What is it?
By sleeping in a tent at a simulated high altitude, you reduce the amount of oxygen you are able to breathe in, which forces the body to increase its red blood cell count. Then, when you train back at sea level, you are able to compete more effectively because a greater amount of oxygen is now being delivered to your muscles than before.
>>> Bike Fitting. Which approach is best?
Not everyone has the luxury of training at altitude, so many people, cyclists in particular, hire altitude tents or hypoxic chambers which they will sleep in to get the same effect. Some cyclists have been known to train in them, with some pitching them up over their desk at work.
I hired an altitude tent and slept in it for a month. We all want to be faster and are looking for ways to become faster and fitter. Altitude training can do that, so I decided to try sleeping in an altitude tent to see if an amateur club cyclist, such as myself, could benefit and see a physiological improvement.
What does it consist of?
Firstly, there is a tent. Our test model is designed to fit over a queen sized bed, with your mattress inside, although other sizes are available. Some tents are large enough that you can comfortably set up an exercise bike or treadmill inside.
The next crucial piece is the hypoxic generator. This is connected to the tent via a tube, and it is this unit which regulates the atmosphere inside the tent.
The tent simulates the atmospheric oxygen concentration at 2,700 metres above sea level — roughly the height of the Stelvio Pass.
You can use the control to set the altitude you want and it ranges from 0m to 3,962m, which is roughly from sea level to the height of the Eiger in Switzerland.
The other bits of kit are an air filter which fits over the end of the tube and an Oximeter. The filter cleans the air of pollution, pollen and microbes, whilst the Oximeter is used to monitor your heart rate and oxygen saturation levels.
In healthy individuals at sea level, blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) is typically 98-100%. Whilst at 2350m our saturation is likely to drop to around 87-92%. Our heart rate is likely to be higher too.
The guidelines for using the tent suggest you record your blood oxygen saturation and resting heart rate every morning.
How much does it cost?
In the world of elite sport, marginal gains and Olympic gold medals, the price of renting or hiring an altitude tent almost becomes insignificant to professional athletes. But to the club athlete looking to boost their performance in a Grand Fondo or race, the price may be more restrictive.