Using Heat and Altitude as Performance Enhancers November 23, 2021 13:21 Updated Follow Not signed in? Log into your Purple Patch account for full access to your education program for coaches and athletes. You need to sign in to view this page. Author: Matt Dixon As we enter the summer months, I have begun to get several questions anchoring around environment, typically training in heat and altitude. I field several questions with a divergence of focus; the first being around how to train and manage in such conditions, and the second being around the potential performance benefits. Let’s set up a simple performance guide to help you integrate or manage both heat and altitude in your training regime. Many athletes often seek the well-documented, oxygen-boosting benefits of altitude training, but few truly understand some of the risks of heading high, nor how to effectively execute training at elevation. A lesser-known performance enhancer for endurance performance is heat, promising the boosting of blood volume and increasing cooling effectiveness in the body. Less risky but still requiring management, heat can be a grand performance booster. As ever, remember that everything behind a smart plan is supported by great daily habits in importance. Heat The simple and key thing to remember when looking for the performance-enhancing benefits of applying heat is that we must not dilute the value and quality of the key sessions and higher intensity sessions. If your performance and output of high intensity are diluted then any physiological benefits of heat training are offset by poor value training. This means you avoid doing important training sessions in very high heat environment. The good news is that you don’t need to hit hard work in high heat to gain the benefits. Instead, apply heat in these ways: Low Stress and Easier Sessions: You must be willing to go even slower/easier to account for heat stress. Endurance Sessions: In extended riding and running, you must be willing to slow down and place serious heart rate caps on intensity. If you are executing in high heat but still chasing more power, you will run into trouble. Post-Training Sauna: If utilized in the final 2-3 weeks pre-race, you can follow key training sessions with an immediate visit to the sauna for 15 to 30 minutes. No hydration during the session, then shower and gradually restore hydration levels to full replenishment over 4 to 6 hours. The key caveat to all this is to realize that heat is still an additional stressor, so if you are unduly fatigued from life or training, you should avoid adding even more stress. Altitude For some athletes, the stimulus of high altitude is a blood booster, from total blood volume to the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with challenges. Training up high is stressful (hence the adaptations) and suppresses performance while there, as well as having an impact on recovery. If you are heading high, a few things to remember: Every Athlete is Different: Individuals respond differently to altitude, some adapting well, while others struggle. Find your recipe, as it is likely different from your friend’s experience. Recovery Plummets: Your ability to recover is suppressed, so be cautious with the frequency of hard work and total volume/intensity of training load. You likely need more work executed as ‘easy’ and only sporadic hard work. Output Drops: Upon arrival at altitude, you must execute very low-intensity training for several days as you adapt. Once your ability to hit intervals has arrived, you can expect a drop in performance/output by about 3% for every 1,000 feet of elevation over 3,000 feet. So, at the same perceive red effort and heart rate, your power will be 9-10% lower at 6000 feet (~ 2000 meters). The Bounce Back to Earth: When you return to sea level, athletes experience different responses to the lower altitude. Some get a quick bounce but feel flat, while others need more than seven days before they feel great. Individual experimentation is the only path to your own success. Short Bouts Don’t do Much: Heading high for the weekend isn’t a bad thing for a likely lovely training venue and an escape, but don’t expect some magic blood-boosting benefits or adaptation to performance at this level. The truth is that it is at least 16 to 21 days to adapt to altitude for ideal racing performance. To manage training up high, you should be ready to spread apart higher intensity work with much more training executed at lower stress and heart rate. The ideal situation is to hit the key sessions with tough intervals at a lower elevation, to enable output, with only the low stress and low-intensity endurance work executed at great elevation. You also want to ensure that your supporting habits are great. Hydration is critical, as is carb intake (as we utilize more carbohydrates up high!). Don’t go on a diet at an altitude training camp! If I have my options for athletes, I typically lean into the adoption of heat training as the primary tool to utilize for performance benefits. We get close to the same benefits in physiology as altitude but in a much more controllable and risk-free environment. We have air conditioning! This means can control the dose of work. We will be digging deep into these subjects in the coming week, including a deep-dive into heat training in the upcoming meetings with Matt! Enjoy, Matt Related articles MwM: Heat Adaptation/Training Prep Coach Corner with Sean Garick: I'm done with my A race, now what?