What is Oxygen Training?

Ken Black

Oxygen training refers to the use of reduced oxygen in an attempt to train the body to use oxygen more efficiently. This is often accomplished by staying at high altitudes, or possibly using a sealed chamber or tent that will simulate a low-oxygen environment. Athletes who use oxygen training may find that they are able to build greater levels of endurance when compared to competitors who do not.

A hyperbaric chamber, which can be used for oxygen training.
A hyperbaric chamber, which can be used for oxygen training.

Oxygen training is used to help increase the amount of red blood cells. The body, responding to a low-oxygen environment, will make adjustments that can help during competition, even though that is not the primary use for the changes. These oxygen-carrying red blood cells are one of the main components responsible for athletic performance. Those who are able to get oxygen to areas of the body faster will find they can perform better, especially at endurance sports.

Scuba divers who ascend too quickly may experience "the bends".
Scuba divers who ascend too quickly may experience "the bends".

There are a number of ways oxygen training can be used to help the body. The method chosen is one of personal preference. In some cases, people will choose to live at a higher altitude, then train at a lower altitude. This provides the advantage of having the body spend most of its time adjusting to the higher altitude. When training happens, the benefit of those adjustments will then be seen at the lower level. Those who do not have access to living conditions at higher altitudes may be able to use specialized equipment that will simulate a higher altitude, lower-oxygen environment in their homes.

The other method considered is often to live and train at high altitudes. While this may offer the greatest benefits, it may not be best for all athletes. Training at higher altitudes may need to be done, especially if the competition is taking place at higher altitudes, but this high-altitude training often takes a lot out of the body. Recovery from such training can take significantly longer than from training done at lower altitudes. This could lead to fewer training sessions, thus interrupting the ideal training schedule.

Hyperbaric oxygen training is another tool that can be used, though the cost makes this only an option for professional athletes, in most cases. The sole purpose of a hyperbaric chamber is to simulate different types of atmospheres. This is normally used in a medical environment for a variety of reasons. One of the most well known uses hyperbaric chambers is for scuba divers who surface too quickly, and need pressurized treatment in order to recover. Use of such a chamber in oxygen training is not nearly as common.

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