In this post I have put down a few ideas I had about how to make the most of different environments, and use them to improve performance and/or health. The body is able to adapt to many different environments, in this post we will have a quick look at some ideas on periodization of hot, altitude, cold and work environments. This is not an area I have a huge amount of experience with, but rather a few ideas on possible ways to implement the use of different environments (if you can). Being in environments at medium/high altitude and/or heat may be useful for increasing fitness, whilst cold environments may be useful for fat loss. If you choose to use some of these environments, they are best used in the general preparation phase (GPP), unless the competition is in high altitude, hot or cold environments.
Altitude training can be broken down into four different types – live high/train high, live high/train low, live low/train high, and live low/train low. Live high/train low is considered the best form of altitude training by many. The reason for this is that training at altitude is hard and reduces performance, however if you spend 14 hours or more at altitude you get many benefits (such increased hemoglobin mass, which helps transport oxygen). This is more of a passive adaptation, whereas if you want other benefits of altitude training at the level of the muscle, you need to stimulate the same fibers (such as improved buffering) at altitude. Again, the down side of training at altitude is a reduction in training intensity. So unless the next world championships are at a medium/high altitude, the best training option for utilizing train high/live high is during the GPP. This type of altitude training may be used to build a base, as you can do your strength training in this environment as well. There may be many reasons why you would train at altitude in the GPP. Mainly, as when you come back down to live low/train low, the next few weeks of training should be really good for accelerating your progress. Realistically, useless you already live in this environment you will need to travel, or live or train in an altitude tent. Perhaps planning a holiday around your training could be a good option. Train low/live high may be a great option during both GPP and SPP, however this may not be easily implemented. Live low/train high is the easiest to implement, and may be useful if you are coming back from an injury or using a light bell. With this type of training you may wish to mix in light sessions at altitude with normal heavier sessions during GPP or SPP. It is worth mentioning that responses to altitude training are very individual.
Great video if you want more information on altitude training.
At the moment as it is summer in Australia, it might be worth taking advantage of the opportunity to (safely) train in hotter environments. Heat increases blood plasma volume (plasma transports a number of things in the blood). When it is hot, blood goes to the skin in an effort to cool the body’s temperature, by various mechanisms such as sweat evaporating. As more of your blood is in your extremities, your body adapts by increasing blood plasma volume, which may result in improved fitness. Interestingly, training in hotter climates and living at altitude effects your blood. A study found living high/training low in heat prolonged positive changes to the blood, more so than altitude alone. This is important as one of the major criticisms of altitude training is the short-lived adaptation. This suggests that both environments can affect the blood, and when combined can be very powerful.
Here is a video on the study I just mentioned, that was done on Carlton Football Club (a professional Aussie rules team) in Melbourne.
Like hot environments, cold environments also cause adaption and can be seasonal depending on where you live. Cold adaptation may not directly improve fitness, however it may help with body composition, which will improve relative strength/endurance. In a cold environment, one way the body will generate heat is by shivering, which increases energy expenditure and hopefully in turn, fat loss. The body can also burn the metabolically active brown fat to generate heat. Brown fat has mitochondria in it and burns energy for heat! Ten days of cold acclimation has been shown to increase recruitment of brown fat to maintain body temperature. Altitude in combination with cold environments might have some additional benefits for weight loss, as altitude can reduce appetite. The most applicable thing about cold temperatures is that it increases your energy expenditure without increasing your training load and can be used all the way through your GPP and SPP. It is worth mentioning that researchers didn’t suggest trying to get frostbite or the like to reap the benefits. Rather, if you live in Australia, a more practical way to implement it would be to not go nuts with the heating in winter. Also, if using ice baths or cold water immersion, one of the benefits will be your increased energy expenditure relative to your resting metabolic rate.
This video shows how the cold increases energy expenditure (short video)
A quick overview of brown fat (very short)
A bit off topic, but when you look at the whole picture it can be a very big factor. If you have a sedentary, particularly seated job, the work environment can be modified to increase your energy expenditure. Increasing the energy expenditure at work will hopefully help with fat loss and improved health. A couple of tricks you might like to use are combining a cold (not too uncomfortable) climate and a standing disk. By standing and working in a cool temperature, the body will work to keep itself warm and upright. This will not increase your kettlebell fitness, however over a long period of time it will contribute to improved body composition without increasing your training load. Additionally, standing desks may promote better posture, which for some people can improve their overhead lockout.
A great, but long video on why standing is better than sitting
Putting it altogether
Obviously, normal training will result in improved fitness, however changes to your environment may be a new stimulus, which can affect your health or fitness qualities. Training in heat and/or at altitude can result in improved fitness, however they may reduce training intensity. Therefore heat and altitude training are best used in GPP, unless your competition is at altitude or in a hot environment. You can increase your energy expenditure with cold or standing disks, this will not directly improve fitness, however over time it may help with body composition which will in turn improve relative strength and fitness which are both important for kettlebell sport performance.
Hypoxia increases muscle hypertrophy induced by resistance training.
Cold acclimation recruits human brown fat and increases nonshivering thermogenesis
Recruited brown adipose tissue as an antiobesity agent in humans