Rodríguez, F.A. (2010). Training at real and simulated altitude in swimming: Too high expectations? A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, Oslo, June 16–19, 2010.

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This paper critically evaluated peer-reviewed scientific literature on altitude training for the improvement of swimming performances at sea-level.

It was concluded that there is no evidence that training at natural altitude enhances swimming performance more than training at sea-level. Based on research conducted in other sports, altitude training would require at least three to four weeks at 2,100 to 2,500 m of altitude to elicit a robust acclimatization response (primarily red cell mass increase) in the majority of athletes. The optimal approach is likely to be "live-high" (i.e. 2,100-2,500 m) to get the benefits of altitude acclimatization and "train-low" (1,250 m or less) to avoid the detrimental effects of hypoxic exercise. Also, it was concluded that training at hypoxia does not provide any physiological advantage over normoxic exercise and it might even impair performance. Whether the performance benefits would be similar for swimmers compared to other endurance-trained athletes is unknown and requires further research. Swimming performance enhancement by means of intermittent exposure to hypoxia is still controversial. However, it is likely that at least 12 hours per day at 2,100–3,000 m for three to four weeks may suffice to increase red cell mass. [But, increases in red cell mass have not been shown to improve swimming performances.] Shorter exposure to more severe hypoxia (e.g., 4,000 to 5,500 m, three hours per day for two to four weeks) combined with sea-level training may enhance VO2max, ventilatory threshold, and middle-distance swimming performance after pre-competition tapering, although the mechanisms for these occurring are unclear. There is substantial individual variability in the outcome of every altitude training strategy. Since none of these approaches has undoubtedly proven to enhance swimming performance, more research is warranted to clarify their effects and mechanisms.

Implication. Beneficial effects of altitude training on swimming performance have not been demonstrated in acceptable scientific literature. It can be hypothesized that some combinations involving hypoxia and other unspecified factors could improve performance. [However, any hypotheses are likely to point to altering physiological measures which very often are not reflected in changed performances. The weight of evidence still is non-effect and sea-level training camps are still the best alternative despite the investments made in altitude camps around the world. Unfortunately, those investments appear to have been ill-advised.]

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