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The individual response to training and competition at altitude
  1. Robert F Chapman1,2
  1. 1Department of Kinesiology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA
  2. 2High Performance Department, USA Track & Field, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert F Chapman, Department of Kinesiology, Indiana University, 1025 E, 7th St, SPH 112, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA; rfchapma{at}


Performance in athletic activities that include a significant aerobic component at mild or moderate altitudes shows a large individual variation. Physiologically, a large portion of the negative effect of altitude on exercise performance can be traced to limitations of oxygen diffusion, either at the level of the alveoli or the muscle microvasculature. In the lung, the ability to maintain arterial oxyhaemoglobin saturation (SaO2) appears to be a primary factor, ultimately influencing oxygen delivery to the periphery. SaO2 in hypoxia can be defended by increasing ventilatory drive; however, during heavy exercise, many athletes demonstrate limitations to expiratory flow and are unable to increase ventilation in hypoxia. Additionally, increasing ventilatory work in hypoxia may actually be negative for performance, if dyspnoea increases or muscle blood flow is reduced secondary to an increased sympathetic outflow (eg, the muscle metaboreflex response). Taken together, some athletes are clearly more negatively affected during exercise in hypoxia than other athletes. With careful screening, it may be possible to develop a protocol for determining which athletes may be the most negatively affected during competition and/or training at altitude.

  • Altitude
  • Aerobic Fitness/Vo2 Max
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Respiratory

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