Hinckson, E. A., Hamlin, M. J., Hopkins, W. G., & Wood, M. R. (2006). Effect of intermittent normobaric hypoxic exposure on sea-level performance in rugby players. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38(5), Supplement abstract 907.

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"The 'live-high/train-low' approach to altitude training produces worthwhile gains in endurance performance at sea level, but the effects of this approach using normobaric hypoxia to simulate altitude are more contentious. The effects of hypoxic exposure on brief high-intensity performance similar to that of team games also need further investigation".

This study determined the effects of normobaric intermittent hypoxic exposure on sea-level performance in professional rugby players (N = 10). Ss were randomly assigned to two groups. Players in each group received 9-14 sessions of either hypoxic (10-15% O2) or normoxic (21% O2) exposure over 14 days in a single-blind design. Each session consisted of six 6-minute intervals of exposure delivered via a hand-held mask interspersed with 4-minute recovery periods breathing room air. Performance measures obtained consecutively in a single testing session pre- and post-exposure were: maximum speed in a 20-m incremental running test, mean time in six 70-m repeated sprints, various mean measures in seven 5.5-min circuits of a rugby simulation, and mean time in a second set of sprints. Blood sampling was performed 7 and 14 days before and two days following exposure. Performance tests were performed 1-3 days before and 1-4 days after exposure.

Effects of hypoxic exposure on maximum speed and sprint times were trivial and unclear. In the rugby simulation, hypoxic exposure produced clear impairments of peak power in two scrums and clear impairments of time in offensive sprints and tackle sprints. Impairments also were observed in the 20-m sprint, 30-m sprint, and defensive sprint, although these were unclear/non-significant. The effect on ball-passing accuracy was also unclear, as were effects on hemoglobin concentration, reticulocytes, and ferritin. There was considerable inter-player variation in responses.

Implication. Rugby players do not derive any benefits from normobaric intermittent hypoxic exposure to prepare for games at sea level. There is a possibility that hypoxic training of this form might even interfere with performance in a substantial number of individuals.

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