For awhile, I’ve tried to determine if repeated short-term exposure to altitude can help with the acclimatization process. This curiosity is geared primarily for people living in a Front Range situation and then doing fun activities, training or racing in the mountains.
To help me determine if short-term exposure to altitude might help acclimatize people so that they can enjoy fun activities, training and racing at altitude, I picked up a pulse oximeter. I mentioned the pulse oximeter in a 2010 blog. My personal interest in the numbers is for alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, trail running, road cycling, mountain biking and hiking.
A pulse oximeter is a non-invasive way to measure the amount of oxygen the blood is carrying. The number displayed is expressed as a percentage of the maximum amount the blood could carry at 100 percent. At sea level, typical saturation values are 97 to 99 percent in healthy people. At 5,000 feet it might drop to 95 percent and at around 10,000 feet it may dip to 90 percent. Somewhere around 10,000 feet there is a big change and oxygen saturation can drop to 80 percent or below.
Acclimatizing to various altitudes can help improve these numbers up to a point. Know there is individual variability in the acclimation process and there is even variability among native dwellers at any altitude, beginning at birth.
Children born at various altitudes have similar oxygen saturations during the first 24 to 48 hours of life and the values change within the first four months of life. For example, newborns in Denver, Colorado (5,280 feet, considered moderate altitude) have saturation levels of 85 to 97 percent while those born in Leadville, Colorado (10,152 feet, considered high altitude) are 85 to 93 percent.
Though the time periods noted in a medical column weren’t exactly the same, it is interesting to note that after four months, the Leadville infants were between 89 and 93 percent saturation during wakefulness. Healthy, awake infants under the age of two measured between 90 and 99 percent in Denver. So there was some shifting up, particularly on the low end.
You can pick up a pulse oximeter at many local pharmacies. A common use for these devices includes measuring oxygen saturation in people with compromised lung function. Pilots and mountain climbers also use the devices to determine when supplemental oxygen might be necessary to avoid fainting.
I’ve been playing with an oximeter to look at oxygen saturation at my house (roughly 5,000 ft. measured on my Garmin) and Frisco, Colorado (roughly 9,100 ft.) I did this because much of my fun, training and racing is done at altitudes of 7,500 ft. or more and I was curious if my oxygen saturation changed much between the Front Range and the Colorado mountains.
The next blog will be more about what I’ve noticed in my experiment of one.
The first time I was introduced to this type of exercise, it was to rehabilitate a sprained ankle. One purpose of the exercise is to strengthen the tendons and ligaments in the ankle. That’s just the beginning.
You can also use these exercises to build strength in the ankles to help prevent serious ankle sprains. Sure, at one time or another you’ll rollan ankle, but having strong tendons and ligaments might keep an otherwise minor sprain from being a bigger problem. You can also build some strength in all of the stabilizing muscles in the lower leg.
In addition to strength, you need balance. As a runner you do land on each foot and that foot is expected to hold your body weight and keep you balanced until the other foot takes over. As a skier, particularly a Nordic skier, you must commit your body weight to a foot and glide on that foot (ski) for more than the brief moment. In fact in contrast to skiers, the fastest runners want to spend the least amount of time touching the ground. The fastest skiers get the most glide from each ski placement which requires a sort of strength and balance endurance. It doesn't matter whether you walk, run or ski, these exercises can help you.
(A view from Shock Hill at Breckenridge Nordic Center 12-30-11)
Boiled down, you stand on one foot. Seems pretty easy, doesn’t it? I’ve never met anyone that could “easily” (never tapping the airborne foot down to secure balance) do these exercises the first time. Below are four variations of standing on one foot to build strength and balance. Start with the first one and progress as you gain skill.
Looking forward, stand on one foot and count 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005. Switch feet. Repeat five to 10 times. The non-weight-bearing foot can be anywhere – begin with it close to the ground. As you progress, build up to 30 seconds per foot.
Looking forward, stand on one foot and count to five. Remain on that foot, look over your right shoulder and count to five. Remaining on that foot, look over your left shoulder and count to five. (The weight-bearing foot gets a count of 15 total before resting.) Switch feet. Repeat each foot five to 10 times.
Do progression number 2 with your eyes closed.Tougher than you thought, eh?
While standing on one foot, raise your knee until your femur is parallel to the ground. Count to five. Repeat five to 10 times. As you progress, build up to 30 seconds per foot.
If you’re following one of my training plans, you can easily add one of the exercises below into your strength training session, starting as early as the Anatomical Adaptation (AA) phase. If your plan doesn’t call for strength training, do the exercise before you do a cycling or running session.
Doing just one variation of these exercises one to three times per week can make a difference. If you do it, let me know how it goes and the changes you notice. (You can comment on my Facebook link, but not yet on Active due to hackers.)
PS…I’m guessing you will need to try this right now, just to prove I’m wrong and that you are special and can easily balance on one leg with your eyes closed and move your head and airborne leg anywhere you please. You won't prove me wrong.
In previous blog, I wrote about my prominent medial malleous bone. I thought I’d give you an update and post a photo so it is easier to actually see the issue. The first photo is my left foot in a normal position. You will notice that the ankle bone on the right side of the photograph sticks beyond the rest of the foot.
What happens when my I am trying to apply pressure to edge my ski, that ankle bone takes a good deal of pressure because it sticks out so far.
On deck at masters swimming, I began to look at other people’s feet. In a very limited survey, I didn’t see any other medial malleous bones that protrude as far as mine do. I also noticed that the other wet footprints on the pool deck had arch marks.
My feet are flat. Flat as flat can be. They’ve been this way my entire life and luckily I’ve never had any problems running.
Below is a photo of what my medial malleous bone would look like if I arch my foot, where an arch would be if I had one. Notice how an arch pulls that ankle bone in and makes it less prominent.
In the comment section of the previous blog, I was advised to put my Nordic boot in boiling water and insert an object into the boot to hold it open while the plastic boot shell cooled. I went skate skiing last weekend and this change did take some of the pressure off of that bone.
It was also recommended that I try Super Feet, an over-the-counter arch support. The intention was for the arch support to make it easier for me to edge the ski and to make that ankle bone less prominent. Though I do use Super Feet in the shoes I wear for strength training and my around-the-house shoes, they did not work in my Nordic boots. After about five minutes of skiing my arch, or would-be arch, was in a lot of pain. I think there is just too much arch for the amount of action that my foot sees in skiing.
I think I’m close to a pain-free solution, or combination of solutions. As my progress continues, I’ll keep you posted.
Some of you might be thinking that a good frosted donut can solve many pain issues.
Others might be thinking about the pink, frosted kind of ankle donuts – like the ones offered by SockGuy…
No, I was searching for a donut-shaped piece of foam to protect my prominent medial malleolus bone (the ankle bone that is just above the arch of your foot) during Nordic skiing.
I used to get medial malleolus pain after downhill skiing, but I hadn’t really noticed it during Nordic skiing until recently. Those of you that have had pain in this area know it makes proper skiing form impossible.
In an effort to protect the bone from pressure and friction from my boot, I went looking for ankle donuts. There is one company out of Steamboat Springs, Colorado (Ski Trends) that makes ankle donuts so I picked up a pair at the local ski shop.
It turns out that the donuts didn’t solve my particular problem.
After taking a break from skiing, I decided to try solving the problem with a combination of fixes I’ve learned through working with ultra-runners. The first thing I tried was to cover both medial malleolus bones with moleskin. That solution bought me a little more time skiing, but didn’t completely resolve the problem.
The second fix I tried was to put moleskin over both medial malleolus bones, then wear a knee-high nylon, followed by my ski sock. This solution offered padding for the bone and helped dissipate some of the friction. This solution did allow me to ski about twice as long without pain; but I still had noticeable ankle pain after skiing.
I’m still in search of a solution that completely solves the problem. When I find it, I’ll let you know.
In the mean time, I may have to test the theory that a good frosted donut can solve many pain issues...
Before I let you know about last weekend, I have to admit that about four weeks ago I suffered a ButtBerry injury. (Mistake #1: Carry a BlackBerry in the center rear pocket of a cycling jacket. Mistake #2: Take a feet-out-from-under-you fall while skate skiing. Mistake #3: Land squarely on said BlackBerry with the full force of your body and land directly on your butt and lower back. I initially thought I had a BackBerry injury, but no…it was butt. Put this landing on trails that are essentially frozen solid earth, covered by a few wood chips and about 3 inches of snow. Result: A butt injury that took three weeks to heal to about 90%.
Let this be a lesson to everyone – don’t carry a BlackBerry in your back pocket, protected in an OtterBox, while skiing. Thanks to the OtterBox, the BlackBerry is perfectly fine.
On the upside of the accident, the x-rays showed that there were no bone breaks. Doctor Yemm of Orthopedic Center of the Rockies told me that I “have a nice spine” and that I’m “well balanced” (though some would certainly argue this point).
There were around 100 participants at the camp with abilities ranging from never-ever-been-on-Nordic -skis to advanced skiers looking to build racing skills. Camp organizers keep the student to instructor ratio to around 6 to 1, which was great. The instructors (Murray Selleck, Jon Freckleton and Jim Sanders) for my sessions were all very skilled skiers and great teachers as well.
I decided to try classic skiing in the morning and skate skiing in the afternoons. I consider myself a beginner classic skier and an intermediate skate skier. Because the camp also arranged for manufacturer demo equipment, I was able to try waxless (skis that have a texture on the bottom of the ski, beneath the boot (or kick) area that resembles fish scales) and waxable (you apply wax to create the kick area)) classic skis.
Without going into a lot of detail here, know that skis, boot and poles are like bicycles in that you need the right size, the model designed for the type of skiing you intend to do and the higher performance models are more expensive.
Nordic skiing is a fantastic workout. It is the best overall body workout you can ask for. Nordic skiers are on record as having the highest VO2max of any sport.
I have to say that skiing, working on drills and trying to perfect my technique for about four hours per day made me tired – the good kind of tired. I love being in the mountains with snow falling through the crisp air and moving around the mountain trails.