APEX May Blog – Supplemental Oxygen. Who? What? Why?

The phrase “Live High, Train Low” is nothing new. The phrase came to the forefront through the physiological benefits of Living High (at altitude) and Training Low (at sea level). But how high is high enough, and how low is low enough? In short, the difference between the two elevations is vast enough to limit the places on earth where this is possible. Because of this, exercise physiologists and high performance coaches needed to find a new way to make this possible. Thus came Supplemental Oxygen training.

There is not “less oxygen” at altitude (Boulder, for example) in terms of a percentage in the air, but rather a lower air pressure. In fact, the percentage of oxygen in the air (21%) remains consistent across all places. Let’s use a balloon for example – You fill a balloon with air in New York City, and you also fill one in Aspen. You take these volumes of air to lab to get tested, and the percentages of air molecules are exactly the same between the two. You ask yourself – why is it so hard to breath in Aspen? That volume of air has fewer molecules all together, thanks to the lower air pressure. With the fewer molecules for any given volume of air, each breath you take at altitude allows for fewer Oxygen molecules to enter your blood stream when compared to sea level.

  • The Good – This creates a natural response for the body to produce additional red blood cells and hemoglobin to carry more Oxygen throughout its working muscles.

  • The Bad – The lack of Oxygen molecules in your bloodstream make it harder to reach and sustain intensities more easily reached at sea level. In short – you are not able to train as hard at altitude.

When you are a professional or aspiring professional endurance athlete, every ounce of your training and preparation is directed towards your goals. When athletes are looking to get the very most out of their training, they look to living at altitude to elicit the natural, physiological responses that will make them faster. Aside from the culture and accessibility, now you know why so many endurance athletes call Boulder, Colorado home. APEX has settled in Boulder, Colorado for all of the reasons above, and is lucky enough to have the equipment necessary to offer Supplemental Oxygen Training for cyclists, runners, swimmers and triathletes.


What if I train at sea level and sleep in an altitude tent?

While this may make sense on paper, in reality the burden this would put on your life is not feasible. To reap the benefits of living at altitude and eliciting the natural physiological responses, you must be at altitude the majority of your 24 hours each day. Some groups have created “Oxygen Houses” that limit the amount of oxygen in the air to mimic living at altitude (i.e. Oregon University), but you would still need to be in the house the majority of your day.

Should I use Supplemental Oxygen for every training session while living at altitude?

No. The goal of Supplemental Oxygen is to train at the high intensities that cannot be reached when training at altitude. You will not be training at these intensities for all of your workouts (we hope not!!!). If you are interested in finding out exactly how often to integrate Supplemental Oxygen into your training, contact an APEX Coach.

I am an amateur athlete, can I still benefit from Supplemental Oxygen Training?

Yes. Have a key race coming up? Maybe something at Sea Level? Reach out to us and we will help best determine the frequency and timing to help you prep for your event.

Have Questions on how to integrate Supplemental Oxygen Training into your program? Contact our High Performance specialists HERE.

Ready to Book? Click HERE to schedule your appointment on MindBody.

About the Author – Coach Cody:

Cody has coached for APEX Coaching since 2014, and also assisted on USA Cycling’s sports science team focusing on Track Cycling. Along with other APEX Coaches, he has experience with Supplemental Oxygen, MuscleSound, Metabolic Testing, and much more. He graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Kinesiology.