This interview is with Dr. Ferran Rodríguez. Dr. Rodríguez is one of the leading researchers for the Altitude Project, and here are some of Dr. Rodríguez’s latest publications:
- Rodríguez FA, Iglesias X, Feriche B, Calderón-Soto C, Chaverri D, Wachsmuth NB, Schmidt W, Levine BD (2015) Altitude training in elite swimmers for sea level performance (Altitude Project). Med SciSports Exerc. DOI 00005768-900000000-97816. [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271522415_Altitude_training_in_elite_swimmers_for_sea_level_performance_%28Altitude_Project%29]
- Rodríguez FA (2010) Training at real and simulated altitude in swimming: too high expectations? In: Kjendlie P-L, Stallman RK, Cabri J, editors. Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming XI. Oslo: Norwegian School of Sport Science. pp. 30-32 [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/239521844_Training_at_real_and_simulated_altitude_in_swimming_too_high_expectations]
- Rodríguez FA, Truijens MJ, Townsend NE, Stray-Gundersen J, Gore CJ, Levine BD (2007) Performance of runners and swimmers after four weeks of intermittent hypobaric hypoxic exposure plus sea level training. J Appl Physiol 103: 1523-1535. [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6149845_Performance_of_runners_and_swimmers_after_four_weeks_of_intermittent_hypobaric_hypoxic_exposure_plus_sea_level_training]
1. Please introduce yourself to the readers (how you started in the profession, education, credentials, experience, etc.).
My name is Ferran A. Rodríguez. I hold an MD, and a PhD and a Sports Medicine Specialty degrees and, after 25 years of sports medicine practice, I now work as a professor in the National Institute of Physical Education of Catalonia (INEFC), University of Barcelona. I have worked with swimmers and water polo players
for more than 30 years, from beginners to Olympic medalists, and served as a physician and physiologist for the Spanish national and Olympic teams in both sports. I am currently the coordinator and PI of the INEFC-Barcelona Sport Sciences Research Group (www.inefcresearch.wordpress.com).
2. You recently published an article on altitude training. Could you explain the possible physiological benefits of altitude training?
Altitude/hypoxic training is a common practice among swimmers, but its benefits are still controversial in scientific literature. While acute hypoxia deteriorates swimming performance, chronic hypoxia may induce acclimatization effects, mainly through the acceleration of red blood cell production, which could improve aerobic capacity and therewith performance upon return to sea level. Other potential benefits have been postulated, such as improved exercise economy, enhanced muscle buffer capacity and pH regulation, and improved mitochondrial function. However, back in 2010 I published a review entitled “Training at real and simulated altitude in swimming: Too high expectations?” (see references above), somehow expressing my reticence to accept the available evidence as compelling.
3. What are the various types of altitude training and the potential benefits of each?
Traditional altitude training (“live high-train high”, Hi-Hi) is still the most frequently used method in swimming, even though from a physiological perspective, the “live high-train low”
(Hi-Lo) appeared to be more promising based on studies with runners and orienteers. Based on available scientific literature, there was no evidence that training at natural altitude enhances swimming performance more than training at sea level. Based on research conducted in other sports, the optimal approach seemed to be Hi-Lo, in which one “lives high” (i.e. 2,100-2,500 m) to get the benefits of altitude acclimatization and “trains low” (1,250 m or less) to avoid the detrimental effects of hypoxic exercise. Training at hypoxia (as in Hi-Hi or IHT, intermittent hypoxic training) does not appear to provide any physiologic advantage over normoxic exercise and might even impair performance. Swimming performance enhancement by means of intermittent hypoxic exposure (IHE) is still controversial. However, it is likely that at least 12 h/day at 2,100–3,000 m for 3 to 4 weeks may suffice to achieve a significant increase of red cell mass. Shorter exposure to more severe hypoxia (e.g. 4,000 to 5,500 m, 3 h/day for 2 to 4 weeks) combined with sea-level training may enhance VO2max, ventilatory threshold and middle-distance swimming performance after pre-competition tapering, although the mechanisms are unclear (Rodríguez et al. 2007). In any case, there is substantial individual variability in the outcome of every AT strategy. Since none of these approaches has conclusively proven to enhance swimming performance, more research is warranted to clarify their effects and mechanisms.
4. What did your study look at?
The project involved 65 international elite swimmers from eight nations (including China, Australia and Spain, among others) and a high-profile international group of researchers belonging to universities and national swimming organizations of Spain, USA, Finland, Slovenia, UK, and The Netherlands. Training camps at sea level were implemented in Barcelona and Madrid, and the altitude camps in the Altitude Training Center of Sierra Nevada, Spain (2,320 m).
5. What were the results of your study?
6. What were the practical implications for coaches and swimmers from your study?
7. Do you think the results would be different if you had older or untrained swimmers?
8. Are there any other tests you wanted to do on these swimmers?
9. Do you think the results would be different if the study lasted longer?
Again, it is difficult to say. We need to consider the substantial psychological and physical stress of living at altitude for more than 4 weeks. We advice the coaches to spend no longer than 4 weeks and to repeat the altitude camp several time during the season (i.e. 4-5 times in our most successful swimmers).
12. Which teachers have most influenced your research?
13. If a coach wants to do altitude training, how should they begin?
14. What research or projects are you currently working on or should we look from you in the future?
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