Athletes can take their workout to new heights at an altitude training room in the Bay Area.
The recently opened Air Fit, run by fitness company Leisure Sports, is a 1,100-square-foot room equipped with a massive compressor and air tank that reduce oxygen levels in the room. In theory, this allows athletes to improve fitness without having to increase exercise time, potentially lessening the muscle and joint strain that comes with longer sessions.
“The idea of hypoxic training is that the body has to work harder to do the same amount of activity,” says Matt Formato, business development director at Hypoxico Altitude Training Systems. The equipment manufacturer, known for its altitude sleep tents and workout masks, helped Leisure Sports develop Air Fit. The two companies first teamed up fall 2011 to create The Summit Training Studio, a 400-square-foot altitude workout room at ClubSport in Tigard, Oregon.
Beyond the increased calorie burn, Formato, along with Dennis Dumas, director of wellness at Leisure Sports, says that training at altitude can improve lactate thresholds, oxygen utilization, and metabolic rates, possibly increasing red blood cell counts as well, which can afford athletes a competitive edge both at altitude and sea level.
Despite such claims, most altitude training research focuses on the effects of living in the mountains and training at lower elevations, rather than on interval training in hypoxic environments. The live-high-train-low approach is the preferred altitude training program for elite athletes, explains Jay Kearney, a former physiologist with the United States Olympic Committee who works with Osprey Leadership Consulting as a performance adviser.
Some sports physiologists are not quite convinced that hypoxic interval training can provide all the same physical changes.
“The bottom line is that one cannot expect to see an increase in red blood cells or an improvement in lactic acid metabolism when the ‘dose’ is based on a two-hour workout, even if that workout is done three to five times a week,” says Randy Wilber, senior sports physiologist with the United States Olympic Committee.
But Formato and Dumas counter that the science of altitude training rooms is so new researchers haven’t had time to publish their findings on living high and training low. Some early studies point toward benefits in oxygen utilization and sprint performance, but these are still ongoing.
Because few nonprofessional athletes are blessed enough by geography to have access to high-altitude training and its benefits, Air Fit has a ready audience. The new facility opened this month at the Quad, a Pleasanton, California, gym. There, as many as 27 members at a time can take high-altitude classes that include circuit training, rowing, spinning, and one-on-one sessions.
Unlike athletes who use altitude masks attached to a machine, users of Air Fit don’t have to be tied to a stationary bike or treadmill. “We wanted to offer something no one else was,” Dumas explains. “It’s not just a room built for hypoxic training, but it’s built for high intensity, functional training.”
Many of the Air Fit classes—Summit Yoga and Mile High Circuit, for instance—will be programmed to simulate altitudes of 5,000 to 6,000 feet. Oxygen levels can be set to approximate those at altitudes as high as 22,000 feet, but Dumas says that such extreme settings will be used exclusively by elite athletes training to summit Everest or other major peaks.
It’s just one of those rules. Coaches, runners, and pretty much everyone else involved in the sport have traditionally emphasized that walking isn’t an option there. But new research and training methods indicate that walking may not be a sign of weakness, but a tool for becoming an even stronger runner.
While walking can be frowned upon, incorporating it into your runs and races can prevent the onset of fatigue. Recent studies published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research show that passive-resting activities like walking can reduce heart rates in as few as 25 seconds. Even better, they can lead to better performance in ensuing legs of your run, allowing you to gain more ground than if you’d pounded along the whole time with no breaks.
Jeff Galloway, a former Olympian who now coaches runners, came up with the run-walk-run formula in 1974, when he saw an opportunity to help non-runners benefit from the sport. What began as a way to help newbies complete their first laps around a track morphed into a training program where 98 percent of its runners complete races at faster times and without injuries. Galloway credits walking with promoting the cognitive and physical control needed to make every run successful.
“Run-walk-run methods conserve energy and erase fatigue,” Galloway. “When you insert walk breaks, from the beginning of your run to its end, you never have to be out of commission.” The advice is supported by a study in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, which shows that walking helps runners conserve the energy they need to complete a successful workout.
To know when and for how long to take a break, you need to know what pace you’re shooting for in your workout or race. Galloway says that if your goal is an eight-minute mile, you’ll run for four-minute intervals and walk for thirty-second ones. A nine-minute mile would require running for four minutes and walking for one.
Though antibiotics can often clear up symptoms of Lyme disease within a few weeks, some patients experience severe symptoms like nervous system abnormalities, heart rhythm irregularities, and arthritis weeks or even months after infection. At this point, scientists don’t yet completely understand the exact cause of the longer-term symptoms, and they aren’t easy to treat.
But new research out of Johns Hopkins and Stanford University could lay the groundwork to help determine which Lyme disease patients develop post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS), a little-understood and controversial disease.
To investigate, researchers at Hopkins set out to identify the biological “signatures” of particular immune system molecules called mediators; the idea was to determine which parts of the immune response are mobilized in reaction to the disease, particularly in the beginning, when patient symptoms are most acute.
After studying the levels of 65 different molecules, the team’s analysis found two different groups of Lyme disease patients in the early stages of infection: “mediator-high” and “mediator low.” Those in the high-mediator group exhibited more severe symptoms, higher rates of antibody production, and higher liver enzymes before treatment.
They also showed higher levels of three particular mediators, which returned to normal after treatment. Researchers found that patients in the mediator-low group seemed to have been unable to mount a strong immune response to the disease.
The levels of particular mediators and their receptors may be important biomarkers for Lyme disease that could be linked to individual symptoms.
“With this signature in hand we can begin to ask in larger numbers of patients if all or part of this signature stays elevated in some and if these can be related to PTLDS,” says Mark Soloski, senior author of the report and a professor of medicine at Hopkins.
“These biomarkers have the potential to provide insight into disease process but also may be of value in predicting who may develop PTLDS as well as suggest pathways that can be targeted for therapy.”
Austin’s location in the Hill Country has turned it into the outdoor sports capital of Texas.
Town Lake: The city’s signature running loop—you could argue that it’s the best run in Texas—parallels the shoreline of downtown’s Town Lake. The route takes you on a shaded and crushed-gravel track on the south side (the north side is mostly paved concrete). Multiple bridge crossings allow runners to plan 5k, 10k, or 10-mile jaunts.
Barton Springs: This spring-fed, three-acre pool is an Austin institution and a welcome escape from the summer heat. For lap swimmers, head to the lanes on the other side of the Colorado River at Deep Eddy Pool, a bracing freshwater-spring swimming hole that’s also Texas’s oldest pool.
Texas Rowing Center: Toward the west end of Lady Bird Lake, close to downtown, the Texas Rowing Center offers kayaks, SUPs, and canoes to rent. The boats are a great way to explore the tree-shaded shoreline. Experienced rowers can rent a scull and get in a workout on the same water used by the University of Texas crew team.
Barton Creek Greenbelt: Park at Barton Springs and tackle this seven-mile network of mountain biking and hiking trails. Stick to the main trail for an easy ride through the hills southwest of downtown. You’ll find highly technical trails with big drops just off the main trail. Mellow Johnny’s bike shop can provide details and full-suspension mountain-bike rentals for $50 per day.
Whole Foods: The grocery chain’s flagship store, just west of downtown, has top-notch service and a dazzling array of food choices (it’s one of the biggest Whole Foods locations in the country). Employees will even deliver to your hotel for free.
Texas Running Company: Located on the north side of Town Lake, just three blocks from the famed Lake Trail loop on N. Lamar, this massive shrine to all things running dominates the local running scene. Tuesday and Thursday night group runs attract runners of all abilities.