Cycling & Altitude

What Goes Up

54“…Altitude tents are about learning to live with less oxygen. So then what about training in an environment without any oxygen? Now that’s the way to really do it. The next day we…pioneered…underwater training. The oxygen deprived environment lurking below the surface of lakes and oceans may be just what is needed to condition the body to perform with less oxygen…it was tricky at first getting used [to] riding underwater…looking at the little fish is also a nice change of scenery.” Highlander Bicycles

The latest trend in training?

This was a joke, but sometimes we cyclists go to ridiculous depths to adapt to the heights of competitiveness. More accepted practices for altitude acclimatization seem just as ridiculous. In just the last several years, altitude researchers reveal puzzling and sometimes conflicting data regarding altitude’s affect on performance. Sifting through myths, we outline the latest truths about ascending the heights with success. First truth is that this field of study is still finding out new information. By the time this is published, new studies will probably be available. In the meantime, facts as we currently understand them:

*Best to arrive hours prior to an event at altitude is FALSE. It helps to arrive last minute for events above 10,000’ but it’s better even at that height to gradually adapt by sleeping a mile high (5680’) the night before.

* The idea that altitude doesn’t affect you for several days is FALSE. 55Studies show that an effect takes place upon arrival at altitude within 8 minutes of hard exertion.

* Altitude doesn’t affect everyone – mostly FALSE. 56“At moderately-high altitudes (6,000-10,000 feet), most athletes see about a 10% decrease in their sustainable power at lactate threshold…with an even greater decrease in power output…closer to VO2 max.”

* The idea that altitude riders will beat you at altitude is FALSE. Performance is affected, but a fitter athlete can still win. Much was made of competing at altitude during Collegiate Nationals but the proof was many podium performers were from sea-level.

* Time is your friend for altitude acclimatization –TRUE. There are several periods of notable adaptation but complete transfer takes 12-18 months.

* Training at altitude gives you an edge – FALSE. Training at altitude could negatively affect performance since during the acclimatization period; sea level power outputs cannot be sustained. 57Losing a year’s max training potential during adaptation isn’t recommended.

* Live High, Train Low is NOT YET PROVEN. 58Anecdotal studies point to positive results. Studies proving success with altitude tents and hypoxic devices depend on duration of daily exposure over time. There are no results yet for how long the effect can be maintained.


Weather’s counterpart, Terrain, and her friend – High Ground is another cycling personification that becomes a friend through long acquaintance.

Prayer for Altitude Acclimatization

“So please don’t, out of old habit, slip back into being or doing what everyone else tells you. Friends, stay where you were called to be. God is there. Hold the high ground with him at your side.” 591 Corinthians 7:23-24

We acknowledge praying for this may compromise lowland power. Be with us wherever we are.

Ponder What do I cling to for help when challenged? Affirm God is with me everywhere. Watch for signs of God on flat road and over mountain passes.


54“Altitude Training with a Twist,” Highlander News 1 Copyright © 2005 Highlander Bicycle

55“Performance At Altitude,” presented by Andrew W. Subudhi, PhD,University ofColorado,AltitudeResearchCenter, April, 2008 a webinar by USA Cycling Sciences & Education

56“Carmichael Sez: Hors Challenges In The Alps,” posted July 22, 2008 as “Tour de France Coverage: Full Story,” on

57If you’re going to move to altitude, do so in the Fall or a nearing off-season so you have months to start acclimatization during what is potentially an off-period or a phase of low intensity work.

58“Simulated Altitude,” by Andrew W. Subudhi, PhD, University of Colorado, Altitude Research Center, at USA Cycling Coaching Summit, October, 2006

59The Message, Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


One Response to “Cycling & Altitude”

  1. Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it
    to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!

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