Working Out at Altitude: A Primer

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If you’ve ever traveled to a place with a higher altitude than what you’re used to, you’ve likely  likely experienced shortness of breath or light-headedness or some variant of altitude sickness. This is because your body had to work harder to get oxygen to your cells, muscles and brain since there is less of it in the air around you. Now take that to the next level and try working out at this higher altitude. Maybe go for a run or a hike and you will certainly feel more out of shape than expected. You may even be one of the most in-shape people on the hike, but the fact that your body is not getting its expected amount of oxygen will leave your body tired.

Why people do it
Many athletes travel to places that are known for having an abundance of high altitude locations (like Colorado).  Here they are able to push the limits of their body with less oxygen, helping them perform better at lower altitudes where their competitors live.

Slow and Steady wins the Race
If you’re just starting to work out in altitude, it’s important that you take it slow and consistent. When I first started living in Denver, I was unable to run a mile without stopping. This continued for the first couple of weeks and before I knew it, I was able to stay at a consistent pace without having to stop and walk.

Stay hydrated
It’s important that when working out in altitude, you consume more water than normal. Since you’re so much higher with way less oxygen in the air, your body will begin to dehydrate much faster than at lower altitudes. Most high altitude climates are also extremely dry and the sun may feel more powerful. This will also dehydrate you faster, resulting in a headache, which is a common symptom of people adjusting to higher elevation.

Don’t Push it!
Another important aspect of starting to work out in altitude is the simple fact that it will take time for your body to adjust. Working out at altitude is really hard and it’s better to give yourself a breather than over do it and get sick. Your body will naturally adjust over time, opening up to a whole new world of physical growth and mental perseverance. So hang in there.

By Carolyn Dean