Training at High Altitude. Range?

  • Creator
  • #41980


    Hi UA community,

    Here is my question in Short:
    What is the optimum altitude where one can train their physical capacity?

    The longer version:
    I’ve been climbing Himalayan peaks for over 5 years now, mostly supported. 99% of my training is done at an altitude of 500m. During each trip to the mountains, I take a good 3 days for the initial acclimatization and everything is good after that. Over the years I’ve progressively pushed myself up to 6500m and have had no issues. My next progression is to the 7000m & 8000m peaks.

    TFNA & UA’s programs, TP’s metrics have been my staple, customizing and improving the program’s under Scott J’s guidelines. As a progression in the training, I would like to spend about 30 days in the high altitude, training before my next climb.

    For those of you who have climbed 7000m & 8000m (especially without bottled O’s) peaks, what do you think is the ideal range of altitude to train at? Will it be:
    2500m-3500m ?
    3500-4500m ?
    4500-5000m ?
    Or if one has access to all the above ranges, how can one allocate a training period to each of the ranges? When is the ideal time to allocate this training period before a major climb, like an 8000m peak? My current approach is that assuming that I climb in Autumn (September), I intend to put this high altitude training block in July.[My CTL is projected to reach 100 by the end of June]. After which I return to low altitude (500m) and take the whole month of August to Taper and Recover.

    Please do share your suggestions from your experience.

Posted In: Mountaineering

  • Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #42010

    It depends on which capacity you are speaking of and what the altitude of your target event is. If you are training for shorter high intensity events like 5-10,000m running race held at sea level then the majority of your training needs to be done a low elevations so you can train with sufficient intensity to stimulate the correct adaptations for such speeds. A stint of training at high elevation can help with sea level performance. The system of train low/sleep high has been used very successfully in many endurance sports for decades. In that system the sleep/live elevation is normally never more than about 8500ft or 2600m. Above that and sleep is not as restful and so recovery is more impacted negatively.

    For mountaineering it is a bit different. I think you are conflating training adaptations (fitness gains) with altitude adaptations (acclimatization gains). Both will improve performance at altitude but they demand different stimuli that are to some extent counter productive to each other.

    Fitness can be increased easier (better and faster) by training at low elevation. That’s because you can train at a higher intensity when more oxygen is available. You will also recover faster at low elevation so you can maintain a higher training load which in turn gives a bigger training stimulus.

    Acclimatization on the other hand is best accomplished with prolonged exposure to high elevations.

    While there will be some acclimatization effect from short exposure to high altitude during training, these will be insignificant unless frequent and prolonged. For example living at 6000ft and going to do a 3 hour hike at 10,000 feet 1x/week is not going to do much for your acclimatization and is definitely going to be less effective training that doing the same hike at 6000ft (same terrain profile).

    Bear in mind that at high elevations like you are planning on acclimatization will play a huge role in your performance on those climbs. This is why supplemental oxygen is so popular on some 8000m peaks. It will allow a much less fit person to still be successful. There is no substitute (except for more supplemental oxygen) for proper acclimatization.


    kamal753 on #42319

    Dear Scott,

    Thoroughly reading your response, I surely have overlapped training & altitude adaptations to a certain extent. And this ‘extent’ seems to be the most critical aspect, unable to fathom the fact that these two adaptations are actually counter-productive.

    Even though I did factor in the necessary recovery periods in my plan, I definitely missed out the actual recovery at high altitudes. Which, as you have mentioned is not as quick in the lower elevations.That addresses a major part of my concern.

    Regarding the role of acclimatization that you have mentioned, it answers the remainder of my concern.

    Thank you for your detailed response. It gives a better understanding of the subject.


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