High altitude training without the mountains now available in Calgary

A special training lab in Calgary's Sunalta neighbourhood is taking workouts to new heights. Kind of.

TCR Sport Lab's altitude chamber allows both athletes and average Joes to simulate putting their treadmill or spin class on top of some of the tallest peaks in the Canadian Rockies. 

TCR says working out in the altitude chamber improves metabolism, fitness and body composition in a relatively short period of time.

At high altitudes, the body senses the lack of oxygen, which triggers the release of a hormone that in turn triggers the production of more red blood cells to aid in oxygen delivery to the muscles.

The actual science behind the altitude chamber is relatively simple, Fagen said.  

They simply remove oxygen from the room.

"Everything has to adapt in here. The body always wants oxygen, that's our life source, so when I take out 25 per cent of oxygen, the body goes, 'I need to change. Let's get the heart rate up,'" said Cory Fagen, a partner at TCR Sport Lab. 

"You're getting this fast heart rate workout at half the speed."

Monty Kruger/CBC

Normal air contains around 21 per cent oxygen, so to simulate high altitudes, TCR Sports Lab's chamber lowers that level to 14 to 16 per cent.

At that level, breathing becomes a little more difficult because there is less oxygen, but there is no change to the overall pressure.

"We call it kinda the mountain magic, but no pressure changes, no headaches. Just slightly less oxygen," Fagen said.

"And then when we get you on the treadmill here, we'll actually see how it affects you by looking at your oxygen saturation."

Fagen said TCR Sports Lab is the first altitude training chamber open to the general public and they serve a 50/50 mix of elite athletes and active people. The chamber also has benefits for people with certain medical conditions.

"When you have osteoarthritis you can't go hard, it hurts your joints. So in here, your heart rate gets up without going hard. That's one population that's starting to come in," he said.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener