Author’s Note: In three months, I will be participating in a mountain trail run stage race. It will be my third time up in the Himalayas. Two weeks ago, fresh from 10 days and 204 miles of fastpacking the JMT (John Muir Trail) in the Sierras I found an email in my inbox that really piqued my interest. I couldn’t resist the onsite assignment to learn more about a Hypoxic environment in Pleasanton, CA. The focus of my training this year is to learn from my previous experience in the Himalayas, research about altitude training, and incorporate what I learn into my training plan. This review was based on a tour of the facility and a sample demo of a workout with a coach in the Hypoxic room.
Sea Level to 12,000 ft
The monitor showed 12,000 ft above sea level right above the spinning machine I was on. It was warm in the room and in just five minutes my breathing was labored. My heart rate was increased, I was starting to sweat and felt the thin air. Right outside the door is sea level and upon entering the room, I was at 12,000 ft. My body responded with a shock immediately. Dennis, an Airfit expert, brought in water and a bar. I asked him to drop down the altitude to about 10,000 ft or even 9,000 ft. In a matter of minutes after opening the back door of the room, I was down to 10,000 ft at altitude. Carlo, the director of Airfit and coach responsible for designing the workout programs, came in and introduced himself while I was struggling to catch my breath as I pedaled on the spinning machine. I almost brought my Pulsox to see what my oxygen saturation level was in the room but Carlo had one at hand. I saw a few Pulsox monitors nearby for clients to use. 78% was my reading. That’s no surprise coming from sea level into an altitude as high as Pinchot Pass (12,130 ft) and Mather Pass (12,100 ft) both I climbed over just a week ago in the Sierras.
Intensity at Altitude
The workouts Carlo designed for my Air Fit session were intense. We started out with a few dynamic stretches. Remember, the room is now at around 10,000 ft in altitude so I was working hard doing the stretching. The workout consisted of the following:
3 x 30 secs sprint on bike, 30 secs rest
3 x 30 secs power pull on rowing machine, 30 secs rest
3 x 30 secs core drills
3 x 30 secs sprint on bike, 30 secs rest
8 x 20 secs power pull on rowing machine, 20 secs rest
3 x 30 secs core drills
My Pulsox reading was measured after each set and Carlo provided a heart rate monitor to measure my effort during the workout. All the information such as max heart rate, weight and body fat % are measured for each client in the class. During the workout out demo, I could see my heart rate effort % on the wide screen monitor in front of me. On another monitor, it showed current altitude in the room. I was pretty wiped out after the workout at 10,000 ft then finishing it at 9,000 ft.
Story Behind “Air Fit“
There are two Air Fit facilities in Northern America, Oregon and California. Air Fit’s marketing niche is focused on providing a room to cater to athletes who want to train at high altitude giving them a competitive edge. It is widely known that many professional cyclists live and train at high altitude to be competitive. Air Fit uses Hypoxico technology. It is the same company famous for their hypoxic tents used by many professional athletes to help increase blood production therefore improving their performance naturally. It uses the same system but in a larger scale. The K2 system takes natural air and it runs through a special filtration in many stages to remove impurities and then compresses the pure or clean air into a large storage tank. The storage tank goes through another filtration method to reduce the oxygen molecules. The final “hypoxic” air gets pumped into the Air Fit room. Oxygen saturation can be adjusted depending on the athletes needs.
Does it work?
The main goal of Air Fit and the programs designed is to provide their clients with a high intensity and high calorie burning workout in a short amount of time. There are studies that show higher calorie burn at high altitude and supplemented with a high intensity “circuit” type of drills provides to a much more effective way to burn fat. Air Fit recommend their clients to commit to a few months of 55 mins a day, 2-3 times per week of training in the hypoxic environment for a much better result. Testimonies from their clients have been very positive and shown to be effective. Air Fit clients start out with a baseline measurement of stats and recorded into Air Fit database. The program starts out at lower altitude i.e. 6,000 ft or 7,000 ft then progress to higher altitudes up to 12,000 ft. Clients experience improvement in their training based on the % effort for each progression on altitude gain. Aerobic fitness has been shown to increase at the end of the program. Body fat % significantly decreased as well during the training program with a balanced diet.
Who are their clients?
Air Fit currently offer classes to anyone interested in working out in a hypoxic room. Their clients mostly are committed to improving fitness for a specific event. Lately, Air Fit’s growing clients are triathletes, alpinist and trekkers who are training towards a goal. One client, a local climbing group, rents out the Air Fit room to train for a summit goal. Another client is training for Kilimanjaro summit. There is an influx of interest on Air Fit right now, and the popularity is soaring.
Does training in Air Fit increase blood production?
Air Fit will not increase blood production. Unlike a hypoxic tent where the aim is to sleep high and train low, unless one spends at least 48 hours at high altitude, it’s not the same. It is not meant to increase blood production, however simulating “thinner air” is well accomplished in Air Fit. Barometric pressure which is a risk for AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is also not simulated in AirFit and safety is always a primary concern for Air Fit coaches.
Air Fit is a really great supplement in training at high altitude. Air Fit also delivers accelerated results in a short amount of time as seen by their committed clients compared to working out at sea level. There was a lot of thought, research and planning that took place to open the concept up to the market. I highly recommend folks to visit the facility and try it out. Overall, I am very impressed with AirFit and will go back for a few sessions as a supplement hypoxic training on top of my weekend trips sleeping at high altitude as part of my training.
Check out an interesting study about intermittent exposure to altitude and performance.
Air Fit Class Information:
I would like to thank the following Air Fit staff members who really took care of me throughout the process:
Lindsay Miller for contacting NCCN and coordinating the tour and demo workout.
Dennis for a very thorough tour of the facility, the water and bar.
Carlo for a kick ass workout and fun time at Air Fit.
Photos: (Click on image to enlarge)
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