Who Needs Steroids?

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, March 1999

Who Needs Steroids?
The legal (if odd) new way to give yourself a boost

By Rob Coppolillo

Blood-doping or injecting yourself with EPO may have alluring results, but shouldn't there be a tidier way to enhance performance? Olympic track cyclist Shaun Wallace claims to have answered that question with the Wallace Altitude Tent: a pricey nylon dome that you rig over your bed to simulate sleeping at high elevation. Now, he proposes, any schlub can follow the "live high, train low" regimen in vogue among elite athletes without moving to a place like Colorado Springs. Training low, the theory goes, provides ample oxygen to perform high-intensity workouts, while sleeping high forces your body to produce extra red blood cells, which can carry more oxygen to working muscles ù in effect increasing your aerobic capacity. The tent's hypoxic generator pumps in air with about a third less oxygen than the sea-level variety, flushing the thick air out through the seams. Flick a switch and you're transported to a 9,000-foot dreamland. When you emerge, you'll feel like Superman ù or maybe even a wildly popular European cyclist.

But does it really work? A fair question, considering the money you'd be plunking down: The tent runs $5,395 and fits beds up to queen size (877-258-8368). "Without a study to specifically emulate this system, it's difficult to say if it works," says Amy Roberts, sports science coordinator at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. "However, it may. And if an athlete feels like it works, then it does ù even if it's psychological." So far, members of national cycling and nordic skiing teams in Australia, the United States, and Great Britain have ponied up for tents. Wallace recommends using it for a good 10 weeks before an event. And no, there is no money-back guarantee. "There are too many factors beyond our control to make promises," says Wallace, who feels like the science behind his idea is proof enough of its effectiveness. "We'd end up with people buying tents before their national championships and returning them afterward ù mission accomplished!"

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