Why some sports science experts are calling heat training the new altitude training

THere’s an unusual question swirling around this year’s NBA Finals: Do the Denver Nuggets have an unfair advantage over the Miami Heat because they’re based in Mile High City? According to ESPN, no current pro basketball team has ever won more at home than the Nuggets than on the road. And some people attribute it to the effects of altitude training, as training at high altitudes is known to improve endurance by increasing red blood cells.

But in recent years, sports science experts have also been examining a different strategy that could sharply benefit the Miami team (and it’s something many of us have access to, whether we want to or not): heat training.

Exercising in the heat adds an extra dimension of physical and mental challenge to a workout, as the heat stress of heat and humidity makes it harder for your body to stay cool enough. This is why some athletes deliberately place themselves in hot environments to help their bodies adjust by increasing blood plasma volume.

But is heat training safe? And is it as effective as altitude training?

The benefits of heat training over altitude training

Heat training involves exercising in high temperatures (85 to 100 degrees F) to increase the body’s ability to dissipate heat and maintain core temperature.

It can improve endurance, reduce fatigue, and improve heart function and thermoregulatory responses, explains exercise physiologist Karissa Bollinger, a marathon runner and owner of Golden Teacher Wellness LLC. Furthermore, it can increase muscle glycogen storage and improve aerobic and anaerobic performance.

While there are some overlapping benefits between heat training and altitude training, the principles are quite different.

Altitude training involves exercising regularly at high altitudes (usually over 1,500 meters above sea level) to enhance athletic performance.

It stimulates the body’s production of red blood cells and helps increase the amount of oxygen carried in the blood, which can help improve endurance performance, it notes. Additionally, altitude training can also improve running economy and raise your lactate threshold.

Explain that while some athletes may benefit from heat training or altitude training (or both), whether or not it is Better doing heat training or altitude training mostly depends on the specific sport, event and individual needs of the athlete.

In general, training in heat can benefit sports like long-distance running or cycling in hot, humid conditions, Bollinger suggests. On the other hand, altitude training may be more beneficial for high-intensity and endurance sports such as distance running, cycling, rowing and cross-country skiing.

What are the physiological differences when exercising in heat versus altitude?

With the heat, the body undergoes a series of adaptations to cope with the increase in thermal stress. These include increased blood flow to the skin, which helps dissipate heat through sweating, and vasodilation of blood vessels. As a result, plasma volume and heart rate may increase to help maintain blood pressure during exercise, Bollinger explains. Additionally, the body increases the production of heat shock proteins and activates the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, which helps regulate fluid balance and electrolyte levels in response to dehydration.

Bollinger contrasts this with the physiological adaptations that come with altitude training, which are caused by the reduced availability of oxygen in the air at higher altitudes.

These [changes] they include increased ventilation, increased red blood cell production, and increased capillary density. These adaptations help the body transport oxygen more efficiently to working muscles and maintain aerobic performance at higher altitudes, Bollinger explains. Additionally, altitude training can also increase muscle buffering capacity, which helps delay the onset of fatigue during high-intensity exercise.

In essence, there are shared benefits, but each environmental stressor leads to different physiological adaptations. Heat training mainly helps improve thermoregulatory function (cooling mechanisms of the body) and improve heat tolerance, while altitude training helps improve oxygen transport, aerobic capacity and energy utilization. high altitude oxygen.

Additionally, athletes typically need to spend several weeks or months at high altitudes to see positive adaptations. Yet research suggests you can see the effects of heat training after just one to two weeks of training in high temperatures for an hour a day, Bollinger says.

What are the disadvantages of training in heat and at altitude?

There are limits to how far you can exercise safely in the heat, and prolonged exposure can increase your risk of heat exhaustion, dehydration and other heat-related illnesses, Bollinger cautions. Watch out for unusually heavy sweating, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, headache, muscle cramps, or nausea. In severe cases, heat stroke can occur, a potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Bollinger also points out that heat training may not be as effective for improving aerobic capacity and exercise economy as altitude training. It’s simply hear harder, which can lead to less intense workouts (or skipping workouts altogether).

Meanwhile, she says training at high altitudes can put you at risk for altitude sickness, which can cause symptoms like headaches, dizziness and nausea. Bollinger explains that while altitude training is intended to improve aerobic function, if you have to reduce the intensity and duration of your workout due to the difficulty of training in air with less oxygen, altitude training can backfire. Also, know this: Altitude training-induced adaptations can be short-lived and may not transfer directly to sea-level conditions, he adds.

How everyday athletes can benefit

Altitude training is typically a luxury only possible for elite athletes, but Bollinger says recreational athletes can incorporate heat training or altitude training into their regimen if they have the means and medical clearance. to do it (and ideally a coach who can help them do it). insecurity).

Even if you live at lower altitudes, you can try wearing a mask for altitude training or take an altitude training class.

However, heat training is more likely to be the most viable option for the average person. Everyday athletes can try incorporating heat exposure into their training regimen by wearing extra layers of clothing, exercising in a heated room or sauna, or during the hotter parts of the day, suggests Bollinger.

To help maximize the safety and effectiveness of heat training, Bollinger shares a few tips:

1. Gradually acclimate:

Start with shorter heat exposure workouts. It’s best to gradually increase the duration and intensity of heat exposure over time to avoid heat-related illness, advises Bollinger. This will help give your body time to adjust to the heat.

2. Stay Hydrated:

Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout to maintain proper hydration.

3. Dress Appropriately:

Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that allows perspiration to evaporate. Avoid dark colors or tight-fitting clothing, as they can trap heat.

4. Time Your Workouts:

When it’s really hot out there, avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day. Instead, aim for morning or late evening workouts when the temperature is cooler.

5. Take breaks:

It is essential to take frequent breaks to cool off if you feel overheated.

6. Use Sunscreen:

Apply sunscreen before going outside to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.

7. Listen to your body:

If you experience dizziness, lightheadedness, or any other unusual symptoms, stop exercising immediately and rest in the shade or cool area.

8. Don’t skip the cool down

Help bring your body back to rest gradually through a solid cool-down, like a 10-minute walk at the end of your run.

9. Consult Your Doctor:

If you have an underlying medical condition or are taking any medications, consult your physician before starting a heat exercise program.

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