General Fitness

Why Exercising In Extreme Conditions Boosts Your Fitness

Why Exercising In Extreme Conditions Boosts Your Fitness

In this article, our friend Amy discusses the benefits of working out in extreme conditions. Amy enjoys helping people improve their life by offering them
valuable information on health, beauty, and fashion at her website, procrazystyle.

You can’t watch the athletics for more than ten minutes without the commentators mentioning how so and so has been altitude training or humidity training to give them the edge. This is frustrating because although most people know training in extreme conditions can help athletes, it is rarely explained why this is the case. Extreme is good the most of the time because the only way to extend your zone of comfort is to get out of it often. It’s the same for muscle growth.

Picture of a fitness enthusiast standing on a high cliff

Working out in extreme conditions is one way to really be prepared for a sports event. A lot of top athletes will train in humid and hot conditions or at high altitude to push the body to the limit so when they enter their event they will be prepared. In the sport of Rugby, there are teams that play on altitude and they seem to overpower the visiting teams who don’t operate in such locations normally.

This article takes a look at three of the most common training methods (altitude, humidity/heat, and hypoxic training) and explains why they help.

#1 – Altitude Training

Many people confuse altitude training with hypoxic training, when in fact they are quite different. Altitude training takes place thousands of meters above sea level, where the percentage of oxygen compared to the volume of air is lower. The difference between this and hypoxic training, however, is that all the other air components (nitrogen, CO2, Argon etc) are also lower at altitude. This is because the air is less dense due to lower pressures, meaning all the elements are spread out more (to put it in layman’s terms). Having less oxygen to work with forces the body to adapt in order to keep energy production sustainable. Adaptations can include:

  • Thickening of arterial walls (to improve blood flow)
  • Increasing in heart size and strength
  • Increase in number of red blood cells and hemoglobin (to help transport oxygen around the body)
  • Increased lung capacity
  • Increased alveoli in lungs (to aid gaseous exchange)

When the athlete returns to normal conditions, their body is super efficient and can process more oxygen and CO2 than it could do before its period at altitude.

Picture of a fitness enthusiast doing yoga on a mountain

#2 – Humidity/Heat Training

Humidity training and heat training are actually different, but I have grouped them together as the outcomes are relatively similar. When the body is exercised it is subject to overheating and so adopts something called thermoregulation. This is a process whereby the body works to maintain its core and extremity temperatures to ensure that its functioning is not inhibited.  Some of the problems an athlete faces when they overheat include:

  • ‘Denaturing’ of important enzymes responsible for many functions such as energy production, waste removal, body fluid levels etc
  • Impaired nerve functioning
  • Impaired gaseous exchange efficiency
  • Dehydration

It makes sense then for an athlete to become as good at thermoregulation as possible so they can push their body further than the other athletes and not have to worry about overheating. This is where training in very hot or humid conditions comes in and why you commonly hear of teams spending time in a place with elevated heat and humidity in the weeks leading up to big competitions. In hot conditions the body temperature is raised by the external conditions, and in humid conditions that the body is unable to lose as much heat through evaporation of sweat. Both of these circumstances require the body to adapt and become more efficient at losing heat.  Some of the adaptations that take place are:

  • Increased capillary density at skin surface (improve heat loss via conduction and radiation)
  • Reduction of insulting fat layer under the skin
  • More alveoli and surrounding capillaries in lungs (greater surface area for extraction of heat via breathing)

#3 – Hypoxic Training

Hypoxic training basically involves exercising the body in conditions where the oxygen level is lower than at normal sea level (approx 21% at sea level). Special training chambers are used to regulate oxygen levels and whilst conditions are similar to altitude training, this technique is preferred for three main reasons:

1.)    You don’t have to climb to 6000 or more meters to find the right conditions, which can be difficult to do in flat countries

2.)    The composition of the air is very similar to normal air with regards to nitrogen and CO2 levels etc. This means that the body is trained in conditions more closely matched to competition conditions.

3.)    It is very easy to regulate temperature in hypoxic chambers, meaning that the body does not need to suffer any detrimental effects of very cold temperatures. In fact, you can match the temp and humidly levels very closely with those of the competition conditions.