A leading sports scientist has warned clubs against jumping on the altitude training bandwagon without knowing what they're doing.
Victoria University Institute for Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL) research leader Professor David Bishop said there was little research and no consensus on the effects of altitude training on performance of team sport athletes.
"Following its use by Collingwood Football Club in their 2010 Premiership season the hype around altitude training has grown - this year more than half the clubs will use it," Professor Bishop said. "But as far as scientific evidence about its benefits is concerned, the jury is still out."
What studies did show was players responded in a range of ways to altitude training, with some actually showing a decrease in performance, he said.
"The effects of this training vary greatly from person to person and even from one occasion to the next," he said. "Some players in your squad may increase performance by 5 per cent, some by just 1 or 2 per cent and others decreasing performance by as much as 2 per cent."
Athletes unable to train at the same intensity in the high altitude environment may actually lose fitness, he explained. There are also many other variables - including diet, sleep and individual physiology - that altered the effects of altitude training.
Speaking today at a Victoria University seminar "Altitude Training: Mountains of benefit or mountains of hype?" Professor Bishop said the future lay in blood tests to predict which players would respond well to the training and those who would not.
"That way instead of sending the whole squad along and getting mixed results you could target it at the half dozen who will get good results," he said. "Unfortunately that technology is still being developed so in the mean time clubs should think long and hard about a cost-benefit ratio for altitude training."
He said clubs should make it a priority to understand what benefits they could expect and consider whether better training or coaching may be more effective.
ISEAL researchers are using environmental exercise labs and a state-of-the-art 'altitude hotel' to sort fact from fiction and provide new knowledge to Australian athletes.
Professor Bishop has over 15 years experience as an accomplished researcher and applied sport scientist working with elite athletes.