Optimising training prescription and periodisation during altitude training in elite runners

  • Avish Sharma

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Altitude training is frequently utilised by elite runners to improve performance in subsequent competition at sea-level. Alongside the beneficial physiological adaptations which can be obtained with a sufficient period of hypoxic residence, periodisation and distribution of training intensity likely have a strong influence on subsequent athletic performance. Moreover, understanding the limitations of exercise in-, and physiological responses to- hypoxia, and how they differ across the spectrum of intensities at which runners are required to train, may assist in effective programming of training at altitude. Whilst sound principles exist regarding sea-level training practices, there is continuing uncertainty regarding the efficacy of altitude training due in part to the neglect of these principles in many studies. Furthermore, the characterisation and periodisation of training is seldom discussed amongst the reasons contributing to observed performance or physiological changes within the altitude training literature. As such, the primary theme of this thesis was a focus on training during altitude exposure, with the aim of optimising altitude training for performance improvement during subsequent sea-level competition.
    Study One observed differences in running speed and perceived exertion when elite runners completed the same training sessions (covering four different intensities relevant to middle-distance running), at sea-level and during a live high train high (LHTH) camp at 2100 m. Study Two examined the differences in oxygen uptake and anaerobic contribution between various interval training sessions completed in normoxia, low (1400 m) and moderate normobaric hypoxia (2100 m). Study Three followed a group of elite runners completing a LHTH intervention at 2100 m to prepare for competition within a week of return to sea-level, with training monitored during both the lead-in period at sea-level and the LHTH intervention to identify training periodisation strategies, as well as the effect of LHTH on training load. Finally, utilising a parallel-groups, repeated measures design, Study Four compared the effects of completing a block of living and intensified training at sea-level, 1600 or 1800 m on performance throughout a subsequent competitive season.
    The key findings of this research were: i) compared to sea-level, running speed in elite runners is adversely affected at 2100 m in an intensity-dependent manner (Study One); ii) completing high-intensity interval running at 2100 m simulated altitude, but not 1400 m, is likely to induce a lower V̇O2 and greater anaerobic contribution to exercise during threshold and maximal aerobic sessions when compared to training at 580 m; however race-pace training is largely unaffected (Study Two); iii) elite runners achieved personal best performances in sea-level competition immediately following LHTH at 2100 m (Study Three); and iv) a pre-competition, three week block of LHTH at 1600 or 1800 m yielded greater performance improvements in subsequent sea-level races than undertaking similar training at sea-level (Study Four). Taken together, the positive performance outcomes noted following altitude training may be due to the greater overall load of training in hypoxia compared to normoxia, effective tapering strategies, individualisation of training and competition schedules, as well as a hypoxia induced increase in haemoglobin mass (Studies Three and Four). Moreover, the wide time frame for peak performances observed following LHTH suggests that the window for optimal performance is highly individual, and factors other than altitude exposure per se may be important (Study Four). Contrary to existing guidelines, during natural altitude camps involving elite runners with prior altitude experience, remaining at moderate altitude to complete some high-intensity training may be beneficial, as is integrating established training practices such as overload (utilising hypoxic stress to facilitate the increase in load) and taper into a periodised and monitored training program. In summary, the findings of this thesis may be used to optimise the altitude training process at both low and moderate altitudes, with beneficial implications for elite athletes utilising this strategy during their competition preparation.
    Date of Award2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKevin Thompson (Supervisor), Julien Periard (Supervisor) & Laura Garvican (Supervisor)

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