Thursday, January 15, 2009

Scott Simmons's Altitude Studies

As it has been almost exactly a year since I attended the NDRS in Grinnell, Iowa, I thought I would recap a portion of one of the presentations. (Information on NDRS '08 is at the bottom of this post.) This particular one was given by the famed coach Scott Simmons regarding his work with runners training at altitude. He has looked at previous research done with a critical eye and looked to modify the protocols to fit more in-line with the hard-easy cycle of overload-recovery-supercompensation that distance running training tends to follow.

Basically, as with the load, recovery, and supercompensation model of training, it favors a more transient approach than spending large blocks of time at altitude. It was based on the training cycle, so for a 10-day cycle the athlete may spend something like 3 days at the high location and then 7 days at a lower location to recover, and then 3 days back up at the high location and so on.

For a working class runner, one could have a job, home, and training base somewhere like Phoenix or Albuquerque or Alamogordo and be there training and sleeping for the 5 days of the work week and then have a small camper to tow to a campground or find a motel or rental cabin or a friend with a guest bedroom or sofa to spare up near Flagstaff or Santa Fe or Cloudcroft to train and sleep over the weekend. So it is something of a more detailed application of the hi-lo principle, more relevant to the realities of endurance physiology.

He had a few case studies to illustrate. The first was a female with a 4-year blood profile of RBC @ 3.75-4.03, HGB @ 11.8-13.1, HCT @ 35.1-40, and serum ferratin @ 40-82; pre-study RBC 3.9, HGB 12.5, HCT 38.3, F 66. The study involved an initial protocol of 12-16 hours/day at 9500' via hypoxico altitude tent for 4 weeks. After that the numbers were RBC 3.91, HGB 12.5, HCT 38.9, F 36. The second protocol was 12-16 hours/day at 9500' for 3 days followed by 5 days at sea level for 6 weeks. At the end the numbers were RBC 4.27, HGB 14.0, HCT 41.4, and F 50. This study represented the first significant changes in RBC, HGB, and HCT in 5 years of testing and yielded a 32" 3K PR (10:00 to 9:28).

The second study involved a male (Biz) with a baseline of RBC 4.67, HGB 14.2, HCT 40.8, F 37.8. Protocol one had 12 hours/day at 9500' (via tent) for 3-4 days followed by 5-6 days at sea level for a total of six weeks. Following that the numbers were RBC 4.95, HGB 15.2, HCT 44.5, F 38.4. The second protocol was living at 7000' (Flag) and every 7-10 days moving to 2000' (Phx?) for 3-5 days for a total of 10 weeks. The numbers following that were RBC 5.3, HGB 16.9, HCT 49.1, F 101 (!) and big PRs for 8K and the half-marathon. So pretty big gains from altitude training without the commonly associated iron loss issues.

This is clearly anecdotal evidence, but the results are nonetheless interesting. His current case study at that time involved Justin Young and his wife and had them living at 5600' and going to 10,000' for 3 days every 11 days. It would be interesting to see the results if he has them to report in Charlotte. Justin's big PR at Rotterdam last year is certainly an encouraging sign.

For an overview of NDRS '08 and contact information for ordering a DVD set of the clinic, go here:

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