'Live High, Train Low' Is Proven Best Way To Train, CU Prof Says

Published: Sept. 18, 1997

EDITORS: Color slides and black-and-white photos of Professor Gamow and the Gamow Bed are available by calling 303-492-4007.

A University of Colorado at Boulder professor expects more elite athletes will begin sleeping in a device he invented now that his long-held theory on the best use of altitude for training has been scientifically proven.

Igor Gamow, professor of chemical engineering, said the results of a five-year study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas confirm that living at high altitude and training at low altitude results in optimum athletic performance.

Gamow first proposed in 1985 that "Living high and training low is the way to go," and has given numerous lectures presenting his theory throughout the world. The Texas study was the first to be done with enough people to scientifically confirm the theory.

In 1992, he invented the Gamow Bed, an 8-foot-long sleeping chamber that imitates the reduced air pressure of high altitudes. The bed is being used by a number of elite athletes in the United States and abroad, and their results are consistent with the Texas findings.

In the study published in the July issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology, Drs. Benjamin Levine and James Stray-Gundersen reported on 39 competitive long-distance runners divided into three groups with different training locations. One group lived and trained at sea level, one lived and trained at high altitude (8,250 feet) and one lived at high altitude and trained at low altitude (4,125 feet), the most effective combination.

After four weeks, the high-low runners took an average of 13 seconds off their previous time in a 5-kilometer race -- about a 100-yard difference. The high-high and low-low training groups were slower by an average of 3 to 26 seconds.

"Such an improvement in international competition could mean the difference between not even making the finals and competing for a medal," Levine said in a news release.

Being at altitude stimulates the production of red blood cells, which boosts the body's ability to store oxygen in the blood and improves aerobic capacity, Gamow said. But athletes who both live and train at above about 7,000 feet cannot absorb enough oxygen from the thinner air to fuel maximum effort during training.

"If you do it (increase the blood's oxygen capacity) illegally, it's called blood doping," Gamow says. "If you do it legally it's called sleeping at altitude."

Increasing oxygen capacity could improve performance in endurance sports such as cycling, rowing, swimming and long-distance running.

In a study using rats, Gamow found that being inside the Gamow Bed for at least six hours a day caused a definite increase in red blood-cell production while less exposure provided little or no increase. An 8-hour stay did not provide any additional benefit.

Athletes already using the Gamow Bed include four-time world champion triathlete and Iron Man champion Greg Welch of Boulder and San Diego, Junior Olympic triathlete coach Cyle Sage of Gainesville, Fla., cycling coach and physician Arnie Baker of San Diego, and cyclists Russ Walker of Louisiana and Olympic team member Shaun Wallace of England.

"I think the bed will change forever the training of elite athletes," Gamow said, noting that anyone can increase blood-oxygen capacity by using a car to drive to high altitude for at least 6 hours a day while training at low altitude. In the Texas study, the high-low group lived in Deer Valley, Utah, and trained 30 minutes away in Salt Lake City.

"You could get the same beneficial effect by living on top of Pikes Peak and training at sea level, the bed just makes it more convenient," he said.

About 20 beds have been sold. Gamow recently licensed the technology to Colorado Altitude Training Co. of Boulder which is selling the beds for $12,850. For more information, contact Gamow at (303) 492-6969 or spot.colorado.edu~gamow.