High altitude adventures and deployments can push you well beyond your normal limits. Your health and survival depends on your training, so it is important to take the time to train properly, prepare, and acclimate yourself to the conditions you’ll be experiencing. This is known as High Altitude Training (HAT).
Even for those in great shape at peak fitness, exercise and pacing methods that work at sea level will not always work the same at altitudes 5,000 feet above sea level or more. Here, we’ll share some valuable tips on training in high altitudes.
Preparing for High Altitude Training
Preparation begins at your next meal. A healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals is critical to ensure your body is ready to handle the rigors of high altitude. The right amount of iron and ensuring your body is getting plenty of water are baseline requirements in HAT environments.
TIP: The preparation period should always include healthy meals, and lots of water.
Before you go out, train with exercises designed to increase cardiovascular and pulmonary performance. Interval, incline, or hill running, and swimming are all helpful exercises that can boost the performance of these parts of your body. The higher you go for HAT, the harder these systems need to work to supply your body with oxygen and you need your body to be able to fight off hypobaric hypoxia—the reduced tissue oxygen supply that leads to illness because of the decreased partial pressure of atmospheric oxygen at altitude.
Acclimating to High Altitude Environments
Pace yourself in the ascent stage. Acclimatization takes somewhere between three to five days. Plan to take at least a few days easing into training and allowing your body to adapt to the decreased oxygen at high altitudes.
TIP: Starting slow will allow you to perform better later down the line.
Even by just sleeping a few days in the same area you’re planning a high-altitude hike, you can help mitigate the effects or severity of altitude sickness. Susceptible people may experience dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, problems sleeping, or even loss of appetite. Some people never fully acclimate to a high-altitude environment.
Recognizing Signs of Altitude Sickness
If you plan on intense training or need to operate at high performance, learn to recognize and respond to early symptoms of altitude sickness. In extreme environments, the most severe diagnosis of altitude sickness will require an early evacuation, but this can usually be avoided with proper pacing, early detection, and immediate treatment.
What to do for Mild Altitude Sickness: Take OTC meds (over-the-counter medicine), stay hydrated, and move to lower elevation if symptoms don’t improve.
What to do for Moderate Altitude Sickness: Reduce altitude by 1,000-2,000 feet as soon as possible. Stay hydrated and remain at lower elevation for at least 24 hours to make sure symptoms improve.
What to do for Severe Altitude Sickness: Reduce altitude immediately to an elevation 4,000 feet below sea level or lower and get to a healthcare provider to find out if you require oxygen, steroids, other medication, or hospitalization.
Know Your Limits in High Altitude
High altitude training is difficult for everyone. It will put a strain not only on your body, but on your mind, as well. It is highly recommended to cut your physical activity to about half of what you normally do for the first few days of acclimatization. So, take extra break intervals, listen to your body, and ease up.
Follow these guidelines, set limits for yourself, and accept that training in high altitude takes time. Reverse your recovery ratio from sea level. Instead of taking one minute of rest for every two minutes of exercise, try to take two minutes of rest for every minute of exercise. Your body and brain will thank you.
As with anything, your health and well-being should always be your number one priority, no matter what high-altitude excursion you’re planning. We hope you’ve learned a bit about how important it is to take time preparing for and acclimating to high altitude. Keep a close eye on how your condition changes as you adjust safely to higher elevations. Don’t be afraid to go slow and put your health first.