Hypoxic Training: What It Is, How It Works, and the Benefits

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Hypoxic training, also known as oxygen deprivation training, is a popular method used by athletes and fitness enthusiasts to improve their performance and endurance. This training technique involves reducing the amount of oxygen available to the body during exercise, which can lead to several physiological adaptations. In this article, we will explore the concept of hypoxic training, its benefits and risks, various techniques used, the science behind it, and how it compares to altitude training.

What is Hypoxic Training?

Hypoxic training refers to the practice of limiting the availability of oxygen to the body during exercise. This can be achieved through various methods, such as training at high altitudes, using specialized equipment like altitude masks or tents, or performing specific exercises in a low-oxygen environment.

The idea behind hypoxic training is to expose the body to a reduced oxygen environment, which creates a physiological stress response. This stress response triggers a series of adaptations in the body, including increased production of red blood cells, improved oxygen utilization, and enhanced cardiovascular function.

Benefits of Hypoxic Training

  1. Increased red blood cell production: Hypoxic training stimulates the body to produce more red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen to the muscles. This increase in red blood cell count can enhance oxygen delivery and improve endurance performance.
  2. Improved oxygen utilization: When exposed to a low-oxygen environment, the body becomes more efficient at utilizing the available oxygen. This improved oxygen utilization can result in enhanced aerobic capacity and better endurance performance.
  3. Enhanced cardiovascular function: Hypoxic training can lead to improvements in cardiovascular health, including increased capillary density, improved blood flow, and enhanced cardiac output. These adaptations can benefit overall cardiovascular fitness and performance.
  4. Increased lactate threshold: Training in a low-oxygen environment can also improve the body’s ability to tolerate and clear lactate, a byproduct of intense exercise. This can delay the onset of fatigue and allow athletes to sustain higher intensities for longer durations.
  5. Mental resilience: Hypoxic training can also have psychological benefits, as it requires individuals to push through discomfort and adapt to challenging conditions. This can help build mental resilience and improve focus and concentration during competition.

Risks of Hypoxic Training

While hypoxic training can offer several benefits, it is important to consider the potential risks and limitations associated with this training method.

  1. Altitude sickness: Training at high altitudes or using altitude simulating equipment can increase the risk of altitude sickness. Altitude sickness is characterized by symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. It is essential to acclimate properly to high altitudes and monitor symptoms closely to avoid serious complications.
  2. Increased injury risk: Training in a low-oxygen environment can lead to increased fatigue and decreased neuromuscular function, which may increase the risk of injuries. It is crucial to maintain proper form and technique during hypoxic training to minimize the risk of accidents.
  3. Overtraining: Introducing hypoxic training into an already intense training regimen without proper planning and recovery can lead to overtraining. Overtraining can result in decreased performance, increased susceptibility to illness and injury, and mental and physical fatigue.
  4. Individual variability: The response to hypoxic training can vary among individuals. While some athletes may benefit greatly from this training method, others may not experience significant improvements. It is important to assess individual tolerance and response to hypoxic training and adjust the training protocol accordingly.

Hypoxic Training Techniques

There are several techniques and methods used in hypoxic training to induce oxygen deprivation and stimulate adaptations in the body. Some of the commonly used techniques include:

  1. Altitude training: Training at high altitudes, where the oxygen concentration is lower, is one of the most effective methods of hypoxic training. This can be achieved by traveling to high-altitude locations or using altitude simulating equipment like altitude tents or chambers.
  2. Altitude masks: Altitude masks are specialized masks that restrict the flow of oxygen during exercise. They simulate the effects of training at high altitudes by reducing the amount of oxygen available to the body. These masks can be used during various forms of exercise, such as running, cycling, or weightlifting.
  3. Hypoxic chambers: Hypoxic chambers are enclosed environments that simulate high-altitude conditions. These chambers can be set to different altitudes and oxygen concentrations, allowing individuals to train in a controlled low-oxygen environment.
  4. Interval training: Interval training involves alternating between periods of high-intensity exercise and rest or low-intensity recovery. Incorporating hypoxic intervals into interval training can further challenge the body and stimulate adaptations. This can be done by performing high-intensity intervals in a low-oxygen environment or using altitude masks during the intense phases.
  5. Hypoxic swimming: Swimming in a low-oxygen environment, such as a hypoxic pool, can provide unique challenges and benefits. The resistance of the water combined with reduced oxygen availability can enhance cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance.
  6. Hypoxic tents: Hypoxic tents are portable devices that create a low-oxygen environment around an individual’s sleeping area. This allows for continuous exposure to reduced oxygen levels during sleep, which can promote adaptations similar to training at high altitudes.

The Science Behind Hypoxic Training

Hypoxic training elicits various physiological responses in the body, which contribute to the observed improvements in performance and endurance. Some of the key adaptations include:

  1. Increased red blood cell production: The reduced availability of oxygen triggers the release of a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO) from the kidneys. EPO stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells, leading to an increase in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
  2. Improved oxygen utilization: Hypoxic training enhances the body’s ability to extract and utilize the available oxygen more efficiently. This is achieved through various mechanisms, such as increased mitochondrial density, improved oxygen diffusion, and enhanced enzyme activity involved in aerobic metabolism.
  3. Cardiovascular adaptations: Training in a low-oxygen environment leads to increased capillary density in the muscles, allowing for improved blood flow and oxygen delivery. Additionally, hypoxic training can enhance cardiac output, which is the amount of blood pumped by the heart per minute, resulting in improved cardiovascular fitness.
  4. Altitude acclimatization: Hypoxic training helps the body adapt to high-altitude conditions by stimulating physiological responses similar to those experienced at high altitudes. This includes changes in breathing patterns, increased production of red blood cells, and improved oxygen transport and utilization.
  5. Cellular adaptations: Hypoxic training activates various cellular signaling pathways, leading to adaptations that improve cellular function and endurance performance. These adaptations include increased production of proteins involved in oxygen transport and utilization, improved antioxidant capacity, and enhanced energy production.

Hypoxic Training vs. Altitude Training

Hypoxic training and altitude training are often used interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same. While both methods involve reducing the availability of oxygen, there are some key differences:

  1. Oxygen concentration: Hypoxic training can be performed at various oxygen concentrations, ranging from mild to severe deprivation. Altitude training, on the other hand, typically involves training at higher altitudes where the oxygen concentration is naturally lower.
  2. Altitude effects: Altitude training provides the additional benefits of reduced air pressure and changes in temperature and humidity, which can further stimulate physiological adaptations. These effects are not present in hypoxic training methods that do not involve high altitudes.
  3. Accessibility: Altitude training requires access to high-altitude locations or specialized equipment like altitude tents or chambers. Hypoxic training, on the other hand, can be performed in various settings, such as gyms, swimming pools, or with the use of altitude masks.
  4. Individual response: The response to hypoxic training and altitude training can vary among individuals. While some athletes may benefit more from one method, others may respond better to the other. It is important to consider individual preferences, goals, and responses when choosing between the two.

In conclusion, hypoxic training is a popular training method that involves oxygen deprivation during exercise. It offers several benefits, including increased red blood cell production, improved oxygen utilization, enhanced cardiovascular function, increased lactate threshold, and mental resilience. However, it is crucial to consider the potential risks and limitations associated with this training method, such as altitude sickness, increased injury risk, and overtraining. Various hypoxic training techniques, such as altitude training, altitude masks, hypoxic chambers, and hypoxic swimming, can be used to induce oxygen deprivation. The science behind hypoxic training involves various physiological adaptations, including increased red blood cell production, improved oxygen utilization, cardiovascular adaptations, altitude acclimatization, and cellular changes. When comparing hypoxic training to altitude training, it is important to consider factors such as oxygen concentration, altitude effects, accessibility, and individual response. Ultimately, choosing the most effective training method depends on individual goals, preferences, and responses.


Q1: Is hypoxic training suitable for beginners?

A1: Hypoxic training can be beneficial for individuals at various fitness levels, including beginners. However, it is important for beginners to start with lower oxygen deprivation levels and gradually increase the intensity and duration of hypoxic training to avoid excessive stress on the body.

Q2: Can hypoxic training improve athletic performance in team sports?

A2: Hypoxic training can benefit athletes in team sports by improving their aerobic capacity, endurance, and lactate threshold. These adaptations can enhance overall performance and contribute to better match performance and recovery.

Q3: Are there any age limitations for hypoxic training?

A3: Hypoxic training can be performed by individuals of various age groups. However, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or exercise specialist, especially for older adults or individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, to ensure safety and appropriate training protocols.

Q4: How often should hypoxic training be performed?

A4: The frequency of hypoxic training sessions depends on individual goals, fitness levels, and training schedules. It is important to strike a balance between hypoxic training and regular training to avoid overtraining and allow for adequate recovery.

Q5: Can hypoxic training help with weight loss?

A5: Hypoxic training can indirectly contribute to weight loss by increasing metabolic rate, enhancing cardiovascular fitness, and improving overall exercise performance. However, weight loss primarily depends on maintaining a caloric deficit through proper diet and exercise.

Q6: Can hypoxic training be used for rehabilitation purposes?

A6: Hypoxic training has been used in rehabilitation settings to aid in the recovery of certain injuries and conditions. However, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist to determine the suitability and safety of hypoxic training for specific rehabilitation needs.

Q7: Is hypoxic training suitable for everyone?

A7: While hypoxic training can offer benefits to many individuals, it may not be suitable for everyone. Individuals with certain medical conditions, such as cardiovascular or respiratory disorders, should consult with a healthcare professional before engaging in hypoxic training to ensure safety and appropriateness.