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Enhancing team-sport athlete performance: is altitude training relevant?

François Billaut, Christopher J Gore, Robert J Aughey
Sports Medicine 2012 September 1, 42 (9): 751-67
22845561
Field-based team sport matches are composed of short, high-intensity efforts, interspersed with intervals of rest or submaximal exercise, repeated over a period of 60-120 minutes. Matches may also be played at moderate altitude where the lower oxygen partial pressure exerts a detrimental effect on performance. To enhance run-based performance, team-sport athletes use varied training strategies focusing on different aspects of team-sport physiology, including aerobic, sprint, repeated-sprint and resistance training. Interestingly, 'altitude' training (i.e. living and/or training in O(2)-reduced environments) has only been empirically employed by athletes and coaches to improve the basic characteristics of speed and endurance necessary to excel in team sports. Hypoxia, as an additional stimulus to training, is typically used by endurance athletes to enhance performance at sea level and to prepare for competition at altitude. Several approaches have evolved in the last few decades, which are known to enhance aerobic power and, thus, endurance performance. Altitude training can also promote an increased anaerobic fitness, and may enhance sprint capacity. Therefore, altitude training may confer potentially-beneficial adaptations to team-sport athletes, which have been overlooked in contemporary sport physiology research. Here, we review the current knowledge on the established benefits of altitude training on physiological systems relevant to team-sport performance, and conclude that current evidence supports implementation of altitude training modalities to enhance match physical performances at both sea level and altitude. We hope that this will guide the practice of many athletes and stimulate future research to better refine training programmes.

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