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June 30, 2005

Ullrich using hypobaric chamber in training

procyling | Fine-tuning in cellar for Jan

It's probably no big surprise that elite aerobic athletes use pressure chambers to simulate living at high altitudes, stimulating red blood cell production that improves their performance at normal altitudes.

I've always thought those were 'hyperbaric' chambers, but it turns out they're 'hypobaric' chambers, and that Jan Ullrich recently had one installed in his basement in Switzerland.

Earlier this season, Robbie McEwen's Davitamon-Lotto team had a portable chamber (called an Altitrainer) seized by Italian police.

From the cyclingnews.com report on the May raid:

Although hypoxic devices are not prohibited under UCI or WADA rules, they are illegal under Italian law 376, an arcane rule that prohibits use of any method to increase blood values for sport competition. When asked about the Alti Trainer at the post-race press conference today in Rossano Veneto, McEwen said, "I don't know anything about this...I don't use it, but some of my teammates do. It's a machine that simulates the effect of altitude."

Even elite amateurs are using these: I remember a story in Outside about a group of long-distance runners living together in Pennsylvania in a house with a pressure chamber whose use they shared.

Posted by Frank Steele on June 30, 2005 in Jan Ullrich, Robbie McEwen, Tour Tech | Permalink


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Makes sense that what Ullrich has is called a hypobaric chamber. A hyperbaric chamber is what Michael Jackson used, and for all I know still does - it increases the pressure and presence of oxygen in the air inside. Since "hypo" and "hyper" are frequently opposites (think hypothermia and hyperthermia), it figures that a hypobaric chamber would decrease the pressure, simulating a high-altitude environment.

Posted by: Mark at Jun 30, 2005 10:05:07 PM

I think the Hyperbaric chambers are to help divers overcome things like the bends by placing them in a pressurized environment. As commenter Mark points out, Hypo is the opposite and creates a low-pressure environment, thus leading to increased red blood cell production.

You've got a fantastic blog. I'll keep checking for updates.

Will you cover races other than the TdF?

Posted by: Pigilito at Jul 1, 2005 10:29:19 AM

The Washington Post and NPR did features about the new hypobaric facilities used by US Speedskating in low-altitude Milwaukee a few months back. From what I recall, sounded like Dick Pound and WADA are itching to ban these sorts of devices as well though they continue to remain legal as far as national and int'l sport federations are concerned.

Posted by: noelle at Jul 1, 2005 10:35:11 AM

In my opinion this is taking things to a rather ridiculous extreme. You want the benefits of high-altitude training? Well, then get your butt to high altitude. I could maybe see it for someone who lives in the flatlands, but Ullrich lives in *Switzerland*, for cryin' out loud. One might be tempted to say "well, but you can't cycle high in the mountains there in the winter," but seriously, who really thinks Ullrich needs those extra red blood cells in the dead of winter? That's the kind of thing you only really need in the serious racing season.

Maybe I'm just an old fogey, but one other appealing aspect of training at genuine high altitude: you might just find yourself enjoying the view.

Knowing Ullrich and his love of the party life, he probably *really* uses his personal hybobaric chamber for kinky fun: "Hey, mein Liebchen - let's pretend Earth was destroyed by hostile aliens, and you and I just managed to escape in my private Dr.-Evil-style escape pod here (complete with a fully stocked wet bar), and it's going to take us a full year to reach the Mars outpost and what are we going to do to pass the time? Ooh, I like the way you think, you naughty little minx, you..." ;)

Posted by: EWM at Jul 1, 2005 5:17:45 PM

No offence meant to those of you with the time to jet of to a mountain range to get in your altitude training leaving the wife, kids at home but many of these pro and amature athletes just use altitude simulation as a convienient means of doing this. after all it only balances out the geographical benifits of living in the alps.

after all what would those poor dutch riders do without low oxygen tents?!

Posted by: Mark Matthews at Jul 2, 2005 10:01:01 AM

Working as a hyperbaric engineer for the Navy, I'd like to clear up the difference between hyperbaric and hypobaric. The Hyperbaric chamber increases the pressure inside by means of compressed gas to simulate the pressures encountered at depth underwater (among other uses). This allows recompression treatment of divers who have ascended too quickly, etc.
Hypobaric chambers decrease the pressure inside by means of vacuum pumps to simulate air pressure at high altitudes. Pilots commonly use these in training to simulate loss of cockpit pressure, etc. at high altitudes. This sounds like an effective device to use for athletic conditioning at altitude. As such it will probably be outlawed :D

Posted by: Bob Johnston at Jul 3, 2005 6:23:17 PM

You should check out the latest in high altitude conditioning. www.cvacsystems.com

We take people up to 22,500ft and back down to sea level in seconds. There are 300 changes in pressure in a 20 minute session.

In addition to the effect of high altitude conditioning it squeezes the body removing lactic acid and other toxins.

Athletes who use it win and swear by it.

CVAC = Cyclic Variations in Altitude Conditioning

Posted by: Allen Ruszkowski at Jul 30, 2005 9:17:04 PM

The units that the U.S. Speedskating and Jan Ulrich are using are NOT hypobaric chambers. They are hypoxic enclosures. The pressure is not changed. The percentage oxygen in the air is reduced to simulate altitude conditions.

Posted by: rip young at Aug 15, 2006 11:21:16 PM

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