaineers and surveyed expedition doctors on best practise. I had spent 6 months working on my cardio-vascular system, 3 months working on my legs, core and lower back and I had enough fat storage to last me many weeks above 5000m. And out of all of this training, I spent exactly 0 hours in the altitude room that I have free access too.
Because altitude room training is designed for performance athletes.
It is designed to give professionals the edge over a competitor at sea level, and it absolutely works at sea level. In a game of inches, like cycling, every factor in the body matters. Erythropoietin (EPO), red blood cell count, blood oxygen saturation, these things are crucial – but only to gain the edge.
Sure it looks and sounds good, you get to wear a mask.
But as recreational trekker or climber, you don’t need the edge, you need the BASICS:
So what are the BASICS?
- B – Build Experience – Get outside, experience the freedom of the hills!
- A – Altitude – Gain a thorough understanding of how it will effect your body
- S – Strength Training – A structured program for your legs, core and lower back
- I – Interval Work – To increase your cardio-vascular fitness
- C – Co-ordination and Conditioning on Trail – because treadmills don’t cut it
- S – Stretching – to aid recovery and prevent injury
This ideology falls under….“don’t put all of your eggs in one basket”.
Let me ask you this: How much do you think being acclimatised matters, if the basics are not actioned as part of your preparation?
Being acclimatised means very little if your puny legs that have done no strength training can’t get you to a decent altitude in the first place. Do the BASICS!
Furthermore, there is absolutely no solid evidence to suggest that altitude training will aid in the acclimatization process. What some research suggests is that your ability to do work at high altitude may be improved slightly because of an increase in red blood cell count or EPO, (the edge) whilst other studies saw no improvement in performance.
From my personal experience, I saw no measurable improvement in my performance at altitude when I had conducted a long and structured programs of altitude training. This lack of scientific and anecdotal evidence is the primary reason why I stopped doing altitude training and why you should too.
From what I have seen in my journey as a trekker, climber and a coach is the increasing number of inexperienced people who are literally dying to achieve great things in the mountains, which I think is great…wait, that came out wrong.
What I mean is, get out there and make your mark, experience the mountains, but your excitability should not be at the expense of skipping the BASICS by paying a great deal of money for a quick fix that may or may not increase your edge above 4000m a.s.l.
The mountains are a hostile and challenging environment, and whilst walking on an inclined treadmill in a norma-baric, low oxygen room might give you some edge, it will not make you a strong and experienced outdoor adventurer.
And isn’t that what you actually want to be?
If you’re a first time trekker, doing something like Mount Kilimanjaro, Annapurna Circuit or Everest Base Camp, take my advice. Go and experience the joy of preparing yourself for this challenge by getting to know your local wilderness intimately. Also spend the time to consistently build the specific strength and conditioning necessary for both performance and enjoyment of in the mountains. Our training programs show you exactly how to do this.
Do you have comments, questions, rebuttal? Maybe you’re a die hard fan of altitude room training, post a comment below, we want to hear from you! – Chase