Altitude Training Verses Thermal Stress

Altitude Training Verses Thermal Stress

New research to be presented at, Sports Medicine Australia's 2013 Asics Conference of Science and Medicine in Sport, questions the value of AFL clubs spending in excess of half a million dollars on altitude training camps overseas.

The research by, Accredited Sports Physiologist and Industry Development Officer at Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA), Dr Ian Gillam suggests that thermal stress (by training in hot conditions) could deliver more relevant performance outcomes for AFL footballers, and is a much cheaper option.

'The benefits of altitude training for AFL players have been a hot topic over the past decade. The success of the Collingwood FC during that time, has ensured that every other AFL club has questioned if there really is any performance benefit in conducting overseas pre-season training camps for 2-3 weeks, (where players live and train at altitude)," he said.

'The question is does it actually increase the training response and running performance of AFL players when the season begins some 3 months later?  Importantly, is the expense of conducting these overseas altitude training camps with a cost of at least $500,000 is justified?"

A recently published study by McLean et al (2013) from the Collingwood FC on the physiological changes and running performance before and after living and training at 2100 m altitude for 19 days, enabled Gillam to perform a critical analysis of the camp protocol and the physiological and performance data.

The results showed that;
1.  A pre-season training camp at 2100 m altitude may produce a 1.5% improvement in 2000 meter running performance and other hematological changes in some players, for up to four weeks following the training camp. 

2.  As the season begins some three months after the altitude camp has been conducted, there is little, if any, evidence of any long lasting benefits from the pre-season altitude training camp, when the season begins in March?

3.  A two week combined heat and altitude training camp was conducted in altitude house with 17 AFL players at Carlton Football Club in 2011.  This study demonstrated that by progressively increasing an applied heat stress to produce a thermal adaptation the thermal stress alone produced a significant increase in endurance performance when performance was assessed in cool conditions.

4. While this performance benefit was rapidly lost in the group that was only exposed to the thermal stress, this may be a more relevant method of increasing the 'training stress" for AFL players.  However, players that were exposed to both heat and hypoxic training, maintained the performance benefit for up to 3 weeks after the training camp.  More research is needed to determine the sole effect of heat adaptation on performance in cool conditions, and how long any benefit is maintained.

5.  As AFL players may be required to play in hot conditions in early autumn, thermal adaptation is more specific to what is actually required, and may also reduce the risk of heat injuries to the players.

6.  Training in the heat does not require significant expense of short overseas altitude training camps, and on-going training in the heat, can be done 'at home" throughout the Australian summer

Ultimately, Gillam concluded that while hypoxic training does produce a small performance benefit, and apparently prolongs the performance benefit obtained from thermal stress, training in the heat alone might provide a more economical and relevant environmental stress for AFL footballers.

'The clubs might be better to use the cost savings from overseas training camps on other areas of performance improvement," he said in his conclusion," he said.

The 2013 Asics Conference of Science and Medicine in Sport is a multidisciplinary meeting for professionals with an interest or involvement in sports medicine, sports science, physical activity promotion and sports injury prevention. It is being held in Phuket, Thailand from October 22 to 25.

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