When Kenny Florian and Joe Lauzon meet tonight at the Broomfield Event Center for the UFC Fight Night 13 main event, there just might be one area where Lauzon has the edge: An ability to adjust to the change in altitude in the "Mile High City."
That's because Lauzon has been using an altitude training system.
Intended to help an athlete adjust to changes in elevation, altitude sleeping and workout systems are growing in popularity — especially in the world of mixed martial arts.
You might have seen tape of Wanderlei Silva working out with a crazy mask and tube strapped to his face in preparation fight against Chuck Liddell at UFC 79. Strikeforce/EliteXC fans heard the ringside announcers comment on how both Frank Shamrock and Cung Le utilize similar devices.
The UFC 80 Countdown show featured B.J. Penn — who helped prepare Lauzon for tonight's fight with Florian — in an altitude sleeping chamber. Penn swears by this device, which helps him and his fighters adjust from the near-sea level altitude of Hilo, Hawaii, where they train, to higher altitudes like Denver, Colo., as well as providing an intense workout.
I spoke with Matt Formato of Hypoxico Altitude Training Systems —the leading distributor of such devices, which has provided training systems for Penn, Lauzon, Shamrock, Le, Din Thomas and a host of other top athletes — to find out how it all works.
It's actually fairly simple.
"By sleeping at altitude and by prolonged exposure to an altitude environment," Formato told MMAmania.com, "the body naturally releases EPO (or Erythropoietin), which triggers the kidneys to produce more red blood cells. More red blood cells in the blood equates to a higher oxygen-carrying capacity, and the more oxygen carried within the blood, within the body, the more oxygen that is able to be delivered to the body when it is under duress."
"That being said, an increased oxygen-carrying capacity within the body leads to an overall greater conditioning level and greater cardiovascular stamina."
Hypoxico offers Altitude Sleeping Systems that include tents for your bed; Altitude Workout Systems, such as the masks work by Shamrock and Le that were featured on Goldberg's Toe to Toe segment (you can find it here); and even Altitude Wellness Systems that can be used in a relaxed state in the treatment of asthma, allergies, diabetes, sleep disorders and other degenerative or chronic diseases.
If you can't afford one of these training systems on your own, you might be able to find a local fitness center that offers altitude training. More and more gyms, especially on the west coast, are beginning to offer altitude chambers, which enclose several fitness machines and are ventilated with hypoxic air, allowing for multiple simultaneous users.
In fact, you can even convert an entire room, if you're so inclined.
These devices actually lower the oxygen level from about 21 percent at sea level down to about 13 percent, which simulates a 12,500 feet altitude environment.
Take that, you Nepalese sherpas.
While altitude training has received a lot of notoriety from fighters like Tito Ortiz and Rampage Jackson, who have trained in Big Bear, Calif.(elevation 6,752 feet, or 2,058 meters), you might ask yourself, how do you benefit from merely sleeping at altitude?
Let's say you have a foot race with a Kenyan long distance runner coming up in four to six weeks. Let's face it, unless you do something drastic, you're going to get creamed. After all, this dude's Kenyan.
Sleeping in an altitude tent — which is to say, sleeping in a low-oxygen environment — will help acclimatize your body so you won't get altitude sickness if your race runs through the Rockies.
And even if your event takes place at sea level, the fact that your body has been working to produce more red blood cells, increase capillary growth (which means greater oxygen delivery to tissues, muscles and the brain) and enhance production of mitochondria (the cells' power plant for aerobic energy production) means that you'll see amplified pulmonary oxygen absorption and more efficient use of oxygen for energy production.
In short, you'll smoke the Kenyan.
Other signs your money was well spent include decreased average heart rate and blood pressure, increased production and release of Human Growth Hormone (do I have your attention now?) and stimulation of fat metabolism. That's right, fatties, you can actually lose weight easier on these machines. Sure beats Lean Cuisine.
Plus, if you plan to spend four weeks in Big Bear without first preparing yourself for the change in altitude, it might take you several weeks to adjust, meaning that you might not be able to push yourself as hard as you normally would until your body has had a chance to acclimatize to the elevation. That can eat into precious time.
Basically, if you could live in Big Bear while training at sea level, you might have even better results than what Team Punishment swears by.
As Formato put it, "The basic philosophies are to live high and train low. What that means is for athletes who are trying to get in their speed work or their intense conditioning work, they want to be doing that as close to sea level as possible."
Hypoxico suggests "sleeping high and training low" for some athletes, and for others they suggest sleeping high while also incorporating three or four, 30- to 40-minute high-altitude workouts each week.
Besides those fighters already mentioned, Dan Henderson reportedly used altitude training equipment to prepare for his UFC 82 fight with Anderson Silva. Other fighters using these devices include Marcus Aurelio, Nick "the Goat" Thompson and the WEC's John Alessio.
Interestingly enough, Din Thomas might not see the same edge from his use of altitude training systems in tonight's fight with Josh Neer. That's because Neer reportedly has been using these same devices. If the fight goes into the third round, don't expect either of these guys to let up early.
And more and more fighters might not have that edge for much longer thanks to the emergence altitude training systems.