Moving mountains. Altitude training without leaving Sydney
In the 1990 sci-fi thriller “Total Recall,” Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a construction worker living in the future and eager to visit Mars.
But instead of going to the Red Planet, he pays to have fake memories of a trip at Mars implanted in his brain.
While Martian tourism is still the stuff of fantasies, virtual travel just came one step closer with the opening of Sydney Altitude Training (SAT).
Set in the well-heeled north-shore suburb of Mossman, the small gym simulates the atmospheric conditions of high-altitude destinations.
The concept behind SAT is that it allows adventure travelers -- trekkers, runners, rowers and skiers -- to pre-acclimatize their bodies and minds to the rigors they’re likely to encounter on the high road.
“One of the greatest unknowns for people going on trekking holidays and expeditions is how the body react to altitude -- for most people it’s something they’ve never experienced,” says SAT director Allan Bolton.
“Yet by exposing yourself to lower levels of oxygen and training in those conditions before you go, we give you a running start and confidence to make it.”
One of a handful of such facilities now open to the public in Australia, SAT looks like any other high-end gym.
Its two studios -- which are staffed by professional trainers -- are jammed with treadmills, computerized racing bikes, a Nordic ski machine, step machines and rowers.
But within its walls lies a million dollars of altitude technology that sucks in air from outside the building and adds extra nitrogen before feeding it into the gym.
The process displaces some of the oxygen in the air, creating what’s known as hypoxic air. Oddly, the same technology is also used for fire prevention.
One studio simulates the atmospheric conditions at 3,000 meters above sea level, while the second is set at 3,500 meters.
Individual training sessions with hypoxic masks as well can simulate altitudes of up to 5,500 meters.
For added punch, the venue also features a projector screen, on which video-game-style avatars on bicycles dash through mountain landscapes.
This YouTube video shows members of the Lidcombe Auburn Cycle Club on a 16-kilometer time trial simulating the atmospheric conditions on Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak.
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Among SAT’s first customers were Born To Run, a group of ordinary Australians running across five deserts on five continents -- the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Sahara Desert in Egypt, the Gobi Desert in China, the Last Desert in Antarctica and the Simpson Desert in Australia -- in a fundraising race for juvenile diabetes sufferers.
“The course in Chile was 3,000 meters above sea level so we decided to use the center to acclimatize,” says Born To Run founder Greg Donovan.
“We spent several months running on treadmills with our backpacks and it turned out to be very worthwhile.
“When we arrived at the base station at 2,200 meters, a lot of the other competitors seemed to struggle, while we didn’t,” he says.
“It also had a very positive effect on our performance. Our team finished 29th out of 170.”
Altitude training around Australia
Sydney Altitude Training, 789 Military Road, Mossman, +61 (0) 2 9969 8887; open 6 a.m.-8:15 a.m. and 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; www.sydneyaltitudetraining.com
A 10-visit session with a trained exercise physiologist and baseline assessment costs $600 (US$650). By reservation only.
There is also a five-visit deal that costs $325, but you also have to pay $85 for an initial fitness assessment.
In Queensland, altitude training is available at Brisbane Altitude Training, 12 McDougall St., Milton, +61 (0) 7 3367 2488; www.brisbanealtitude.com.au
In Melbourne, contact Bodyology Performance Centre, 16 Howleys Road, Notting Hill, +61 (0) 419 544 826; www.bodyologypps.com.au
In Adelaide, contact Flex Rehab, 41 Kensington Road, Norwood, +61 (0) 8 8361 3355, www.flexclinic.com.au
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