Altitude training explained
British Cycling qualified coach Anthony Batt runs altitude training camps in Tenerife and he explains the science behind them by looking at the whole process, from acclimatisation through to aftercare...
Altitude has the propensity to lower one's ability to train hard, limiting the amount of available oxygen. Therefore training at altitude has to be performed safely, in a controlled manner.
So can you not ride hard?
It's not a case of not being able to ride hard - instead think of it this way...
If your functional threshold power (FTP) at sea level is 300 watts, and this produces an average heart rate of 175 beats per minute, altitude will either do one of two things:
1. Increase the heart rate for the same power.
2. Or your perceived effort could be considerably higher for normalised power and heart rate.
It causes extra stress on the body, and that's combined with the climbing and heat that most cyclists are not adapted to back at home. So riding hard at your physiological cost of a higher heart rate continuously for prolonged periods is putting you at risk of injury, sickness or failure to complete the camp.
What causes this to happen?
Simply put the oxygen we breathe in is much less dense and therefore less available, so for the same breath frequency per minute, you will consume less oxygen. Coupled with the potential of heat exhaustion, and dehydration, it's imperative you are properly supported.
The body needs time to adjust, recover and get stronger. Altitude training can affect people in so many ways; some will not perform as well as they expect at threshold, others may experience altitude sickness. In our experience, this is because the camp's structure has not been run properly.
So why use altitude?
Well, in essence, a few days is often enough to acclimatise if you have taken those days at a steady state pace, rather than trying to race up every rise. The benefits you can derive are an increased red blood cell count.
No doubt you will have heard of EPO in news stories about performance-enhancing drugs, but the profound effect of training at altitude means your body's response to a lack of oxygen while training stimulates the kidneys to produce a more natural increase in blood plasma, volume, count and thus heart stroke.
This gives you the ability to pump more oxygenated blood to working muscles, meaning you can go harder for longer before fatiguing. It is the safest and natural way to increase performance for when you are back at sea level.
How do you structure your weeks?
Typically we allow the clients to adjust to the heat and subject them to about 1,500m-1,800m worth of elevation above sea level for the first few days by performing more endurance-type rides, rather than intensity-focussed ones.
We then have a mixture of some shorter days which are more intense, with specific training drills and coaching sessions. Towards the end of the week, you will combine the two to provide a potent and progressive load. We will give you a structure to the week that keeps you safe, having fun but above all getting fitter, rather than digging yourself into a large hole of fatigue.
You can expect up to 2-3 weeks increased performance from the body's response, once fully recovered.
We can measure your physiology before the camp, and once recovered back home to show you the real tangible results in physical improvement.
In an ideal season, you want a camp to kick-start your season and then one as either a base building or pre-competition phase. The maximum frequency for an amateur cyclist would be two camps per year.
If you were a professional cyclist, you would spend 2-3 weeks at altitude, eating, sleeping, cycling!
Where to go
We selected Tenerife because of its beautiful scenic and quiet roads, epic cycling terrain and the reliable weather. Most of our riding is in the south of the island which is protected by Mount Teide, sheltering the south from some of the more wet and cold weather of the north.
The fact that the professional cyclists have been using the island since the 1980s and keeping it a training secret is no surprise!
Click for altitude training camps in Tenerife
We feel it's very important to take the training you have learnt from either the seminars or on the bike sessions and continue those. We offer bespoke personalised coaching which will help you train towards your goals once you are home. So you are not forgotten about once you have left Tenerife!
Being UK-based you can call, email or text for support and technical advice, and the best part is we have spent time riding with you and will already have an idea of ways to improve your physiology even further.