Hamlin, M. J., Hinckson, E. A., Wood, M. R., & Hopkins, W. G. (2004). Effect of intermittent normobaric hypoxic exposure at rest on rugby players' performance at 1650 m. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38(5), Supplement abstract 2731.

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This study investigated the effect of intermittent normobaric hypoxic exposure on performance in generic and game-specific rugby tests at altitude. Club and junior representative rugby players who were sea-level residents performed baseline tests before being assigned to one of three groups: hypoxia-altitude (N = 9), normoxia-altitude (N = 6), and normoxia sea-level (N = 7). The hypoxia-altitude group experienced 9-13 sessions of intermittent hypoxic over 15 days, and then repeated the performance tests within 12 hours of traveling to an altitude of 1650 m. The normoxia-altitude group experienced placebo exposures by breathing room air before performing the tests at altitude, whereas the normoxia sea-level group experienced placebo exposures before performing the tests at sea level. Hypoxic exposure sessions consisted of alternately breathing through a hand-held face mask six minutes of hypoxic gas and four minutes ambient air for one hour at rest. Oxygen in the gas was reduced progressively from 13% on day 1 to 9% on day 15. Ambient air replaced hypoxic gas for the placebo exposures. Performance measures were: maximum speed, submaximum heart-rate speed and submaximum lactate speed during a 20-m incremental running test, mean time in six 70-m sprints, various mean measures from seven 5.5-min circuits of a rugby simulation, and mean time in a second set of sprints.

At altitude, there were clear impairments in maximum and heart rate-speed, defensive sprint time, and scrum power, and a clear improvement in 30-m sprint time. Relative to the normoxia-altitude group, the hypoxia-altitude group experienced a clear improvement in heart-rate speed and slight improvement in lactate speed while effects on all other performance variables were trivial or unclear.

Implication. Altitude of 1650 m had a positive effect on some sprints but a detrimental effect on 20-m running performance and scrum power. Intermittent hypoxic exposure improved some physiological measures of performance but otherwise had little effect in preparing rugby players for performance at altitude.

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