Altitude affects skill sports along with endurance events at Olympics says report

Don’t expect numerous records to be broken at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games due to the dense sea-level air says article.

We take you behind the scenes this month with our timely Vancouver Games Blog, an insider perspective on sport medicine and science headlines, talking points, statistical data and emerging trends.

Robert Chapman, an exercise physiologist in the Department of Kinesiology in Indiana University’s School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, wrote about “Altitude training considerations for the winter sport athlete,” in a special Winter Olympics issue of the journal Experimental Physiology:

“The general thought is that altitude slows you down because you have less oxygen going to your muscles,” Chapman said. “But at altitude, just as it is easier to hit a home run in the thin air of Denver, speed skaters in Calgary and Salt Lake City could skate faster, move through the air faster, because there was less drag. Eight years after Salt Lake City, we have natural improvements that you’d expect to see involving training, coaching and technology, but we won’t see many records in Vancouver. It doesn’t mean the athletes are worse, if anything they’re probably better. It’s the effects of altitude on athletes’ times.”

Chapman and his co-authors recommend several considerations for optimal training and performance at altitude:

Allow extra time and practice for athletes to adjust to changes in projectile motion. Athletes in sports such as hockey, shooting, figure skating and ski jumping may be particularly affected.

Allow time for acclimatization for endurance sports: Three to five days if possible, especially for low altitude (1,640-6,562 feet); one to two weeks for moderate altitude (6,562-9,843 feet); and at least two weeks if possible for high altitude (more than 9,843 feet). Chapman said altitude affects breathing, too, with breathing initially being harder at higher altitudes.

Increase exercise-recovery ratios as much as possible, with a 1:3 ratio probably optimal, and consider more frequent substitutions for sports where this is allowed, such as ice hockey. Recovery refers to the amount of time an athlete eases up during practice between harder bouts. If an athlete runs hard for one minute, following this with three minutes of slower running would be optimal before the next sprint. The recovery period gives athletes more time to clear lactic acid build up from their muscles.

Consider the use of supplemental oxygen on the sidelines in ice hockey or in between heats in skating and Alpine skiing to help with recovery. Chapman said this helps calm breathing, which can be more difficult at altitude.

Living at high altitudes while training at low altitudes can help athletes in endurance sports improve performance at lower altitudes.

View an abstract of the article here. Read more about the article at PHYSORG.com

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