Need a breath?
Ever since I have moved to Colorado and experienced going from sea level to 6000 feet in elevation I've noticed that it's much harder to work out and takes a lot more effort to get the same workout in as before. That doesn't go without its benefits though, because working out in higher elevations has proven to whip me into shape faster than ever before. Here are some benefits to training in higher altitudes and what my experiences have been so far.
Adjusting to the air
The first most notable thing anyone will encounter when coming to an area like central Colorado is the lighter air. Because there is less oxygen in the air it means you are going to be working harder just by default to breath and maintain a normal resting state in your body. After a few months I adjusted but even simple things like going up the stairs proved to be a challenge. There was no way I was going to start up my intense workout routine in Colorado Springs until I first adjusted to the air. Once my lungs and body adjusted I began to take it slow and work myself into the routine I had previously been doing on the East Coast. It wasn't easy though, as I soon found out when I got my gym membership up and running.
The first thought I had after doing one workout at the gym was "Have I gotten weaker since I moved?" This thought raced through my head as I was struggling to run even 1/3 of the time and distance I previously did on the coast without feeling like dying and gasping for air. Even though we can adjust to the air and our bodies get used to it, the fact still remains that less oxygen is less oxygen no matter how you slice it. I had to cut back on my routine and take more frequent breaks in between runs and weight training sessions. It wasn't that I had gotten weaker; it's just the fact that training at higher elevations is always going to be more intense. I noticed that many Olympians come here to Colorado Springs to train because training at 6000 feet whips you into shape and gives you an increased lung capacity and increased blood count. My friend who has lived here for a while told me that people who live in higher elevations have in general about a pint more of blood than someone living at sea level. That much more blood filled with oxygen when heading back to normal sea level means increased performance and an edge, which is why I see Olympians here training hard during the off season in between those special events every 4 years.
As I have adjusted to the air and my workout I've noticed that I'm starting to get back to where I was at before I moved which is a great sign and very encouraging. I have also taken up hiking as a new hobby since prior to coming here there were no real mountains. Now I have 14,000 foot mountains in my backyard just waiting for me to conquer them. Hiking has proven to really smack me upside the head and forced my body to adjust and adapt quickly or else I would have failed many times. Because my workouts have been growing in intensity over the months I have no doubt that if I were to go back and visit the coast I'd literally be a machine and blow others away because of my increased lung capacity and increased oxygen levels in the blood. The weights have grown and the running sessions have gotten longer, so as I continue to work out and get in better shape the air is only proving to be a slight challenge now when before it was almost crippling my ability to do anything at all.
When training in higher altitudes you will have to drink an adequate amount of water since there are a number of things about being in higher elevations that cause water loss. For one, the higher altitude will increase your heart rate and urination frequency which means that your body goes through water quicker and therefore you need to be hydrated or you will be dehydrated extremely fast. Another reason is because up here in higher altitudes the air is drier and you will dehydrate quicker since less moisture is present at all times. I have found myself drinking a lot more water up here in the mountains of Colorado than I have down at the coast which proves to be both refreshing and annoying. It's refreshing because I love downing a cold glass of water to feel good and cool myself down, but it's annoying because I have to drink so much to stay hydrated that sometimes I don't want to drink anymore. Nonetheless it's important to stay well hydrated during your visit to the mountains, or if you move here. I can't stress this enough, dehydration is a very real threat and if you work out without having a lot of water present it will spell disaster especially if you involve yourself in a hike or mountain climb.
Intense cardio will be rough
No matter what kind of shape you are in, doing intense cardio in the mountains will never be easy because there is simply less oxygen to take in. No matter how hard you breath if there isn't enough oxygen you can feel dizzy and start to feel like passing out. I wanted to give the Insanity Workout a shot but being up here in the mountains I don't believe I can ever really attempt this unless my physical condition is insane already which defeats the point of the workout. I recommend if you do want to be intense to go at it hard for a brief time and then stop and breath. You can't do anything if your heart is about to burst from pumping to hard and you feel dizzy because there isn't enough oxygen in your system.
Enjoy the stay!
Whether you are here to stay or visiting for a while, enjoy the time up in the higher altitude areas because it's a wonderful experience. Don't let the mountain sickness and lack of oxygen hurt your excitement as being up here is amazing and quite a thrill. Take it easy when you first get up in higher elevations and don't overdo it or you will quickly get sick. Stay hydrated as well because you will dehydrate insanely fast if you aren't careful. Doing all of these things will ensure that you get used to the air so when you begin your own workout you can take it slow and steady. Your body will be glad you adjusted and didn't push yourself immediately like some people do.