Dose-response of altitude training: how much altitude is enough?

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2006:588:233-47. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-34817-9_20.


Altitude training continues to be a key adjunctive aid for the training of competitive athletes throughout the world. Over the past decade, evidence has accumulated from many groups of investigators that the "living high--training low" approach to altitude training provides the most robust and reliable performance enhancements. The success of this strategy depends on two key features: 1) living high enough, for enough hours per day, for a long enough period of time, to initiate and sustain an erythropoietic effect of high altitude; and 2) training low enough to allow maximal quality of high intensity workouts, requiring high rates of sustained oxidative flux. Because of the relatively limited access to environments where such a strategy can be practically applied, numerous devices have been developed to "bring the mountain to the athlete," which has raised the key issue of the appropriate "dose" of altitude required to stimulate an acclimatization response and performance enhancement. These include devices using molecular sieve technology to provide a normobaric hypoxic living or sleeping environment, approaches using very high altitudes (5,500m) for shorter periods of time during the day, and "intermittent hypoxic training" involving breathing very hypoxic gas mixtures for alternating 5 minutes periods over the course of 60-90 minutes. Unfortunately, objective testing of the strategies employing short term (less than 4 hours) normobaric or hypobaric hypoxia has failed to demonstrate an advantage of these techniques. Moreover individual variability of the response to even the best of living high--training low strategies has been great, and the mechanisms behind this variability remain obscure. Future research efforts will need to focus on defining the optimal dosing strategy for these devices, and determining the underlying mechanisms of the individual variability so as to enable the individualized "prescription" of altitude exposure to optimize the performance of each athlete.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization*
  • Altitude Sickness / prevention & control*
  • Altitude*
  • Erythropoietin / metabolism
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Oxygen Consumption*
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Physical Endurance
  • Physical Fitness
  • Time Factors


  • Hemoglobins
  • Erythropoietin
  • Nitrogen