Julien Chorier, Val Thorens’ trail running ambassador and multiple Ultra Trail winner shared a few of his top tips with us about getting the most out of your sports training at altitude. First and foremost, it’s important to point out that there’s an optimum altitude for sleeping and training. The benefits vary according to the athlete’s speciality and training plan, taking into account the time it takes to acclimatise, how often you train… we’ll tell you all there is to know in this article!
When you’re deciding where to carry out your training, the altitude is an important factor to bear in mind. In theory, the higher you go above sea level, the greater the effect, but don’t go above 3,000 metres as it will make you feel very tired! In reality, the altitude starts to have a positive impact from about 1,700 metres, and for a trail runner, the optimal zone is around 2,300-2,500 metres for sleeping and training, so that you feel the physical effects. 2,300 metres… so that’s why Julien Chorier chose to train in Val Thorens!
«This altitude is advantageous for trail runners because they don’t always run at the same speed. A sprinter however would have to run at a lower pace than usual, and doing this repeatedly can lead to them even losing their normal race speed: maintaining this habit and pace even when back at sea level! On the other hand, it’s good for sprinters to sleep at altitude, increasing their level of red blood cells before going back down to the valley (to Moutiers from Val Thorens for example) to work on their stride.»
Julien’s second top tip is to change altitude during your stay, e.g. sleeping at 2,300 metres but training at 3,000 metres. «You already need to be well acclimatised to the altitude though; the change in altitude needs to be done gradually because some people take longer than others to adapt, making physical activity a lot harder. It’s best to start your preparation gently, with an easy jog around Les Bruyères lake for example (in Les Menuires) when you’re staying in Val Thorens, then gradually make your way up higher to slowly get used to the altitude. You can of course combine hiking with running, and the great thing about that is you can enjoy hiking as a family! Anyone who’s not used to running very far or very often needs to take care and give themselves a little longer to acclimatise; it would be a shame to try and increase the number of training sessions too quickly and end up being too tired to train at all after just a few days… »
What is the optimal length of stay?
«Obviously, the longer you stay, the more it benefits your physical performance.
For someone who trains regularly or who copes well with altitude, you will start to feel the effect after two weeks, sometimes just a week is all it takes. If you’re staying for a week, you need to allow 2 or 3 days to acclimatise, during which time you’ll need to be patient, not overdoing it in case you end up too tired, then 4 to 5 days training. It’s better to stay as long as possible, which means you can train more and the physical benefits will last longer. For a 1-week course of training, you’ll really reap the benefits the week after your stay at altitude.
For someone who’s just getting into sport or who is not used to being at altitude, I’d suggest a minimum of 2 weeks on site, 3 weeks if possible: a week to gradually acclimatise, a week of training and a week to recuperate on site to really get the most out of your stay.
If you’re staying at altitude prior to a major race, you’ll reap the physical benefits:
- 2 to 3 days after you get home,
- between 10 and 15 days after the end of your training sessions.
Between these two periods, your body will be coping with the tiredness caused by the training and will need to rest.
Take Julien for example, he tries to come to Val Thorens regularly to get his dose of altitude by training for a week at a time out of school holidays and two to three weeks at the start of August to ensure he’s on fine form for the UTMB!
You too can do the same, joining him from the 4th to the 11th August in Val Thorens for the VT Summit Games; the trail festival during which Julien Chorier, along with personal trainer Jean-Pierre Camm, will be running themed workshops based on different aspects of running in the mountains, explaining the benefits of training at altitude during the conference he’ll be speaking at.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN! BY FOLLOWING HIS TOP TIPS YOU TOO COULD BECOME A FUTURE CHAMPION ?
Don’t forget to tell us if you’ve felt the physical benefits after your stay in the mountains!