Last Month I checked out Altitude Australia, a gym that sets the oxygen levels at high altitude, a whopping 4,200 metres above sea level when I was there!
If you are unfamiliar with altitude, basically the higher above sea level that you go, the less oxygen is in the air, making simple tasks like walking much more challenging. So in Altitude Australia's gym the oxygen is adjusted to match that of a particular altitude. This not only helps you prepare and train for going into higher altitude, but also intensifies your current training. Making your cardio training far more time efficient.
In July I completed the Classic Camino Inka Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. This was my first real experience at very high altitude, and I must say it was a serious shock to the system. The town of Cusco is 3,400 meters above sea level (1,200m higher than Australia’s highest peak!). This is where you stay and acclimatise before making your way to the start of the Inka trail. Along the trek you reach the highest point of 4,200m at the top of Dead Woman's Pass before descending into Machu Picchu that sits at an altitude of 2,430m. This 4,200m part, is the part I didn't know about until I was there getting briefed! I thought the highest point was just in the town of Cusco where we were staying and that all of our trekking was at a lower altitude! I also thought (stupidly) that Machu Picchu was the highest point on the trail which is only 220m higher than Mt Kosciuszko, so I hiked it a couple of times in training. I found in manageable and believed I was super prepared for the Inka trail... I really should have done my research!
I also discovered during the trek that the Inka people love stairs! Why wind up and around mountains when you can just go straight up! Endless stair climbing at 4,000m found me breathless after 5 or so steps and my heart pounding out my chest. I was born and raised on the coast - at sea level, so altitude isn't in my blood! Knowing what I know now, I wish I knew about Altitude Australia!!
About a month after I got home I found out about Altitude Australia's gym, so I really wanted to check it out. This time I knew what I was getting myself into, after my hikes in South America I was mentally prepared for how my body reacts and responds to altitude. That 'knowing' really did change my experience in the gym and would be the main reason that I would recommend anyone who is about to hike in altitude for the first time to go to an altitude gym beforehand. Learning your limits, your physical and mental responses to the lack of oxygen, and learning ways to cope that work for you are just as important as physically preparing your body.
In the gym I met up with a personal trainer to guide me though a session on what to do in an altitude gym. First up I learnt the importance of constantly measuring the amount of oxygen that is in your blood. Every machine has a little clip that goes on the end of your finger and will give you a reading. If it goes below 80 you are recommended to go outside until it gets back up above 80. The lowest I got to was 81 and trust me, you will know about it! That felt exactly what it was like on the tough parts of the Inka Trail!
All the work we did was explosive interval training, with a maximum effort of only about 20 seconds and a break for about 45 seconds. We did this on the treadmill where the speed got faster each time, on the bike where the resistance got harder each time and also on a skiing machine. It has been proven that this short but intense interval training is highly effective. I personally love this kind of training as you can really push yourself to your limits in a short amount of time.
One thing I was surprised about was the type of people that were there. I assumed that this would be specifically for people who are going into altitude, but that definitely isn't the case! The majority of people there were bike riders, runners, triathletes and the like. I had never considered that by jumping into a different altitude for 30 mins you could achieve a work out that would take you hours outside at low altitude. This gym gets your heart pounding within seconds of starting your workout allowing you to reach your goals in much less time. Regardless if you are wanting to compete or just looking to improve your fitness and overall health, you will find a dramatic increase in your fitness, stamina and power at sea level.
After my intense workout I was lucky enough to try out their Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber for an hour. This is an enclosed chamber that contains 100% pressurised oxygen. These chambers are used to help speed up recovery and for the treatment of a large number of medical conditions. I was told that it’s very normal to fall asleep in it as it is so relaxing, I wanted to stay awake to experience it but boy did my eyes get heavy! After I came out of the chamber I felt a million bucks for next couple of days.
I really wish that I had discovered this gym before my hiking but I am so glad that I know about it now. I am planning on adding altitude training into my weekly routine as I found it such an effective and time efficient way to work out. I also would not do another altitude hike without having this in my training schedule; I couldn't recommend it enough for summit hiking.
To find out more check out their site: http://altitudeaustralia.com.au