Skip to main content

High Altitude Training for Competitive Student Swimmers

For the past two years, I have been training at my university, where the altitude is 7220ft or roughly 2200m above sea level. Training at this altitude can cause improved fitness. In this article, I would like to dive deeper into the benefits and setbacks of high-altitude training specifically for swimmers. 

Here is a short overview of the ideas I would like to cover:

•           Why do we feel so out of breath at high altitudes?

•           How can we use this to our advantage? 

•           What happens to your body at high altitudes?

•           What is right for you?

Why do we feel so out of breath at high altitudes?

At altitude, a typical phenomenon happens to swimmers. You need to suck in more air and your lungs feel tight. This is normal, but there isn’t less air, it is just thinner and less oxygenated because of the lower air pressure. 

Simply put, our muscles need more oxygen to perform more intense spurts of exercise. At altitude, our bodies cannot perform because of the lack of oxygen, and we feel this struggle.

How can we use this to our advantage?

We can suggest that swimming at a high altitude and getting used to training would allow our bodies to adapt to the reduced oxygen. When we come to sea level for competition, we swim faster because of the increased oxygen. Olympic swimmers do this for training camps. They will head to high-altitude areas such as Colorado and practice in this situation. When they return to a low area, they will feel fuller lungs and can perform better. 

What happens to your body at this altitude?

Firstly, our heart rate will increase, because the lack of oxygen will increase your bpm (beats per minute) to bring oxygen into your blood more efficiently. Secondly, you may perform at a lower level. The decreased oxygen in your blood will reduce your capability to perform. Thirdly, many people can’t hold their breath for as long. This is due to the decreased oxygen level that causes you to not be able to inhale when you suck in air. Lastly, you tend to drink more water, because at high altitudes, the humidity is lower, the air is drier, and your sweat will evaporate more quickly. 

Is this right for you?

In conclusion, training at high altitudes can be tough on the body, but the physical and mental rewards can be tremendous. Training is training anywhere you are in the world. You will have to work hard to make improvements but challenging yourself to be at a high altitude will give you an edge. Be it physical or mental.