The official U.S. Olympic training facility is located in Colorado Springs, a small town in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. But they didn't build it there for the views, the middle-of-America location, or even the excellent Mexican food. It's there for one reason: Colorado Springs sits an elevation of 6,035 feet—more than a mile above sea level—allowing our finest athletes to train "at altitude."
Training at high altitudes has often been seen as the gold standard for athletes. Exercising at a higher altitude means there's less oxygen in the air, forcing the body to make more red blood cells to compensate. These extra red blood cells, plus the increased oxygen capacity, translate to a real competitive advantage when the athletes return to sea level.
Unfortunately, this exercise tip is useless to most people—unless you happen to live in the tops of the mountains or know someone with a hypobaric chamber. But now, scientists have discovered an easier, cheaper and totally doable way to get the advantages of altitude training without having to take a plane. You can get similar cardiac benefits simply by cranking up the temperature during your workout, according to a new study on heat training published in Frontiers in Physiology.
Researchers asked a group of professional male cyclists to train in a hot room and then compared their performance and blood work to that of cyclists training in a low-oxygen environment. The results were astonishingly similar.
"We show that when the duration and frequency of training performed in heat or at altitude are the same, the heat-based training can offer a more obtainable and time-efficient method to improving tolerance to altitude," Ben J. Lee, Ph.D., the lead author of the study said in a press release.
Will heat training help you, if you're not an elite athlete? It's hard to say based on this one study. It's a small sample size and they only looked at well-trained men, but it's a simple hack that anyone could try. Just be sure to stay hydrated and pay attention to how you're feeling. Any sign of heat stroke, like dizziness or nausea, and you should stop immediately.
So who's up for some hot yoga?