Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hypoxic training begins today...

As I mentioned in my previous post, I planned to start hypoxic training this week.  Tuesday offered me a brief time (10 minutes with and 10 minutes without) to test out the setup on my elliptical machine.  My spO2 began at 99% without the mask and then plummeted to 88% when I bumped the altitude to 12,000 feet.  Later, I tried 15,000 feet for 10 minutes at the same workload; my spO2 dropped to 74%.  Needless to say, I was worried.  That low level seemed too low to workout and recovery so I decided to call an expert - Brian Oestrike from  I spoke with Brian this morning and he assured me that 88% was safe - perhaps too safe to gain much benefit - but my 15,000 foot foray was well below an acceptable range.  He gave me some pointers about how to better acclimate to Everest conditions via hypoxic training and passive training (often referred to as Intermittent Hypoxic Training or IHT).  Here are a few points I gained from our conversation and his subsequent e-mail:
  1. The expected spO2 during training ought to be between 79% and 84%.  Yes, these might seem low values but I am training at low O2 levels - not sleeping at those levels.  Brian said that when he was on Everest, he saw levels in the low 70's and for some who were not well acclimatized, their spO2 levels might be as low as 60%.  Sheesh!  So my 15,000 foot, 10-minute exercise experiment gave me a hint about what I might feel like on Everest...on a warm day.
  2. A reasonable, initial goal is to exercise 30-90 minutes, 3-5 times per week at the maximum level of the machine (12,000 feet).  Later, I can increase the altitude by the high altitude adapter (the same one that allowed me to up the level to 15,000 feet).  That strange elbow connected to my Hypoxic generator is the high altitude adapter (more later on that contraption):
  3. Adjust the intensity to meet your O2 demands.  Brian suggested that I crank up the Hypoxico machine to the highest altitude (12,000 feet) for all my workouts and then adjust the intensity to ensure that my spO2 stays within the 79% to 84% range.  For now, he suggested that I favor lower 80% - at least initially - so I can get accustomed to the stress and acclimate well to the demands.
  4. Stay at 12,000 feet initially and, after two weeks, adjust the altitude as I get acclimatized to both the low O2 levels and the workloads.
  5. Introduce IHT into the training program.  IHT or Intermittent Hypoxic Training is simple - or at least it seems so to me.  You increase the altitude to 21,500 feet, put the mask on and sit for 5 minutes then take it off for 5 minutes.  Repeat 4 to 6 times while monitoring my spO2 levels to ensure it never dips below 80%.  Sounds like a good way to relax, no?  Not so fast!  Brian says that he adds some calisthenics into the routine after he feels comfortable with the initial plan.
  6. Eventually, phase out the IHT in favor of more altitude exercise.  

Today I began my hypoxic training in earnest.  Here I am on my elliptical trainer with the hypoxic mask on while I workout for an hour and a half:

Brian added via email.....
The more I use our equipment the more I feel the recipe for success, and rapid ascents, is in sleeping lower (like the schedule below) but spending as much time as possible during the day time as high as possible. You can do this two ways, (1) with the mask on doing a variant of IHT, (2) spending time in the tent during the day with the system cranked all the way up. Let me elaborate on these but the key for both of them is to constantly monitor your oxygen saturation (SpO2) and make sure it stays above 80%.

(1). The IHT protocol is typically done in a passive fashion while resting on a couch for 5 minutes on and 5 minutes off. This protocol is designed with the expectation that most people will dip below 80% after 5 minutes. However, as you become more acclimated from sleeping and/or exercising at altitude you will be able to keep your Sp02 above 80% for longer periods of time with shorter rest intervals at sea level. I generally strive for about 3 - 15 minute intervals with the mask on while only about 3 minutes off. If I'm really hoping to charge something high really fast, I'll even get to the point where I'm mildly active at 20,000+ ft. You will quickly notice that when you are active at that elevation your Sp02 will quickly drop and so it's important to constantly monitor Sp02 along with considering how you feel.

(2) Hypoxico is strictly against sleeping with the High Altitude Adapter on which is extremely dangerous. However, it is possible for a single user to use the HAA combined with the Tent if Sp02 is regularly monitored. I suggest doing this for a few hours during the day. It will take a few hours to get to the highest altitudes possible. Because of this I will generally start "filling up the tent" an hour or two before I plan to use it. Then I will just relax and watch a movie on my labtop or try and read a book.

These training methods are only necessary for individuals with extremely aggressive acclimatization schedules. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to let me know.
As you can see, the service Brian provides is really top notch.  He spent an hour on the phone with me this morning and he answered all my questions.  Specifically, I asked him about the nature of spO2 readings and whether they fluctuate greatly over time.  He told me about a new interface between a wrist pulse-oximeter and an Android tablet that logs HR and spO2 continuously.  Here is the device:

Brian started using the monitor recently (last night in fact) and noted that both his resting HR and spO2 fluctuated throughout the night.  I think Kathy and I will start monitoring our levels right away.  Stay tuned for more data.  NOTE:  I am not a representative for Hypoxico but I am one happy customer.  Thanks Brian.

OK, time to catch my breath and workout while watching a movie with my son.  Tomorrow, I push off for a weekend sailboat race; should be a great time and a well-deserved break from training.

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