Living altitude influences endurance exercise performance change over time at altitude

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2016 May 15;120(10):1151-8. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00909.2015. Epub 2016 Mar 10.


For sea level based endurance athletes who compete at low and moderate altitudes, adequate time for acclimatization to altitude can mitigate performance declines. We asked whether it is better for the acclimatizing athlete to live at the specific altitude of competition or at a higher altitude, perhaps for an increased rate of physiological adaptation. After 4 wk of supervised sea level training and testing, 48 collegiate distance runners (32 men, 16 women) were randomly assigned to one of four living altitudes (1,780, 2,085, 2,454, or 2,800 m) where they resided for 4 wk. Daily training for all subjects was completed at a common altitude from 1,250 to 3,000 m. Subjects completed 3,000-m performance trials on the track at sea level, 28 and 6 days before departure, and at 1,780 m on days 5, 12, 19, and 26 of the altitude camp. Groups living at 2,454 and 2,800 m had a significantly larger slowing of performance vs. the 1,780-m group on day 5 at altitude. The 1,780-m group showed no significant change in performance across the 26 days at altitude, while the groups living at 2,085, 2,454, and 2,800 m showed improvements in performance from day 5 to day 19 at altitude but no further improvement at day 26 The data suggest that an endurance athlete competing acutely at 1,780 m should live at the altitude of the competition and not higher. Living ∼300-1,000 m higher than the competition altitude, acute altitude performance may be significantly worse and may require up to 19 days of acclimatization to minimize performance decrements.

Keywords: acclimatization; altitude training; athletes; live high-train low.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / physiology
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Altitude
  • Athletes
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Running / physiology*
  • Young Adult