The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the South Sydney Rabbitohs will take part in altitude training in the United States in November in an effort to find a competitive edge over other NRL teams.
It is a great idea, but someone should really explain to the Rabbitohs how altitude training works.
Basically, if you do it right, altitude training can give you a short term benefit in terms of endurance because it makes you body increase the number of red blood cells in your body.
Red blood cells are what carry oxygen around your body, and as you train at a higher altitude the air is thinner and your body needs to work harder to extract oxygen from the atmosphere and deliver it to where its needed in your body. To compensate for this your body produces more red blood cells at altitude.
If you then go down to sea level and compete in an endurance sport, like Rugby League, your body will still produce more red blood cells than it normally would at sea level as it is acclimatized to being at altitude still. As the oxygen at sea level is a lot higher than it is at altitude, the effect is that you’re in an oxygen rich environment with more red bloood cells and you see a performance boost out of that.
The problem is that when you return to sea level that performance boost you get slowly wears off over the space of a few weeks. No matter how long you train at altitude, the body adapts to being at sea level and soon enough any advantage you once had was one.
Altitude training is great for a sport like boxing or cycling where you can spend time at altitude, then compete at sea level and still have that advantage of having more red blood cells. For a sport like Rugby League however, unless you are spending a couple of months at altitude and then playing say a World Cup, you’re not really going to get much of an advantage at all in terms of performance over the course of a whole competition.
By doing altitude training in November, any benefit the Rabbitohs would get will be long gone by the time players are tucking into Turkey on Christmas day.
I took the piss out of the England Rugby League team last year when they did altitude training in South Africa last year. Basically the English team left England for a World Cup being held in England…they went to South Africa which was a completely different environment to the one they would be playing in for the World Cup, they didn’t spend anywhere near the amount of time needed for high altitude training to have any effect, and then they returned to England and basically lost any advantage they had by having a World Cup on home soil.
While South Sydney’s reasoning isn’t as stupid, the logic is flawed. They will get no benefit out of high altitude training in November outside of team bonding and maybe just the fact that players will be training hard in November as a squad where other teams maybe won’t be going as hard. Basically, it might be good for their attitude towards training but thats about it.
I tend to think these altitude training camps are over sold by club trainers looking to justify their existence to a club. If you’re going out of your way to sell the club on these fantastic trips away to altitude training camps you must be at the cutting edge of sports science.
The thing is, if I can do a little research into these altitude training camps and come to the conclusion that they will be of no benefit to a club that won’t start playing games in anger until March in 2015, why can’t the administration of a professional football club also work that out.
Another thing to consider is that teams that are based at high altitude don’t play like super humans at sea level. Yes there is an advantage, but it is so small, I don’t think it justifies the cost even when you do altitude training right unless you are doing it for extreme endurance events like Cycling, cross country skiing, boxing or MMA.
In short, the Bunnies should save their money. This altitude training will not do anything to help them win football games in 2015.
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