Running With Coach Kinsey: Altitude Training


Marty Kinsey

Most of us have heard that if we train at altitude, we can have a great boost in performance at sea level. While many elite athletes will train at higher elevation levels, there is no guarantee that training at altitude will boost your performance. This has led to a variety of theories that have coaches and athletes asking several questions. How high should I go to train? How long should I stay at this elevation before competition? And just how does training at altitude help anyway?

Lets start with the last question. We must first understand that this topic is debatable as there is no concrete proof that altitude training will enhance your performance. The theory, however, behind it is simple. Due to less oxygen available at higher altitudes, your body will need to acclimate to the difference. During this acclimation period (15-20 days), your body slightly adapts to smaller amounts of oxygen required to conduct your training and begins creating more red blood cells. Then, once your body has adjusted to these changes, you can travel down to sea level where oxygen is more abundant for a race. During your race, your body will still be acclimated to the altitude oxygen levels. Because of the adapted physiological changes, your body will absorb more oxygen and perform at a higher level, giving you a boost in performance. There are several approaches to training at altitude: Live high and train high, live high and train low, and live low and train high.

The theory of living at a higher altitude, and training at this altitude is known as the “live high, train high” technique. This has proven to be the least effective, as the body must work rigorously while training as well as during recovery to adjust to the oxygen change. The two more common approaches are the “live high, train low” and the “live low, train high” techniques. In the live high, train low approach your body will adjust to the oxygen chance during recovery hours, and when you train you will drive down to sea level and have a boost in performance. The other method of live low, train high allows your body recovery at sea level, but forces you body to adjust to the oxygen change when you are going fast at altitude.


The bottom line is if you have time to train at altitude, try out a variety of elevations, days training at a particular elevation, and competition dates and distances etc. Being your own science experiment and figure out what works best for you is both effective and rewarding. Training at high levels isn’t easy, so consult your doctor before you head up the mountains!  Good luck out there!
–Living the Run is thrilled to publish Marty Kinsey’s Weekly Blog, “Running With Coach Kinsey!” Coach Kinsey is the head coach for the men’s and women’s cross country teams at St. Mary’s College (Division 1) in Moraga, California. View his full bio via our bloggers bio page. You can look for Running With Coach Kinsey every Thursday.  Other Running With Coach Kinsey Blogs:

Success or failure

Summer training

Taper Time

Structuring your speed days

Your first marathon

Goals and race ready

Frustrations and satisfaction

Winter blahs and tips to avoid them

Running Websites

Cold weather running tips

Building your winter base

It’s good to have goals

Consistency breeds confidence

The Tempo Run Benefits

Tips to stay motivated

Mental Toughness Tips

Training for Beginners

Down to the Core

Race day tips

Interval Training

Over training and recovery

Hill Training

If the shoe fits

Gasping for Iron

The Benefits of the Ice Bath

How Much Sleep Runners Need

The Long Run

How to Speed Up With Fartleks

Choosing Your Running Surface

Marty Kinsey
Men’s and Women’s Head Coach
Cross Country Coach
Saint Mary’s College

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