Return to Madshus.com

Madshus News

The Inside Story: Altitude Training

Simen Sveen roller skiing in the Italian Alps during his September altitude training camp. Photo: Inge Sveen

What do elite skiers do on the glaciers? How do they do it – and why?

Simen Sveen roller skiing in the Italian Alps during his September altitude training camp. Photo: Inge Sveen

Simen Sveen roller skiing in the Italian Alps during his September altitude training camp. Photo: Inge Sveen

“When done right, altitude training can improve fitness and increase your VO2max. If you miss, altitude training can wreck your season or even your career, says Simen Andreas Sveen.

This season the Madshus World Cup skier is aiming for the 15-kilometer skate and the 30-kilometer skiathlon at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Sveen has been using altitude training successfully for almost a decade, and is also almost finished with medical school at the university of Oslo, giving him an academic approach to the practice. He explains that the key to physiological gains from altitude training is careful planning and diligence at high elevations.

Typically, the 29-year-old Norwegian will do three altitude camps in preparation for the season, each lasting three weeks. He just completed the first of this season’s camps, which was at Seiser Alm in the Italian Alps at about 2000 meters above sea level. During this camp, Sveen was doing only dryland training such as roller skiing and running at elevations ranging from 1900 meters to 2900 meters above sea level. The next camp, which will be in Livigno, Italy, in October, will be on skis and focused on race-season preparations for the FIS season opener in Beitostølen (NOR). Finally, Sveen typically has one last altitude camp in December, aimed at sharpening fitness and honing skills for the meat of the race season.

Story continues below

Ramsau; Austria, is one of the best known summer skiing destinations. Photo: Team Sjusjøen

For his second and third altitude camp, Simen Sveen travels to the glaciers in the Alps. Photo: Team Sjusjøen

Why are the camps three weeks long?
“Research and testing indicate that three weeks is ideal in terms of physiological gains in terms of higher levels of hemoglobin and better VO2max. Several studies also show significantly better effect after three weeks compared to two weeks, and that has been my personal experience as well.”

What do you do before, during and after these camps?
“For the period leading up to an altitude camp, I often include more and harder intensity workouts, because you can’t do as hard of intensity at altitude,” Sveen says.

“During the camp, I am very careful to keep the speed down on all my workouts. At altitude, your heart rate will go higher than at the same speed at sea level. So, to be sure I’m training at the correct intensity, I also do lactate testing during the workouts at altitude, especially the first week. It’s so easy to trick yourself into thinking you are going easy just because you go slower. But you have to be hard on yourself and only add volume and intensity very gradually at altitude. Even for my intensity sessions at altitude, I rarely exceed sub-threshold heart rates, because recovering from hard efforts takes so much longer at altitude. If the workouts are too hard, it’s difficult to complete the volume I have planned for the camp, simply because I wouldn’t recover fast enough to do them all. The last couple of days at altitude, I’m also careful to lower the volume and the intensity so that I return home fresh and ready to resume my regular training program as soon as possible,” he says.

“Once I get back home, I take at least one day off and then gradually work back to my regular program. However, a speed session is one of the first things I do when I get back to sea level. After so long at altitude where the focus is on long, slow distance, it’s useful to kick your body back into moving faster. After that, and if my body responds well to training, I start introducing intensity again. I often start with a few sub-threshold intervals and then I pick up the intensity as I feel ready for harder efforts.

Story continues below

Simen Sveen makes sure he switches up between both classic and skate technique, as well as other training methods also when training at altitude. Photo: Petter Hagen

Simen Sveen makes sure he switches up between both classic and skate technique, as well as other training methods also when training at altitude. Photo: Petter Hagen

What do you absolutely NOT do at altitude?
“Altitude training can improve your fitness or, at worst, break your career. Everything takes a bigger toll on your body at altitude, which is particularly evident for intensity. It takes a lot longer to recover from hard workouts at altitude than for a similar workout at sea level. If you don’t do things just right, you risk not only wrecking your season, but your entire career. Accordingly, I am diligent about sticking to my training plan when I’m at altitude. Even if the weather is perfect and you are super motivated, there is a reason why the program is designed the way it is. If you add 20-30 minutes to each easy distance workout, it really adds up over three weeks, and it can be the difference between coming home with better fitness or coming home worn out and overtrained. That’s why I’m also careful to listen to my body when I’m at altitude, and I never do MORE than what the plan calls for.”

Why do we get a positive effect from altitude training?
“This is an area where the experts differ, and there are some who argue that there is no altitude effect. But among those who argue that there is an effect, the theory is that because there is less oxygen in the atmosphere at higher altitude, the body produces more red blood cells in order to increase its ability to carry oxygen to the muscles. Then, when you return to lower elevation, your body has a higher blood volume and can feed your muscles with more oxygen than before the altitude training, and you will feel fitter and faster. On the other hand, there are some experts who argue that if you were as diligent and serious about your training program, sleep, nutrition and recovery at home as you are when you go to altitude, you would experience the same fitness gains without the altitude, although without the increase in hemoglobin levels,” says Sveen, who still believes in the altitude effect.

“Personally, I have tried both, and I feel that I get a significant fitness boost from altitude training. I’ve tested hemoglobin levels/blood volume before and after altitude camps, and my fitness tests also improve after altitude training. But just going to altitude is not enough to see gains. You have to train right and do the right things there. If you plan it right, you will get that light, fast feeling about seven to eight days after returning to lower elevation. That’s the altitude effect, and if you do things right after you get back, you can ride this peak for two to three weeks,” Sveen says.

Simen Sveen points out that even if the scenery and weather is magnificent, it is important to stick to your plan on both volume and intensity. Photo: Inge Sveen

Simen Sveen points out that even if the scenery and weather is magnificent, it is important to stick to your plan on both volume and intensity. Photo: Inge Sveen

Sweeping up the Points

Ole Einar Bjørndalen won the IBU World Cup opener in Östersund, Sweden on December 2. Photo: NordicFocus
Ole Einar Bjørndalen won the IBU World Cup opener in Östersund, Sweden on December 2. Photo: NordicFocus

Ole Einar Bjørndalen won the IBU World Cup opener in Östersund, Sweden on December 2. Photo: NordicFocus

Weekend loot: 12 WC podiums, 3 Ski Classics podiums and the yellow jersey in the long-distance series.

For starters, The King of biathlon is back.

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR), who enters his 23 World Cup season, left no doubt: The King started the 2016 season on the top of the podium after the 20km at the IBU World Cup in Östersund (SWE) on December 2. In January 1996, he won his first WC. In between those two victories, there have been around 92 more.

And after more than two decades on the World Cup, the 41-year-old takes time to reflect on the changes and developments in his sport. Read the full interview HERE.

The seasoned veteran is known to constantly seek out new insights and research on everything from training and equipment to diet and lifestyle, just to gain that split second margin that separates the winner from the rest of the field.

However, in the first World Cup race of his 23rd World Cup season, Bjørndalen won by more than a split hair. He didn’t miss a single target. He skied like a tornado with perfect technique milking each glide and getting the most from every push-off. At the end of the day, Bjørndalen had almost half a minute down to second place.

On Saturday, he was back on the podium, this time in third place in sprint competition.

“Biathlon is biathlon; it was a really good race today. It was a lot of stress after the 20K with all of the publicity, but I had no problem with motivation. I was really lucky to hit four; it was a combination of luck and experience,” Bjørndalen said after his race on Saturday.

However, he remained in the yellow leader jersey for the Sunday pursuit, but had to give it up after the final race in Östersud. But that doesn’t bother him. Bjørndalen reemphasizes that his focus is the 2016 World Championships in Oslo in March.

“I am only focused on Oslo, not the total World Cup score.”

Now, the IBU World Cup heads for round 2 in Hochfilzen (AUS) next weekend with sprint, pursuit and relay competitions for both men and women.

Story continues below

 Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR) during the 20km IBU world cup in Östersund on December 2. Photo: NordicFocus


Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR) during the 20km IBU world cup in Östersund on December 2. Photo: NordicFocus

The cross-country World Cup moved to Lillehammer (NOR) this weekend, featuring 15- and 30-kilometer pursuit races for women and men, respectively.

Hans Christer Holund (NOR), who surprised everyone including himself with two podiums in a row at the FIS season opener at Beitostølen (NOR) in November, posted his first World Cup podium finish with a strong third place on the brutal course on Saturday.

“It is my first podium. It is like a dream come true for me,” Holund said of his first WC podium.

“The race was hard from the first lap. The course is really hard. I was a little afraid of the chasing group coming up from behind, so I tried to ski as fast as I could, so that they wouldn’t catch us. On the last hill, I knew I did it,” Holund said of the 15km+15km duathlon/pursuit.

Story continues below

Hans Christer Holund (NOR) during the WC duathlon in Lillehammer on Dec.5. Photo: Nordic Focus

Hans Christer Holund (NOR) during the WC duathlon in Lillehammer on Dec.5. Photo: Nordic Focus

 

Also on Saturday, Heidi Weng (NOR) delivered a solid second place after winning the sprint finish with Charlotte Kalla (SWE) in the women’s 7.5km+7.5km duathlon/pursuit.

“I felt very good in classical part. In the skate portion I got stiff, but I tried to fight. I kept focused on the second place. It was very hard to ski with Charlotte,” Weng said after her race.

Given her strong performances so far this season and proven sprint capacity, Weng was appointed to anchor the Norwegian women in the 4x5km relay on Sunday – a job that so far has belonged to Marit Bjørgen. And Weng didn’t disappoint, anchoring Norway to a 2-minute victory, while Ingvild Flugstad Østberg skied a solid second leg for the same team. Krista Parmakoski (Madshus) helped Finland to 2nd place.

In the men’s relay, Hans Christer Holund helped Norway I to victory in the men’s 4×7.5km relay – ahead of two other Norwegian teams. Madshus racers Simen Sveen and Mathias Rundgreen helped their team to 2nd place, and Didrik Tønseth was on the 3rd place team.

The cross-country World Cup now moves to Davos (SUI).

Story continues below

 Heidi Weng (NOR) in front of Charlotte Kalla (SWE) during at the WC duathlon in Lillehammer on Dec. 5. Photo: Nordic Focus


Heidi Weng (NOR) in front of Charlotte Kalla (SWE) during at the WC duathlon in Lillehammer on Dec. 5. Photo: Nordic Focus

This weekend also marked the start of the 2016 Ski Classics long-distance season: Team United Bakeries with Madshus marathon racers Johan Kjølstad, Øystein Pettersen, Tore B. Berdal and John Kristian Dahl set the stage for the season by winning the Team Prologue in Livigno (ITA) by more than a half minute! United Bakeries posted the combined time for the 15-kilometer team time trial 2:16:09. This event consisted of a mass start for women and a team tempo for men. The best female time was added to a pro team’s third best skier’s time, which was multiplied by three.

On Sunday, Dahl (NOR) went straight to the top of the podium in the first individual long-distance race of the season, winning the 24-km classic race La Sgambeda in Livigno by 8 seconds, with Eugeny Dementiev (RUS) in 2nd place and Johan Kjølstad (NOR) in 3rd.

Story continues below

Team United Bakeries won the Proteam Prologue, which was the first event in the 2016 Ski Classics. Photo: Ski Classics

Team United Bakeries won the Proteam Prologue, which was the first event in the 2016 Ski Classics. Photo: Ski Classics

The FIS Nordic Combined skiers finally had a chance to start their 2016 FIS World Cup season, after their first competitions last week in Finland were cancelled. Magnus Krog (NOR), who opened his season by winning the Norwegian national championships at Beitostølen on November 14, won the large hill/10km World Cup competition on Sunday.

 

Testing – testing!

Spring skiing at Beitostoelen. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus
Beitostoelen provided the perfect testing ground for upcoming products and fine-tuning. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Beitostoelen provided the perfect testing ground for upcoming products and fine-tuning. Photo: Stefano Zatta/Madshus

Madshus athletes and engineers are taking advantage of the late season snow to fine-tune the gear for the 2016 season and experiment with some brand new concept ideas.

Last week engineers from both the factory in Biri, Norway, and the K2 corporate headquarters in Seattle, USA, gathered at Beitostoelen in Norway to test all the new products in the ski, boots and poles categories.

“It’s been a fantastic week at Beito. We’ve had a chance to test in all kinds of conditions. In the beginning of the week, we had a lot of wind and some snow, but by the end of the week it was spectacularly sunny and amazing,” says Stefano Zatta, who works on graphics and layout at the Madshus factory in Biri.

Lead ski engineer Bjoern Ivar Austrem, boot engineer John Svensson and category manager for boots and poles Jon Fewster met with World Cup racers such as Noah Hoffman from the USA, Paal Golberg and Simen Sveen from Norway as well as legendary veteran Thomas Alsgaard, who now owns and manages his own racing project Team LeaseplanGO with racers competing both on the marathon circuit as well as in the traditional cross-country events. The crew tested relentlessly for hours every day, making notes and tweaks to perfect every product on all performance levels and in all categories, from touring and backcountry to World Cup. Stay tuned!

“Most of the gear we tested was products that will be for retail sale in the fall of 2016, but we have also put some of the concept products and designs on the snow this week. The concept products are designs that we are just testing to see if they even work. Some of them will be amazing, and some will never make it to standard production,” Zatta explains, adding that even the marketing and graphic design crew joined the testing.

“We had marketing and strategy meetings in the morning, but almost all of us took advantage of the opportunity to ski with the athletes after the meetings. It was really fun to ski next to some of the top racers in the world,” says Zatta.

Email Sign Up

Keep up to date on the latest contests and events!