During altitude training, the body becomes stressed as a result of the lower oxygen environment than that of the athletes home environment. This can be accomplished by either traveling to higher elevations, say Colorado... or by sleeping in an altitude tent or chamber in one's own home. Either way, if the body spends enough time at lower partial pressures of oxygen... the body will respond to this stress by producing more red blood cells. This of course becomes of benefit when the athlete returns to a normobaric training environment as the increase in red blood cells can result in an increase in oxygen carrying capacity and greater aerobic capacity. Which of course, will potentially lead to the ability to carry out aerobic activities longer at higher thresholds and the ability to recover from anaerobic activities faster. A definite performance enhancement aid!</p> <p>Now for the untold story of Altitude Training. Additional red blood cells are great for supplying vascular tissue with additional oxygen, but non-vascular tissues like ligaments, tendons, and inter-vertebral discs gain no benefit from these additional blood cells. On the contrary, this scenario puts the athlete at increased risk of injury to low vascular tissues as a result of higher workloads and consequently more micro-trauma with no increase in the rate of healing and repair. In simpler terms... Altitude training paints the perfect picture for overtraining and overuse injuries. Let's face it, there is a fine line between too much rest and not enough when you are trying to maximize your athletic potential... and anything that increases workload capacity without equally raising the healing and repair capacity of the entire system will ultimately upset this balance!
Mild hyperbaric therapy on the other hand may overcome this problem by dissolving greater amounts of oxygen to the tissues under pressure. Once dissolved, gases must follow the law of diffusion and move from greater concentration to lesser concentration; meaning they are going to be prone to move into the non-vascular tissues such as ligaments, tendons, and inter-vertebral discs. Further, the increased pressure helps to reduce edema and inflammation. Just as you would wrap your ankle to reduce swelling, the increased pressure from the hyperbaric environment could assist in accomplishing this goal. But wait, it does this to the entire body! If you play contact sports and your head gets knocked around a bit, you can't exactly wrap your head, nor can you put it in the ice bath like your ankle, and not to mention... your head is already as elevated as it is going to get! Why not try a <a href="../products/american_dive.php">hyperbaric chamber to overcome these hurdles and address inflammation to tissues that are otherwise difficult to treat without drugs?
A little confused, lets break down the science and physiology of how hyperbaric and hypobaric work... then there will be no question what is happening nor how!
Hypobaric training and/or therapy is the application of less pressure as compared to the athletes everyday training and/or competition environment for prolonged periods of time. The pressure differential may be the equivalent of an individual who lives at sea level instead living at 10,000-20,000 feet above sea level. With less pressure at these higher altitudes, there are less molecules of oxygen per specified volume as compared to the same specified volume at a lower altitude. This results in less oxygen available to the tissues of which the body responds via producing more blood cells to hold and carry more oxygen; allowing the body to continue to perform physical and biological tasks as necessary. One or two hours per day of deprived oxygen will not yield a tremendous increase red blood cells, instead it is necessary to spend 12 or more hours per day for at least three weeks in order to get the body to respond to any potential beneficial degree. If using a hypobaric chamber or altitude tent, the athlete can capitalize on the enhanced performance in everyday training; known as living high-training low. On the contrary, if the athlete must travel to high altitudes in order to accomplish this task, know as living high-training high; the benefit will not be apparent until they have returned to a lower altitude for further training and competition. Sadly, in the latter scenario... the benefits will be short lived. Besides the benefits... this form of training and/or lifestyle comes with drawbacks. The increase in blood cells makes the blood thick, which can be difficult for the heart to pump and can be very problematic for the tiny capillaries of peripheral tissues. In other words, instead of more oxygen... many tissues actually receive less. In addition, lowered immunity and potential muscle wasting from your bodies demands for energy make this type of training potentially counterproductive.
On the other hand, mild hyperbaric therapy is the application of greater pressure for much shorter periods of time, 45-90 minutes per day. The increase in pressure and oxygen concentration create a gradient by which oxygen becomes dissolved directly into the plasma at concentrations 40-150% greater than normal. In a matter of minutes the blood stream becomes saturated with this greater oxygen concentration and carries it to the many and varied tissues of the body. The unique aspect of hyperbaric however is that due to the concentration gradient, oxygen diffuses from greater concentration to lesser concentration… in simpler terms… physics says the oxygen must go where it isn’t. Unlike hemoglobin bound oxygen which is limited to the circulatory system, dissolved oxygen has no boundaries. Hence forth, tissues like ligaments, tendons, inter-vertebral discs, and other non-vascular tissues may directly benefit from this readily available oxygen. Further, the pressure may also reduce inflammation and edema, which may help to restore nutrient delivery and waste removal from injured and healing tissues. This alone would make hyperbaric a useful tool in and of itself as one could treat inflammation and edema of the entire body without the use of drugs and without the problems associated with common injury treatment methods such as compression and ice. Compression and icing surely keep the inflammation and resulting edema down; however, they also restrict blood flow and thus tissue oxygenation. Hyperbaric on the other hand gives us the best of both worlds; the ability to increase oxygen while reducing edema.
In summary, mild hyperbaric has been demonstrated to be a safe method for aiding the body in healing and repair where as hypobaric can be a risky gamble with potential benefits. Some of the potential problems associated with hypobaric training could be buffered through use of a hyperbaric environment; however, only the athlete themselves truly know how hard they can push their threshold and when it is time to take a break. There is a little truth to the old adage..."No Pain, No Gain!" but consider these to modifications. "Sick, No Gain!" and "Injured, No Gain!". Train smarter and harder!
About the Author: Greg Harris is the founder of Hyperbaric Options LLC and has spoken publicly about health & wellness in various settings over the past eight years. Greg has a passion for human potential and is a firm believer that nearly all of the health problems we face today, from degenerative neurological conditions to the common cold, are preventable and reversible. As a health professional, Greg has a unique ability to connect the dots where others have left them scattered; it is this ability to integrate disciplines and think outside of the box that give his lectures and written materials a fresh point of view.