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For years, many athletes have sworn by altitude training as a way to boost their cardio fitness. For Americans, working some altitude into the training schedule can be as simple as a quick trip to Colorado or New Mexico, but for Australians it’s a little trickier. Even Australia’s highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko, is only 2228m (7309 feet). Fortunately, Victoria University’s Altitude Hotel now brings ‘altitude’ to suburban Melbourne.
Situated at Victoria University’s Footscray Park campus, this low-oxygen (hypoxic) facility simulates a high-altitude environment by increasing the level of nitrogen in the air. This causes an increase in haemoglobin in the blood, which will make blood cells more efficient at carrying oxygen around the body. This can either prepare athletes for events at altitude or the enhanced red blood count boost performance at sea level.
By lowering the oxygen level from the normal 20.9% to around 15.5%, the hotel’s atmosphere simulates an altitude of around 3500 metres – adventure racers I’ve spoken to have said that they notice how they get much more breathless at altitudes as low as 1800-200m, indicating that even this is high enough to force adaptations from the body.
Stepping off the streets of Footscray elevation: 40m approx.) and going into a building with artificially altered air is nowhere near as exotic as heading to California’s Mammoth Lakes, Mexico’s La Loma or even this log shack in Colorado, VU’s Altitude Hotel could possibly have the edge over all of them.
See, there are three different ways to conduct altitude training: live high, train high; live low, train high; and live high, train low. The Altitude Hotel allows researchers at Victoria University’s Institute for Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL) to examine the latter scenario, although they are also able to compare this with ‘train high’ scenarios via their Environmental Exercise Laboratory, also located in the sport and learning precinct at
Footscray Park Campus. Here they can simulate high altitude low-oxygen conditions (as well as a hot and high humid environment, windy conditions and more) with stationary bikes and a treadmill for up to 10 athletes at a time.
‘Live high, train low’ (or LHTL) first came up in the 1990s as a proposed solution to the problem that training with less oxygen provides a great workout for your lungs, it can cause athletes to get weaker. LTHL calls for spending as many of your waking and sleeping hours as possible at high altitude, but descending to a lower altitude (or walking out the door, in the case of the Altitude Hotel) for a few hours each day to do your workouts at their usual intensity and frequency. Study subjects typically live in the hotel for 12 to 14 hours a day for five to 10 days.
Dr Robert Aughey, senior lecturer in exercise and sport at ISEAL, reports that this type of training typically leads to performance improvements of 1-2% in Australian Rules football players – which doesn’t sound much, but huge when you consider that the smallest worthwhile change in athletic performance is considered to be 0.3%.
The Altitude Hotel is available for commercial use not being used for research.
A room costs $660 per night. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org