Get a high on your fitness levels

Jun 19, 2012, 08:59 IST | Ruchika Kher

Feel the urge to head out on a trek, but are scared of mountain sickness? Well, now you can acclimatise your body before embarking on your journey at the all-new Altitude Training Studio that has opened up in Juhu. What's more, the training has scores of other health benefits too

There are many of us, who wish to go on arduous treks but usually opt out due to the fear of our incapability. But just as technology has simplified almost every action of ours, the wonders of technology can now help us fulfil our wish of walking up to high altitudes as well. A new altitude-training centre, Pilates and Altitude Training Studio (ATS), has opened up in the city that prepares people for treks, so that their bodies get acclimatised to the environment they would face on a higher altitude.

Working out on a treadmill in the hypoxic chamber. Pics/ Atul kamble 

Be altitude-aware
We decided to sign up for a test drive of this unique training, and went for a session to their branch in suburban Juhu. Clueless about how the training would unfold and the technique behind it, we were expecting surfaces on which we would be asked to climb. But we were proved absolutely wrong.

Working out on a cross trainer in a hypoxic environment, where oxygen level was 14% (approximately 8,000 feet above sea level)

What Australian John Gloster and Neville Wadia, who run the studio in Mumbai, told us was that the training involves preparing the body in a way that it gets used to a certain level of oxygen (the percentage which is available at high altitudes) and works in the most efficient way in that level.

For such specialised, intensive training, ATS has a simulated altitude-training chamber, where the level of oxygen is much lesser than what it is on sea level. When one enters that environment there is less oxygen that you breathe in, as a result there is less oxygen that is circulated in your blood and because of that the body has to make adaptive changes in order to compensate that lack of oxygen in the blood. In doing so, it makes you far more efficient in using oxygen, which is the key to life and acclimatises your body in a way so that you can sustain at even 11,000 feet.

John Gloster pints out the screen that monitors the level of oxygen in the room.

Oxygen matters
When we entered, we saw the chamber equipped with the latest workout equipments including a treadmill, a cycle and a cross-trainer. Before entering the hypoxic chamber, our heart rate and the level of oxygen in our blood was checked using a Pulse Oximeter, so we could compare the difference of a low oxygen environment. That time the heart rate was 90 and the oxygen in the body was 98 units. Once we were in for five minutes and were about to start our workout, we used the Pulse Oximeter again and realised that even before workout, just by standing in that environment, where the level of oxygen was 14 % (as compared to 21% outside the chamber), our heart rate had gone up to 110 and the oxygen in the blood had dropped down to 82 units. Although there was no difference that we were feeling physically but Gloster explained that our body had already started working more efficiently, internally.

Test drive success
Then we started with the treadmill. Just a normal pace, which was equivalent to a stroll on the road, had increased our heart rate to 145, this even before we started a strenuous workout. Thus, it was clear that our body was burning calories faster than it would have in a normal oxygen level atmosphere. The trainers kept a close check on our heart rate, to ensure we didn’t go beyond the permissible level.

After a 40-minute workout, which included cycling, treadmill and using the cross trainer, we were still not exhausted (because of the speed we were working out on) but our body had burnt more calories than it would have at sea level. This helped us keep ourself in a situation, where we won’t experience fatigue, even if we walk at an altitude of more than 10,000 feet.

Apart from trek training, altitude training is a great way to lose weight as well. When one trains at altitudes or is exposed to low oxygen environments, one utilises one’s fat reserves, differently, and the energy cycle works more efficiently. Exercising in a hypoxic or less oxygen environment also increases an individual’s metabolic rate and calorie burn (weight loss). This increase in the metabolic rate and calorie burn (200% more than at sea level) continues for a period of 15 hours after the end of the exercise session.

When we checked with Gloster about the system’s launch in the city, he says, “It was about exposing people to the changes in the fitness industry that are popular through Australia and Europe. It’s just another way of exposing people also to the ways of training smarter and becoming aware of alternative training methods that are valuable and better.” Gloster happens to be the former physiotherapist of India’s cricket team (2005-2008) and is currently the physiotherapist for Rajasthan Royals (IPL).

Although, we had gone to the studio to know about how ATS can help us become a trekker, we came back enlightened as we realised it helps in much more. So, if you have less time and want a workout, this discipline is all you need. 

Altitude training for enhanced performance and better weight results is not a new phenomenon internationally but was kept under wraps for many years and was open to only athletes and other sportspersons. The study of altitude training was heavily delved into during and after the 1968 Olympics, in Mexico City, which is located 2,240 metres (7,349 ft) above sea level. During these Games, the endurance sports saw significant below-record finishes. Since then athletes have been utilising high altitude training for 40 years for an increased physiological response to training.

The environmental load of high altitude physiology provides increased response compared to sea level. The limitation has been the accessibility to such climates and the opportunity to remain at these elevations. At high altitudes, the body must acclimatise but to maintain the acclimatisation the body needs constant exposure. This induces changes in the body’s physiology so that it can cope with the reduction in oxygen. However, since the world has recognised the benefits of ATS now, it is slowly spreading to other parts of the world for the benefit of general people.

Health benefits
>> Helps in weight loss more rapidly and with less exhaustion.
>>  Improves lung function. Allows for better blood circulation.
>>  Aids youth enhancing and corrects skin imbalances.
>>  Improves metabolic system which prevents Type 2 diabetes and obesity by using energy from sugar in blood.
>>  Can be applied to patients with physical problems, respiratory and heart disease.
>>  Increases recovery rate after surgery. Rehabilitates injured muscles and bones.

Benefits for trekkers
>>  Reduces symptoms of acute mountain sickness.
>>  Improves power and endurance.
>>  Diminishes fatigue for long periods.
>>  Decreases recovery time after aerobic and anaerobic efforts.
>>  Money saved by minimizing time spent acclimatising on site.
>>  Increased probability of a successful summit attempt.

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