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Fitness Tips to Conquer High-Altitude Workouts

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Going for a run or bike ride when you get to a new place is a great way to start off your vacation—you can stretch your legs after a long car ride, scope out the destination, and burn off some calories before you start tasting all the place has to offer. But if your destination is at 5000 feet or higher (like Denver), prepare to make some adjustments to your usual routine, says Thomas Mahady, senior exercise physiologist at Hackensack University Medical Center.

That’s because when you go up in altitude, the air pressure is lower. And when you inhale, you’re able to take in less oxygen, which means you hold on to more carbon dioxide. At first, you might get a headache or some shortness of breath—signs your body wants more oxygen, but isn’t getting it. (While everyone experiences this differently—and not everyone feels it—the effect gets exponentially greater as you go higher, becoming noticeable after 5000 feet.) So if you try and run or bike, it might feel a lot harder. And, says Mahady, you could be more sore than usual the next day, because your muscles can’t flush out byproducts as easily. But that doesn’t mean you’re banished to the couch.

Before you go…
Train Long
If you want to run for an hour at altitude, you should be able to run for two at sea level, says Mahady. Before a high-altitude trip, include long, slow training runs or rides in your program. In the last few weeks, start to up your intensity so your lungs expand their capacity to process oxygen. (Speed up your sessions with 7 Running Tricks to Help You Speed Up in Hot Weather.)

Lift Weights
More muscle tissue helps deliver more oxygen to your bloodstream. So before you leave for your trip, make sure to hit the weight room. (Try our 7 Weight Plate Strength Exercises that Work Wonders.)

Once you’re there…
Take It Easy
Modify your workout, toning it down about 50 percent for the first three days, says Mahady. After that, experiment and see what you can handle.

Chug Water
A higher altitude creates inflammation in your body; drinking tons of H2O will help flush it out. “Keep your intake very high,” says Mahady. “Don’t let yourself get thirsty.” As for alcoholic beverages, he knows you’re not going to skip them on vacation, so he recommends drinking a glass of water before each glass of wine or beer to counteract the diuretic effect.

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