BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- For winter sports athletes, including Olympians competing in Vancouver this week, the altitude of the sports venue can have a significant impact on performance, requiring athletes in skill sports, such as figure skating, ski jumping and snowboarding, to retool highly technical moves to accommodate more or less air resistance.
When considering the challenges and benefits of training and performing at sea level verses altitude, people often think of the effect altitude can have on oxygen delivery to muscles -- at higher altitudes, the body initially delivers less oxygen to muscles, which can result in fatigue occurring sooner during exercise. Higher altitudes also have less air density -- about 3 percent reduction for every 1,000 feet -- which can result in faster speeds in ski and skating races due to less aerodynamic drag, but can also affect timing and other technical components in skill sports.
"Many athletes perform thousands upon thousands of moves so they get a certain motor pattern ingrained," said Robert Chapman, an expert in altitude training at Indiana University. "A different altitude will change the feedback they get from balance and proprieception. In an endurance sport such as cross country skiing or biathlon, for competition at altitude it takes about 10-14 days to adjust. For a skill sport, it's harder to judge how long it will take to acclimate to the reduced air density at altitude. Hopefully, these athletes have incorporated this into their training, maybe in the last year or for a period of time, not just the two weeks leading up to competition."
Chapman, an exercise physiologist in the Department of Kinesiology in IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, wrote about the topic in a special Winter Olympics issue of the journal Experimental Physiology. The article, "Altitude training considerations for the winter sport athlete," was published online last week. Co-authors in
|Contact: Robert Chapman|