Altitude Cycling at Crystal Springs

Altitude Cycling at Crystal Springs

It’s an odd feeling and most travellers have likely experienced something similar. You live in Gauteng and fly ’down’ to Cape Town for a holiday, only to find that the first day or so you’re more tired and the air feels thicker around you. Perhaps your active family decides to do a three-day hiking trail into the mountains and your heart races, even when you’re hiking at the same pace as when you started at base camp. It all has to do with altitude and we’re delving into altitude cycling at Crystal Springs.

What is all the fuss about?

It’s trendy to be healthy and to share all your ’gains’ via social media’ for family and friends to gush and compliment you over, and most of the time the latest tips and tricks in training, keeping fit or living a healthy lifestyle hail from the stars – the celebrity athletes.

Altitude training is no different and has become a preferred way to practice for all the cycling athletes who partake in the Tour de France (and other major cycling challenges and events) to prepare themselves for the varied terrain they have to master in order to win.

These athletes look to the hills for similar tracks to the ones they face on altitude challenges, where they race along paths of 1 500m above sea level, or higher if they are training at Crystal Springs, to acclimatise their bodies for the upcoming race.

Chris Froome at Crystal Springs

Chris Froome preparing for the Tour de France at Crystal Springs Mountain Lodge in 2016.

How does it all work?

Think back to your vacation at a lower sea level or a trip up a mountain and the effect it had on your body. At sea level the air is thicker, meaning it has a higher oxygen density than at 1 500m above sea level.

Your body, therefore, has to work harder, breathing faster and accelerating your heart beat, to provide the same amount of oxygen to your blood cells as it would at sea level.

Cyclists at High Altitude

Why would anyone want to do this?

An argument can be made for and against altitude training as it is entirely up to you and how your body reacts to it – everyone is different!

For most amateur cyclists it may not be an issue, however many competitors and professional cyclists prefer working this method of training into their routine to prepare for their races, because training at higher altitudes stimulates the development of red blood cells, which transport oxygen throughout your body. This means that cyclists can carry more oxygen and won’t fatigue as quickly.

Most trainers suggest that the optimal altitude to train at is in the vicinity of 1 500m above sea level, and for approximately two weeks. Training in sessions like this shortly before an event increases the body’s ability to produce red blood cells for oxygen transportation and the effects only wear off a few weeks after the session. So if you have a race four weeks down the road, you may want to invest in a little altitude training now to prepare!

Daryl Impey at Crystal Springs

Daryl Impey and Team at Crystal Springs in 2015 for high altitude training.

Tips to prepare for higher altitude training:

  1. Before hopping in your car and driving to a higher altitude destination, like Crystal Springs, discuss your intentions with your practitioner. They will be able to offer insight and medication you may want to take along.
  2. Take it easy when you arrive! Give yourself some time to become acclimatised to the area for at least a full day before any vigorous training commences.
  3. Drink plenty of water throughout your training – your body will be working harder and thus losing moisture more quickly.
  4. Eat healthily and make sure you replenish your body’s reserves after each training session.
  5. Try steering clear of alcoholic beverages as they tend to slow breathing patterns and your body is already working hard to absorb the same amount of oxygen as it would back home.
  6. Remember that being a fit cyclist does not play a role in your ability to acclimatise and that genetics often influence an athlete’s ability to train at higher altitudes.

Cyclist taking a break

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