Working out ‘at altitude’ means you can burn up to twice as many calories as normal. I’ve been trying it out to see if it really torches that body fat
There’s nothing better than pulling on your hiking boots, going for a ramble up a hill and filling your lungs with fresh air – with the bonus of exercising harder than you realised. That’s what happens when you work out at altitude.
You’ll notice feeling slightly more breathless when you’re up that hill and there’s a reason for that. As you climb higher, the air gets thinner. Each lungful at altitude gives you less oxygen so your body has to work harder to maintain the supply. Working out at altitude means you can burn up to two times the calories you would if you were exercising at sea level and you can get fitter quickly by training your body to become more efficient in the way it uses oxygen.
Always willing to try something new, and burn twice the calories in half the time, I went on the hunt for an exercise class with the altitude effect…
Looking for altitude in London
Turns out mountains in the London area are hard to come by. In fact, the highest point above sea level is Westerham Heights in Bromley at a minuscule 245m high. So I went to the next best thing, The Altitude Centre near Bank London Underground station, for a work out with a difference.
In a sealed workout room the oxygen level is set at 15% of the atmosphere’s gases (it is around 21%t at sea level) to simulate an altitude of 2,700m (that’s around nine Shards or nine Eiffel Towers high).
What are the classes like?
I’ve tried a number of different classes. Interval running, interval spinning and, my favourite, ‘the summit circuit’ – a class designed to torch body fat and give you huge cardiovascular gains. The circuit-training class is based around short bursts of cardio on the treadmill, bike or rowing machine, interspersed with high-intensity plyometric exercises – think squat jumps, box jumps, push-ups or burpees.
In a class you may have to spin for 30 seconds followed by a 10-second break – repeated three or four times. I cycle every single day in London, and have done for eight years, but after 30 seconds of spinning at The Altitude Centre my muscles most certainly feel the burn and are always a little bit wobbly after getting off the bike.
The classes are always small: three or four people and one instructor. The instructor guides you around the different exercises but also encourages you throughout and counts down those all-important seconds until you can stop exercising and take your well-deserved 10 second break.
How long do they last?
Every class is 30 minutes. You think that won’t be long enough but believe me, you’ll sweat like you’ve never sweated before and you’ll feel exhausted in those short intervals.
The Altitude Centre recommends two classes a week to improve performance.
How does it make you feel?
I always feel more breathless than I do in other classes, and at some points it feels like my heart might explode mid-way through a 30 second sprint, but thankfully there is a screen in the room displaying your heart rate (you attach a heart rate monitor underneath your top when you arrive) so you can keep an eye on it and see how hard you are working.
After each class you also receive a training report so you can measure your improvement with each session.
Why I like it
The exercises are always short, sharp and intense followed by small rest breaks before moving on to something new. You certainly don’t have time to get bored and the exercises are always varied so no two classes are the same.
Afterwards your body naturally takes in more oxygen than before, leading to more serotonin, the happy chemical, being released into your brain. I always leave the centre feeling energised for the rest of the day.
Health note: New members must complete a 20-minute medical induction session before their first training session.
Find out more about classes at the Altitude Centre