After reading a an article by Andrew Vize which has some good tips for preparing for a race, myself and a colleague visited Sydney Altitude Training to see what it was all about and conduct a baseline assessment.
The center offers training in a reduced oxygen environment (13.5% O2 – equivalent to approx 3800m altitude, compared to the 20.9% O2 available at sea level), which simulates training at a higher altitude. One of the rooms is focused on cardio, and has six bikes and two treadmills, whereas the other room is focused on functional activities.
The baseline assessment involved wearing a O2 sensor which would detect the concentration of oxygen in your blood (and your heartrate, although the heartrate function was not so accurate), and riding a 20min program on the velotron bikes (which are connected to a computer and provide all sorts of useful information, such as power through each crank). It was suprising to see the difference that existed between each leg, and the dominant leg which applied more power – greatly noticeable when shifting up. Whilst completing the program (which involves a staggered increase in workload), the staff monitor and record your O2 levels and heart rate.
If you have got everything nailed down (good structured training program, diet, sleep) and want an additional edge leading up to an event then altitude training might be the way to go. If these other components are lacking, then you may wish to focus on these before investing in such a technology. We found that our perceived rate of effort effort was much higher, so this would be a great activity to rehabilitate whilst still obtaining a good cardio response.
The center has friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a mountain of research papers which they are compiling on the science behind the concept. More info is available at their site, or check out Andrew’s post for other good tips (and a free baseline assessment).