Purpose: To quantify, for an elite-level racewalker, altitude training, heat acclimation and acclimatization, physiological data, and race performance from January 2007 to August 2008. Methods: The participant performed 7 blocks of altitude training: 2 “live high:train high” blocks at 1380 m (total = 22 d) and 5 simulated “live high:train low” blocks at 3000 m/600 m (total = 98 d). Prior to the 2007 World Championships and the 2008 Olympic Games, 2 heat-acclimation blocks of ~6 weeks were performed (1 session/week), with ∼2 weeks of heat acclimatization completed immediately prior to each 20-km event. Results: During the observation period, physiological testing included maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max, mL·kg−1·min−1), walking speed (km·h−1) at 4 mmol·L−1 blood lactate concentration [La], body mass (kg), and hemoglobin mass (g), and 12 × 20-km races and 2 × 50-km races were performed. The highest VO2max was 67.0 mL·kg−1·min−1 (August 2007), which improved 3.1% from the first measurement (64.9 mL·kg−1·min−1, June 2007). The highest percentage change in any physiological variable was 7.1%, for 4 mmol·L−1 [La] walking speed, improving from 14.1 (June 2007) to 15.1 km·h−1 (August 2007). Personal-best times for 20 km improved from (hh:mm:ss) 1:21:36 to 1:19:41 (2.4%) and from 3:55:08 to 3:39:27 (7.1%) in the 50-km event. The participant won Olympic bronze and silver medals in the 20- and 50-km, respectively. Conclusions: Elite racewalkers who regularly perform altitude training may benefit from periodized heat acclimation and acclimatization prior to major international competitions in the heat.

For many endurance athletes, altitude training is a key component of their preparation for major competitions.1 According to the classical or live high:train high (LHTH) altitude-training model, athletes travel to venues of increased elevation to live and train for 2 to 4 weeks, in preparation for competitions held at either altitude or sea level.2 Live high:train low (LHTL) has also been used extensively, either by traveling to lower elevations to train3 or by utilizing simulated altitude environments (altitude houses or tents) and training at sea level.1 The effects of altitude training on elite athletes’ performance, particularly during major competitions, have not been conclusively determined,4,5 but based on the existing literature, potential benefits include improved hemoglobin mass (Hbmass), maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max),6 submaximal exercise economy,7 and performance.2

Prior to competing in hot environments, athletes’ preparation strategies may include, depending on their competition schedule and available facilities, heat acclimatization (living and training in a natural similar environment to the competition)8 or acclimation (repeated heat exposures within a heat chamber/hot room, hot water immersion, or sauna bathing).1,9 Such strategies may induce adaptations including increased plasma volume, increased sweat rate, decreased core temperature, and reduced submaximal heart rate.8 However, optimal methods of preparation may be unclear to athletes who wish to use altitude training for improved competition performance, since altitude training locations can be cooler10 and could inadvertently be deleterious for performance.11 The addition of heat acclimation/acclimatization within a periodized program that includes altitude training could thus potentially offer the “best of both worlds,” but to our knowledge, has yet to be documented in a real-world competition context in elite endurance athletes.

The aim of this case study was to investigate, over a 20-month period, the following in an elite racewalker: (1) training data, altitude training interventions, and heat acclimation/acclimatization prior to competing in hot climates; (2) associated physiological data; and (3) 20- and 50-km race performance.

Methods

Participant

A male racewalker was observed over 20 months (January 1, 2007 to August 30, 2008). At the start of the data collection period, the participant’s age was 23 years, VO2max was 64.9 mL·kg−1·min−1, and body mass was 58.9 kg. The athlete had been in a full-time training environment at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS, Canberra, ACT, Australia) for ~3 years. The experimental procedures were approved by the AIS Ethics Committee, and the athlete and his coach provided their approval for retrospective analysis.

Procedures

During the observation period, the athlete and coach were preparing for the World Championships (August 2007, Osaka, Japan) and the Olympic Games (August 2008, Beijing, China). Both major international championships were held in hot climates and, therefore, heat acclimation/acclimatization was incorporated into the training program. Training was performed according to a coach-prescribed periodized plan. The training week typically included 8 racewalking sessions (2 speed and 6 continuous), 3 running sessions, and cross-training sessions as required (eg, swimming sessions, in the event of injury). In September to October 2007, 2 resistance training sessions per week were added to the weekly program. Mean weekly training volume (in km) performed in each month was recorded (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1

—Physiological data and training summary for the 20 months from January 2007 to August 2008. (A) Hbmass (g), (B) body mass (kg), (C) treadmill speed (km·h−1) at 4 mmol·L−1 blood [La], (D) VO2max (mL·kg−1·min−1), (E) 20-km performance time (min), and (F) mean weekly training volume (km). Gray bars denote altitude-training blocks as follows: A1, LHTH 1380 m for 14 days; A2, LHTL 3000 m, 25 of 35 days; A3, LHTH 1380 m, 8 days due to hamstring injury; A4, LHTL 3000 m, 21 days; A5, LHTL 3000 m, 17 days; A6, LHTL, 3000 m, 21 days; and A7, LHTL 3000 m, 14 days. Heat training as indicated by checked boxes: H1, 6-week heat acclimation of 1 session/week; H2, 14-day acclimatization prior to competition; H3, specific heat acclimation for 6 weeks (1 × per week); and H4, 15-day acclimatization prior to competition. Hbmass indicates hemoglobin mass; LHTH, live high:train high; LHTL, live high:train low. *World Championships, Osaka 2007. **Olympic Games, Beijing 2008.

Citation: International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 15, 9; 10.1123/ijspp.2019-0292

Seven altitude training blocks were performed: 2 blocks of LHTH (1380 m, Thredbo, Australia) and 5 blocks using simulated LHTL (3000 m for 14 h·d−1: 600 m) in the AIS Altitude House (Canberra, Australia). Weekly training volume (km) and intensity (walking/running speed [min·km−1] and walking/running distance [km >4 mmol·L−1]) performed before, during, and after heat and LHTL training blocks were recorded (Tables 1 and 2). Prior to departure for the Osaka World Championships, the athlete completed a 35-day LHTL block and 6-day post-LHTL recovery period. Concurrently, 1 heat acclimation session was completed per week, consistent with published recommendations for inducing heat adaptations in athletes, especially when combined with heat acclimatization performed immediately prior to major competitions,1,9 and therefore, 6 sessions in total were implemented prior to the 14-day prerace heat acclimatization period (Kochi, Japan). Details of training sessions and environmental conditions are provided in Table 1. Prior to the Beijing Olympic Games, a 21-day LHTL block and 7-day recovery period, and a final 14-day LHTL period were implemented, concurrent with heat acclimation training (1 racewalking session per week), which commenced 38 days prior to departure from Australia (6 sessions in total). Heat acclimatization was performed (Kochi, Japan and Beijing, China) for the 15 days prior to the 20-km event, as well as the subsequent 6 days prior to the 50-km event (Table 2).

Table 1

Details of Total Training Duration, Volume, and Mean Intensity; LHTL Altitude Training, Heat-Acclimation, and Heat-Acclimatization Training (June 2007 to February 2008)

Training interventionPre-LHTLLHTLaPost-LHTLaHeat acclimatizationbPre-LHTLLHTLPost-LHTL
LocationCanberraCanberraCanberraKochi/OsakaCanberraCanberraCanberra
DateJun 07Jul 07Aug 07Aug 07Dec 07Jan 08Jan/Feb 08
Elevation, m6003000/600600106003000/600600
Duration, d2125 (of 35)615212121
Walking volume, km19353792188135303285
Walking duration, h15:54:0942:22:29.07:22:53.015:46:3411:04:59.025:27:30.023:22:29.0
Walking pace, min·km−104:56.60:04:44.304:48.80:05:02.10:04:55.50:05:02.50:04:54.9
Running volume, km40171301104610053
Training ≥4 mmol·L−1, km281102437284052
Training ≥4 mmol·L−1, %12.015.519.712.415.59.915.4
Temperature (7 AM), °C3.92.07.026.314.516.614.6
Temperature (8 AM), °C4.52.87.528.016.117.816.1
Heat exposure
 Frequency, sessions per weekNil119–11NilNilNil
 Duration, minNA60–7060–7078 min·d−1NANANA
 Intensity (low/moderate/high)NALowLowModerate–highNANANA
 ConditionsNA30°C; 60 %RH30°C; 60% RH29°C; 76% RHNANANA

Abbreviations: LHTL, live high:train low; RH, relative humidity. Note: Temperature (in °C) is provided at times corresponding to the start of outdoor training sessions (either 7 or 8 AM).

a Time periods where heat-acclimation/acclimatization training was performed. b Heat-acclimatization period included the Osaka 2007 World Championships, where the athlete competed in the 20-km event.

Table 2

Details of Total Training Duration (h), Volume (km), and Mean Intensity (min·km−1); LHTL Altitude Training, Heat-Acclimation, and Heat-Acclimatization Training (February 2008 to August 2008)

Training interventionPre-LHTLLHTLPost-LHTLPre-LHTLLHTLaPost-LHTL/Pre-LHTL#LHTLaPost-LHTL/heat acclimatizationb
LocationCanberraCanberraCanberra/Beijing/LondonCanberraCanberraCanberraCanberraKochi/Beijing
DateFeb/Mar 08Mar/Apr 08Apr 08May 08Jun 08Jul 08Jul 08Aug 08
Elevation, m6003000/600600/44/116003000/6006003000/6005/44
Duration, d211721212171421
Walking volume, km17024224029042183289345
Walking duration, h14:18:06.019:30:04.019:34:29.023:36:22.034:08:45.07:03:19.023:25:15.027:16:28.0
Walking pace, min·km−105:03.604:49.704:53.904:52.604:51.705:04.904:51.904:44.9
Running volume, km408962115913060122
Training ≥ 4mmol·L−1, km2840527570438105
Training ≥4 mmol·L−1, %13.412.117.218.513.73.510.922.5
Temperature (7 AM), °C11.510.37.13.64.60.9−0.326.6
Temperature (8 AM), °C13.010.89.22.72.24.54.828.1
Heat acclimation
 Frequency, per weekNilNilNilNil11110–11
 Duration, minNANANANA60–7060–708080 min·d−1
 Intensity (low/moderate/high)NANANANALowLowHighModerate–high
 ConditionsNANANANA33°C; 60% RH33°C; 60% RH33°C; 60% RH29°C; 76% RH

Abbreviations: LHTL, live high:train low; RH, relative humidity. Note: Temperature (in °C) is provided at times corresponding to the start of outdoor training sessions (either 7 or 8 AM).

a Time periods where heat-acclimation/acclimatization training was performed. b Heat-acclimatization period included the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, where the athlete competed in the 20- and 50-km events.

Physiological testing was performed on 4 occasions. An incremental treadmill test was conducted on a custom-built treadmill (AIS, Canberra, Australia), according to methods described previously12 (typical error of measurement of the system used, when using a similar test protocol, was 2.4%).7 Body mass (kg; A&D Weighing, Adelaide, Australia), blood lactate concentration (mmol·L−1; Lactate Pro, Arkray, Kyoto, Japan), heart rate (beats·min−1; Polar Electro Oy, Kempele, Finland), and oxygen consumption (mL·kg−1·min−1) using a custom-designed and built open-circuit indirect calorimetric system and associated software (AIS, Canberra, Australia) were measured on each occasion. Hbmass was quantified on 18 occasions via carbon monoxide rebreathing as previously described.12 (Typical error of measurement for the procedure was 1.4%.)13

The participant performed 14 sanctioned races over Olympic distances (12 × 20- and 2 × 50-km races).

Statistical Analyses

Data are reported using descriptive statistics. Changes observed within the data-collection period are reported as the percentage change compared with the first recorded measurement.

Results

Altitude and Heat Training and Physiological Data

Details of LHTL altitude training and heat acclimation/acclimatization are described in Table 1. The highest recorded VO2max result was 67.0 mL·kg−1·min−1 (August 2007), a 3.2% improvement from the first measurement recorded during the data collection period (64.9 mL·kg−1·min−1, June 2007). There was a 7.1% change in 4-mmol·L−1 blood lactate concentration [La] walking speed (km·h−1) over the same time period. The highest Hbmass result was 847 g (January 2008), with a 4.1% increase from the first recorded measurement (812 g, June 2007). The lowest body mass was 57.6 kg (January 2008), a 2.3% reduction from the initial measurement (58.9 kg, June 2007; Figure 1).

Performance

Compared with the baseline personal best (pb) 20-km performance upon commencement of the data collection period (1:21:36, La Coruña, Spain, May 2006; 19°C and 72% relative humidity [RH]), there was a 2.4% improvement, with a pb performance of 1:19:41 (Melbourne, Australia, February 2008, 13.5°C, 77% RH). The best performance in a major international competition for 20 km was 1:19:42, which earned a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games, where the weather conditions at the start of the race were 29°C and 45% RH. The participant also competed in the 20-km event at the 2007 World Championships (weather conditions at the start of the race were 32°C and 51% RH), but did not finish due to disqualification. There was a 7.1% improvement in 50-km performance, from a pb of 3:55:08, (Geelong, Australia, December 2006; 11.1°C and 77% RH) to 3:39:27 at the Olympic Games (Figure 1), where the participant won a silver medal. The environmental conditions at the start of the 50-km event were 19°C and 97% RH. During the 50-km event, (at 10 AM) the environmental conditions were 29°C and 55% RH.

Discussion

This case study aimed to quantify altitude training (LHTH and LHTL) and heat acclimation/acclimatization training strategies prior to major international races held in hot climates, by an elite racewalker.

The participant’s fastest 20-km time (1:19:41) was performed in February 2008, at the National Championships. The race was performed 30 days after 21 days of LHTL, and therefore, consistent with previous findings that postaltitude performance benefits can be supported by a concurrent increase in training load14 and may be maintained for up to 4 weeks.15 The hypoxic dose (∼1008 km·h) was also within the range typically required for performance improvement.16 Postaltitude increases in Hbmass can contribute to improvements in performance,2 and indeed, the Hbmass measured upon conclusion of the 21 days of LHTL was the highest observed during the data collection period (847 g). Nonhematological mechanisms can also contribute toward performance improvement,1 and there was an 8.8% improvement in 4 mmol·L−1 [La] speed between pre-LHTL and post-LHTL measures, compared with a 3.2% improvement in VO2max at the same time point. The observation supports previous evidence that racewalking performance is highly correlated with submaximal exercise economy.17

Heat acclimation/acclimatization training was implemented with the aim of reducing the performance decrement that can occur when nonacclimated athletes are competing in hot climates,8,9,11 as part of a periodized program that included regular altitude training blocks. Simulated LHTL was implemented with the aim of increasing hypoxic dose and maintaining training intensity3 to increase the potential for performance benefit.1 The hot climates expected for both the World Championships and Olympic Games (with temperatures at the start of the 20-km events of 32°C and 29°C, respectively) presented challenging environmental conditions, especially compared with the cool conditions (<7°C) recorded during morning training sessions in Canberra prior to the participants’ departure to these major events. While unfortunately, the athlete was disqualified at the World Championships and, therefore, the performance effect cannot be quantified, at the Olympic Games, he earned a 50-km silver medal and pb time and performed within 1 second of his 20-km pb, winning a bronze medal. In the current case study, the observed postaltitude training VO2max and Hbmass increases may have contributed to the athlete’s medal-winning performances.6 The concurrent inclusion of heat acclimation and acclimatization in the athlete’s periodized competition preparation11 and the potential for adaptations, including reduced core temperature, increased sweat rates, and improved cardiovascular stability,8 may have had some effect on the athlete’s performance in both hot and temperate conditions.18

Practical Applications

When preparing for major international competitions in the heat, elite racewalkers’ performance may benefit from LHTL within 4 weeks prior to racing, particularly when building upon previous altitude exposure. The addition of heat acclimation and acclimatization during the 8 weeks prior to major international competitions in the heat may induce heat adaptations and reduce the likelihood of performance decrement associated with acute heat stress.

Conclusions

We recommend that, for elite racewalkers who regularly perform altitude training, the addition of periodized heat acclimation and acclimatization may assist with preparation for competitions held in hot and humid conditions.

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the participant for their involvement in this case study. During the observation period, the participant received support from the Australian Institute of Sport and Athletics Australia.

References

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If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

Carr is with the Centre for Sport Research, Deakin University, Burwood, VIC, Australia. Saunders and Garvican-Lewis are with Performance Services, Australian Inst of Sport, Bruce, ACT, Australia. Garvican-Lewis is also with the Mary MacKillop Inst for Health Research, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Vallance is with Physical Preparation, Maribyrnong Sports Academy, Maribyrnong, VIC, Australia, and Athletics Australia, Albert Park, VIC, Australia.

Carr (amelia.carr@deakin.edu.au) is corresponding author.
  • View in gallery

    —Physiological data and training summary for the 20 months from January 2007 to August 2008. (A) Hbmass (g), (B) body mass (kg), (C) treadmill speed (km·h−1) at 4 mmol·L−1 blood [La], (D) VO2max (mL·kg−1·min−1), (E) 20-km performance time (min), and (F) mean weekly training volume (km). Gray bars denote altitude-training blocks as follows: A1, LHTH 1380 m for 14 days; A2, LHTL 3000 m, 25 of 35 days; A3, LHTH 1380 m, 8 days due to hamstring injury; A4, LHTL 3000 m, 21 days; A5, LHTL 3000 m, 17 days; A6, LHTL, 3000 m, 21 days; and A7, LHTL 3000 m, 14 days. Heat training as indicated by checked boxes: H1, 6-week heat acclimation of 1 session/week; H2, 14-day acclimatization prior to competition; H3, specific heat acclimation for 6 weeks (1 × per week); and H4, 15-day acclimatization prior to competition. Hbmass indicates hemoglobin mass; LHTH, live high:train high; LHTL, live high:train low. *World Championships, Osaka 2007. **Olympic Games, Beijing 2008.

  • 1.

    Saunders P, Garvican-Lewis L, Chapman R, Périard J. Special environments: altitude and heat. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019;29(2):210219. PubMed ID: 30676138 doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0256

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 2.

    Saunders P, Pyne D, Gore C. Endurance training at altitude. High Alt Med Biol. 2009;10(2):135148. PubMed ID: 19519223 doi:10.1089/ham.2008.1092

  • 3.

    Levine B, Stray-Gundersen J. “Living high-training low”: effect of moderate-altitude acclimatization with low-altitude training on performance. J Appl Physiol. 1997;83(1):102112. PubMed ID: 9216951 doi:10.1152/jappl.1997.83.1.102

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 4.

    Robach P, Lundby C. Is live high–train low altitude training relevant for elite athletes with already high total hemoglobin mass? Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2012;22:303305. PubMed ID: 22612361 doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01457.x

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 5.

    Millet G, Chapman R, Girard O, Brocherie F. Is live high–train low altitude training relevant for elite athletes? Flawed analysis from inaccurate data. Br J Sports Med. 2019;53(15):923925. PubMed ID: 29247024 doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-098083

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 6.

    Saunders P, Garvican-Lewis L, Schmidt W, Gore C. Relationship between changes in haemoglobin mass and maximal oxygen uptake after hypoxic exposure. Br J Sports Med. 2013;47:i26i30. PubMed ID: 24282203 doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092841

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 7.

    Saunders P, Telford R, Pyne D, et al. Improved running economy in elite runners after 20 days of simulated moderate-altitude exposure. J Appl Physiol. 2004;96:931937. PubMed ID: 14607850 doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00725.2003

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 8.

    Périard J, Racinais S, Sawka M. Adaptations and mechanisms of human heat acclimation: applications for competitive athletes and sports. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2015;25(suppl 1):2038. doi:10.1111/sms.12408

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 9.

    Racinais S, Casa D, Brocherie F, Ihsan M. Translating science into practice: the perspective of the Doha 2019 IAAF World Championships in the heat. Front Sports Act Living. 2019;1(39):18.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 10.

    Schmidt M, Askew E, Roberts D, Prior R, Ensign W, Hesslink R. Oxidative stress in humans training in a cold, moderate altitude environment and their response to a phytochemical antioxidant supplement. Wilderness Environ Med. 2002;13:94105. PubMed ID: 12092978 doi:10.1580/1080-6032(2002)0130094:osihti]2.0.co;2

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 11.

    Mujika I, Sharma A, Stellingwerff T. Contemporary periodization of altitude training for elite endurance athletes: a narrative review. Sports Med. 2019;49:16511669. PubMed ID: 31452130 doi:10.1007/s40279-019-01165-y

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 12.

    Carr A, Saunders P, Vallance B, Garvican-Lewis L, Gore C. Increased hypoxic dose after training at low altitude with 9h per night at 3000m normobaric hypoxia. J Sports Sci Med. 2015;14:776782. PubMed ID: 26664274

    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 13.

    Garvican-Lewis L, Halliday I, Abbiss C, Saunders P, Gore C. Altitude exposure at 1800 m increases haemoglobin mass in distance runners. J Sports Sci Med. 2015;14:413417. PubMed ID: 25983592

    • PubMed
    • Search Google Scholar
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