Altitude Training

by | Nov 10, 2017

What is it?

Training and sleeping at attitude bring benefits due to the fact that the body has to adapt to less oxygen being available. The main adaptation that occurs is the increase in red blood cell production so that the body is able to carry more oxygen in the blood. Given that cycling is mostly an aerobic sport, this is a very good thing.

How does it work?

There are two main training protocols:

1. Sleep High

Sleeping at altitude or in an altitude tent has a number of benefits. The main benefit is that body adapts and increases red blood cell production. In addition, I have found that heart rate is elevated throughout the night as the body works harder at rest to cope with the lower oxygen levels. This is like doing a very low intensity endurance workout while you are sleeping and can help with weight loss. Provided, that is, you don’t eat like a pig upon waking.

Hotel Parador, Mount Teide  Tenerife


2. Train High

High intensity interval training at altitude is much harder due to the lower amount of oxygen available. Regular training in this way will, again, force the body to adapt. In the absence of a mountain to train on, these sessions can be done in an altitude chamber (such as The Altitude Centre in London), or by using an altitude generator and a mask.

Simulated Altitude Training

Simulated Altitude Training

When should we use it?

It takes about a 4-week block to develop the adaptations, the benefits of which are greatest for a few days after the block. It is therefore best utilised just over 4 weeks prior to a key event. And, yes, I do have a system available to rent locally.

How has it worked for me?

I used the altitude tent for a 5 week period and ‘enjoyed’ some high intensity intervals at simulated altitude (twice a week over the same period) in the run up to the Tour of Sussex. During this time my FTP increased by about 20 watts and my total haemoglobin in the muscle (as measured using a Moxy monitor) increased by 8%.  This is shown below in the graphs of two tests that I did with the monitor. You can see that in the June test my maximum THb (brown line) was approaching 13.4 (mg/dl) versus 12.4 in the earlier testing on 12 May,

Testing on 12 May 2017


Testing on 28 June 2017

Now, it is not a miracle worker and the Tour of Sussex was still beyond my capabilities but I believe that the altitude training and associated increase in power helped me break a number of club course TT records and win a crit race from a solo breakaway.

Unhinged Observations

Now, when sleeping in an altitude tent it is important to try and not let the air out (in more ways than one) as it takes about an hour for the generator to replace the regular air with lower oxygen stuff.  This poses a problem when you need a wee.  I will leave you to guess about the solution I came up with?   Next in the series we will look at muscle oxygen saturation monitoring.


100 miles in the Chamber?

The other day, I received an invite from The Altitude Centre asking if I would like to join Dean Stott as he for rides 10 hours in preparation for riding the entire length of the Pan American Highway in a Guinness World Record time, in a bid to raise £1million for mental health, supporting the Heads Together charity partners. You can see more about Dean’s challenge at

Heads Together is a mental health initiative spearheaded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, which combines a campaign to tackle stigma and change the conversation on mental health with fundraising for a series of innovative new mental health services. As most of you will now be aware, I suffer from bipolar disorder and, recently, have been inspired to join the movement to end the stigma of mental ill health in the workplace.

Dean is doing 10 hours of this as prep for his challenge.  I thought it would be good to offer some support and ride with him for the equivalent of 100 miles on the stationary bikes.  This will take me about 5 hours. On a good day.

Dean’s target of £1m seems pretty daunting not unlike riding from the tip of South America to Alaska.  I would like to try and raise £1,000 to help. You can sponsor me here.

The scale of Dean’s challenge is apt because the scale of the job to do in ending the stigma of mental illness is huge.  The good thing is that there are a lot of talented people out there working to achieve it.

If you would like to come and join us for a 45 slot and try out exercising in The Altitude Centre then please email

Thanks for your support.

The Mower


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Hi, I’m the Unhinged Cyclist. That’s me in the pointy helmet with my trusty mower..

I am on a mission to help you get faster whilst bringing a lighter, self-deprecating look at cycling adventures. Get my tips to go faster on a time-budget HERE.
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