The shoreline of Lake Michigan at Chicago lies approximately 570 feet above sea level. As a Chicago Athlete, you likely train at this elevation year-round. Did you know that just 3 short miles from the lakefront path, you can train at the equivalent of 10,000 or even 14,000 feet? Welcome to the Altitude Training room at Well-Fit Performance (https://www.wellfitinc.com/altitude-training/).
I recently spent some time in the room with some of Well-Fit’s trainers and athletes and had the opportunity to experience training at simulated altitude. The room is about the size of a racquetball court and contains four Woodway treadmills and six Wattbike exercise cycles. The air pressure (or lack thereof) is managed by a large pump which removes air to maintain the desired altitude simulation. During the two classes I attended, the monitor on the wall displayed the equivalent of between 9,500 and 10,000 feet of altitude- Somewhere between the altitudes of Bogota, Colombia, and Leadville, CO.
The lighter air pressure at 10,000 feet reduces the amount of available oxygen to about 14.3% compared to 20.9% at sea level. You can feel the difference within a minute of entering the altitude room. What is exercising in this environment like? It’s challenging! I completed a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class and a strength circuit class, and both felt harder than a “normal” workout to me. Well-Fit provides pulse oxygen meters and keeps the workouts and intervals short to allow athletes to measure their own capability and leave the room if necessary, to recover. My HIIT bike workout, which was described as typical, consisted of 3 sets of 7 intervals of maximum efforts (:30 on/:30 off) with several minutes of recovery between sets. During the class, I measured my pulse-ox several times and it bottomed out at 82% after one of the sets (95% is normal).
Why would an athlete subject themselves to this? One class regular, a runner, told me that she attends HIIT twice a week and the resulting improvement to her outdoor running is noticeable: “When I run outside at my max HR, I feel amazing!” The science seems to back up this anecdote.
According to Sharone Aharon, Owner and Head Coach at Well-Fit, training with simulated altitude has two primary benefits to the body: It increases the efficiency by which oxygen is taken up and released by red blood cells and also improves the effectiveness of basal cells in the muscles to absorb and use the oxygen delivered by the blood cells. He was careful to explain that this is simulated altitude: “I can’t increase the number of red blood cells you have, but I can make the ones you have perform better.”
Sharone said that athletes in any discipline or skill level can benefit from this type of training-both sprinters end endurance athletes, basketball and hockey players, and even “power” athletes like weightlifters. He has seen the results with his own coached athletes: “Two sessions per week for four weeks can result in an average increase of 25% sprinting capacity for sprinters and 35% increase in time to exhaustion for endurance athletes.”
Well-Fit offers HIIT and circuit training classes in the altitude room multiple days per week and the room is available for members to use for their own training anytime a class is not in session. Most of the time the simulated altitude is set for 10,000 feet with certain sessions popular with mountaineers at over 14,000 feet.
In addition to the high-altitude room, Well-Fit provides a fully equipped gym, bike trainers, and an endless pool to go along with personal training and coaching services. They offer different packages to accommodate varying training needs of athletes and are happy to host outside training groups. Well-Fit is located at 1700 West Hubbard Street.