When I was first told that I would be trying out High Altitude Training, the first thing that came to my mind was the Gravity Room in Dragon Ball Z. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, this would be a good time to pause and reflect on all the life choices you’ve made up till now.
When Goku had to fight evil aliens from another planet, he entered a room inside which the gravity can be manipulated to a great degree (100 times that of the earth’s) to train. When he finally stepped outside, he was much stronger and faster.
Here’s why the high altitude room is similar to the gravity room - the variable that is manipulated is the level of oxygen. The reason why a lot of athletes undergo high altitude training is because once the level of oxygen is decreased (than that at sea level), the body reacts by producing more red blood cells to aid in oxygen delivery to the muscles in order to compensate for the decrease in oxygen. By training at high altitudes, athletes naturally increase the level of Erythropoietin in the body, increase lactate thresholds and increase lung capacity. When I arrived at the Altitude Training Room powered by Altitude Synergy (Mumbai) it did not look like much – an air conditioned room that couldn’t have been bigger than 200 square feet with a cross trainer, 2 treadmills, a stationary bicycle, a yoga mat and free weights. I was given a pulse oximeter which I had to put onto my finger every now and then to check my heart rate and oxygen saturation level.
Neville Wadia, the head of training and education and MD at Altitude Synergy acquainted me to ‘Ladakh’ - a portal that took me from Bombay (sea level) to ‘Ladakh’ (about 13,000-15,000 ft) (Read about The Core by Neville Wadia)
There are few things you must know before I proceed, the oxygen saturation levels of human beings at sea level are above 95 (At sea level the oxygen in the air is always 20.9%. At these levels the oxygen saturation in a person’s blood is between 95% to 100% no matter the activity).
During exercise in the high altitude room, O2 saturation drops below 90 and should be around 84 to 86, only trekkers or athletes are allowed to take their oxygen saturation levels anywhere around 70-75. When I put the pulse oximeter on my finger, the reading revealed my oxygen levels to be 92, which was normal but my heart rate was 74 bpm (Normally it is around 55 bpm). My body realized I’d entered a new environment and started to resist at this point, it was so subtle that I wouldn’t have noticed unless I put on the pulse monitor.
At this point, the humble part of my brain decided to go on a vacation and I started to feel quite confident about the situation. I began with warming up on the bicycle and what I saw on the pulse monitor after 10 minutes of slow paced cycling astounded me, my heart beat had reached 180 bpm, which usually happens when people put in maximum effort.
After warming up, I wanted to try HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training, a strategy where you alternate periods of short intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods. At the end of it, I was really gasping for breath.
After ignoring my body’s warnings and trying to push myself further, my eyes started to shut and I started feeling out of breath. I felt like I was being punished for underestimating the true power of the High Altitude Gods, looking down at me from the Himalayas.
I’m a decent runner, so I kept upping the speed, taking pride in the fact that I wasn’t feeling very tired. After about 10 minutes, however, my oxygen saturation levels had reached 78. This is where I was asked to take it easy. You see, the normal oxygen saturation levels for a beginner should be between the ranges 85-90. Honestly it was quite the adrenalin rush.
One of the things I love about setting physical challenges for myself is the conflict between the body and the ego. Sometimes the body can't take it anymore but the ego won't let me stop. Out of everything that I’ve tried out before, high altitude training has brought this out in the best possible way.
After stepping out, the fresh air felt so wonderful (Well… considering it's Mumbai, let's just call it air)
The heaviness in the head started to fade away and I started feeling super charged after all the water I had (this was the one of the things I was recommended) I had at least 7 meals that day since my body continued to burn the calories even after I stepped out of the room.
I thought I’d feel tired but I wasn’t, I’m not sure if this was psychological or physiological, but I liked it.
If you ever decide to test the limits of your mind and body and walk in through the portal for the first time, deflate your ego, for your own sake.
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