How to Train for High-Altitude Endurance Exercise at Sea Level

How to Train for High-Altitude Endurance Exercise at Sea Level

By: Beth Rush
Managing Editor at Body+Mind

Imagine arriving at the base of a majestic mountain you’ve spent months dreaming about hiking. Yet, as you ascend, your breath shortens, your pace slows and the high altitude challenges your body in unanticipated ways.

Many adventurers face this reality, underestimating the demands and preparation required. Whether you’re gearing up for a mountaineering expedition or a high-altitude trail race, we'll share with you how to train for high-altitude endurance exercise at sea level to ensure your body adapts adequately.

Why Is High-Altitude Training Different?

The thinner air at high altitudes presents challenges due to lower oxygen levels. The atmosphere contains less oxygen at elevations above 4,000 feet, which impacts your ability to perform. You may feel short of breath, but your body also changes how it metabolizes energy and delivers oxygen to the muscles.

Your body has to work harder to breathe, digest food and walk until it adapts and becomes more efficient at using what little air is available. It must also change how it uses energy. Typically, your body relies more on glucose than fat at higher altitudes because it requires less oxygen for metabolism. This affects your stamina and endurance, making specific strategies important to support these changes.

Tips for High-Altitude Training

Preparing for high altitudes while at sea level requires a few simple ways to prepare your body for the challenges of thin air.

Eat and Drink Smart

Proper nutrition and hydration are crucial in preparing for high altitudes. Your body’s needs will also escalate as you increase your training intensity.

Focus on a diet that provides sustained energy and supports recovery. Include complex carbohydrates like whole grains and legumes for long-lasting vigor. Studies have shown that carbs enhance your physical performance and have helped others finish a trial 17% faster. Additionally, iron-rich foods are crucial as they increase your blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity.

Under normal hydration conditions, the recommendation for adults ranges from 72 to 104 ounces daily. However, your hydration needs will greatly increase with the added stress of exercise. It can be easy to consume up to a gallon of water during intensive training.

TIP: Add sea salt to your food or water, and take Zaca's chewables to enhance hydration.

Simulate Altitude Workouts

One of the most effective ways to prepare for the rigors of high-altitude environments is to simulate those conditions. Some may use professional equipment like hypoxic tents or altitude masks. While they can be helpful, anyone can try more simple methods at home.

One easy technique is breathing through a straw during certain exercises, which can reduce oxygen, similar to high altitudes. Use this method cautiously and for short periods to avoid discomfort and dizziness. Always listen to your body to see how it reacts.

Stair climbing and incline workouts also work. Elevation gains are a big part of the challenge in high altitudes. Using stairs or setting a treadmill to an incline can mimic this aspect of hiking or running.

Gradually Increase Aerobic Intensity

It’s crucial to increase the intensity of your cardio workouts progressively. This helps your cardiovascular system adapt to working harder with less oxygen.

Start with moderate aerobic exercises like brisk walking or light jogging. As your fitness improves, incrementally increase the pace and duration of these activities. For instance, you could begin with 30-minute sessions and slowly extend them to 60 minutes or more. At the same time, you can increase your speed or add more challenging routes with hills.

As your endurance builds, periodically test your limits with faster-paced runs that push your heart rate higher for short intervals. This will enhance your workout capacity and teach your body to recover quickly.

Work on Core Strengthening and Balance

At high altitudes, you want to be sure to handle the physical challenges of uneven terrain and steep ascents. Otherwise, it can easily throw off your balance, so core strengthening and balancing exercises are essential to prevent falls and injuries.

A strong core is the foundation of good balance and can enhance overall stability. Focus on exercises such as planks, Russian twists and bicycle crunches. These target deep core muscles that support your spine and pelvis, improving your posture and endurance.

Improve your balance with single-leg stands and yoga to enhance your coordination and agility.

Consider integrating these workouts two to three times weekly into your training schedule. Start with basic exercises and work your way up to increase the difficulty level.

Rest Well

Rest is critical to any training regimen but becomes even more important when preparing for high-altitude changes. Adequate rest ensures your body can recover from the increased demands of training. Ensure you get at least eight to 10 hours of sleep nightly and incorporate recovery days into your schedule. This is when you engage in light activities to aid muscle repair and reduce stiffness.

High-altitude training is also mentally taxing. Ensure you take time to unwind and engage in activities you find relaxing. Mental downtime, whether reading or spending time in nature, is crucial to maintaining motivation.

Monitor and Adjust Expectations

Accept the fact that you may move slower than expected at sea level. However, you can stay on track using fitness watches during your workouts. Pay attention to your pace and heart rate to see how well your body adapts.

You can always make adjustments that help you ease into more intense training. However, feeling tired and unmotivated more often than usual could indicate you need to scale back the intensity and increase rest days.

Achieve Great Heights With High-Altitude Training

How to train for high-altitude endurance exercise at sea level requires dedication, proper preparation and mindful adaptation. Following the right steps can enhance your performance and ensure you enjoy your mountaineering adventures to the fullest. Remember that recovery is vital to keep going.

Recovery Supplement For High-Altitude Training

Endurance Supplement

Elevate your training experience with Zaca, the ultimate recovery supplement designed to help conquer high elevations and rigorous exercise. Whether you're a seasoned athlete or a weekend hiker, these convenient chewables are packed with essential ingredients to aid in hydration and recovery. Each bite can help you bounce back faster and optimize your performance in challenging environments. Simply take 2-4 chewables per day of training, and as needed throughout a competitive race. It easily complements any other regime as no water is required for easy, on-the-go replenishment. Try Zaca’s chewable supplement today and feel the difference in your performance and recovery.


1. How to Train at Sea Level and Race at Altitude
2. When Your Body is Telling You are Dehydrated
3. All About High Altitude Fitness Training
4. Why It’s So Much Harder To Train at Higher Altitudes If You’re Not Used to It