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

Although the Norwegian national teams are abandoning altitude camps and doubt the effects of altitude training, World Cup skier Simen Sveen sticks to his program where altitude training is a central part of the dryland season as well as the early season preparations.

“I don’t experiment with a tried and trusted program. I have used altitude training systematically for years, and have seen proven results from these altitude camps, so it feels safer to stick with that leading up to a World Championship season,” Sveen says.

He points to the fact that many of the best endurance athletes in the world use altitude training extensively, even though the Norwegian national cross-country teams are abandoning their altitude camps this fall.

“The track and field distance runners Jacob, Henrik and Fillip Ingebrigsten spend huge amounts of their training at altitude, and they certainly believe there is an effect. Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, Petter Northug and Therese Johaug from the Norwegian national cross-country teams will continue to do altitude camps outside of the national team because they feel that the altitude training delivers progress. But everyone has to decide for themselves what they believe to be best for them,” Sveen says.

Read also: Reality check for the World Cup set

Experience and testing in favor of altitude training
The 29-year-old has raced at the world cup level for almost a decade, in and out of the national team. He is among Martin Johnsrud Sundby’s preferred training partners, and puts everything into making the Norwegian team for the 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria, in February. To be named to the team, Sveen must perform from the first race of the season: The FIS Beitostølen season opener in mid-November, and continue to deliver through the first part of the season.

As a medical student as well as a professional cross-country skier, Sveen has a scientific basis for sticking to altitude training.

“Granted, even the science is conflicted in whether altitude training delivers a significant effect, and how big this effect is. But my own physiology tests prove that I have a significant improvement in fitness and capacity following my altitude camps.”

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Simen Sveen was third in the 15-kilometer skate race at Beitostølen. Photo: Geir Olsen

Three determining factors
Sveen points out that altitude training and camps have to be done extremely carefully to deliver improvement, and that there are three crucial factors that determine whether you will see a positive effect: Duration, training program and diligence

“You have to spend considerable time at altitude to see a physiological response and effect.  Three weeks is a lot better than two,” he says.

Second, what you do at altitude is another determining factor.

“A lot of people train too hard at altitude, or they get sick during the altitude camp, which means they cant complete the workouts they had planned during the very limited time they are at altitude. Accordingly, they wont see the expected altitude effect,” Sveen explains.

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

Finally, diligence matters.

“During altitude camps, it’s often easier to focus on training, eating and sleeping, and because many athletes are well aware of the risks associated with altitude training, they are often more diligent with this at altitude than they are during training camps at lower elevations. It’s quite possible that you could reap similar benefits from training camps anywhere if you were as diligent with all these factors. However, for me, the altitude effect is real. My test results prove that I make significant progress from the altitude camps I do,” Sveen concludes.

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

Sticks to the tried and true
Seeing improvement after altitude training year after year, Sveen sticks to his tried and true plan leading up to the very important 2019 season. The plan is based around three major altitude camps. The first was completed in the first part of September. The next will take place from mid-October until the start of November. Finally, he plans a 3-week stay at altitude in December, starting with the World Cup races in Davos, Switzerland.

“The 50-kilometer skate race at the World Championships in Seefeld in February is like made for me. And it’s now or never. I’ 29 years old, turning 30, and I have to make that step up to the World Cup podium now. If not, there are other things I can do with my life, but that’s not an option. I know I can make it, but I’m not going to experiment with my altitude training leading up to this season.”