I think we are all aware of the benefits of training and/or living at altitude, the primary one being that the body develops more red blood cells. This in turn allows the blood to carry more oxygen to the working muscles, increasing physical capacity.
However, you may be able to achieve a similar result by using heat in your weekly routine. Of course, if you are training for Marathon des Sables or to race in Hawaii then heat acclimatisation might be part of your thinking. There may also be benefits for athletes with upcoming races in less extreme heat and humidity. First the physiology. Heat acclimatisation workouts are well known to trigger a series of responses one of which is an increase in blood plasma volume, lower core temperatures during training/racing, and higher perspiration rates. This results in benefits not just for athletes racing in the heat but also those competing in more temperate conditions (1).
In the same way that altitude training is beyond the reach and budget of most people, so is wintering in a hot climate or accessing a heat chamber. There is an alternative which is more readily available and relatively cheap – the sauna. A friend of mine in the US, David Tilbury-Davis, developed a sauna protocol which you would use 3-4 weeks out from your key event. Perform 1 hour of moderate intensity exercise (the mode is not critical) before heading straight to the sauna for a 30-minute heat session. During exercise do not consume any fluids (a mouth wash of water or sports drink is OK). After your workout, spend 30 minutes in the sauna during which time you can drink freely.
A sample session might look like this:
- 60-minute run/bike at 75-80% followed by 3 x 10mins in the sauna with 5’ break between reps
- Over the 4 weeks keep the duration and intensity of activity the same, but build your sauna reps to 30mins
- Perform 2-3 sessions per week
I have used this many times with athletes racing in Kona. I have personally experienced the positive benefits of heat training when returning to temperate conditions. Finally, there are those athletes who prepare for a race in temperate conditions and then encounter a heat wave at their race venue. For them this approach will give them a massive advantage over their competitors. Below I have attached several research papers and also a YouTube video that will provide you with more information. (2) (3) (4) (5)
(1) Heat acclimation improves exercise performance. Minson et al
(5) Video – Hyperthermic Conditioning for Hypertrophy, Endurance, and Neurogenesis