Dubai isn’t renowned for its snow-capped peaks stretching thousands of metres in the sky, so it’s the last place you’d expect to be able to indulge in high-altitude training – one of the best forms of training for endurance athletes such as world-beating cyclist Lance Armstong. So it’s a good job the clever folk at the Quay Club in the Madinat Jumeirah can take you up a mountain without leaving their multi-purpose gym.
We featured the club’s high-altitude suite in these pages in June, as part of a round-up of sports science facilities in Dubai, so its official launch this month is as good a time as any to stop making excuses and lace up our running shoes to give it a try. As it happens, the initial test is not at all difficult for anyone of a reasonable fitness level. It’s simply designed to record how fit (or unfit) you are, to determine in which heart-rate zone you should be training to maximise results.
The difference in air pressure in the suite – about the size of a large bedroom – isn’t immediately noticeable, although it’s the equivalent of about 2,400m above sea level. Guests are first strapped to a heart monitor, then put on a treadmill and asked to run, or walk, for 35 minutes, stopping every five minutes to record heartbeat and oxygen levels.
The hard work comes afterwards, when you’re put through 12 90-minute training sessions on consecutive days. As you are gradually taken up to ‘altitudes’ of up to 4,500m, you’ll start to feel the huge health benefits. Championship athletes, keen sportsman, the overweight and even the obese will see huge improvements, says Hannah Pearce, the gym’s assistant sports and leisure manager.
‘We’ve had many clients who have lost body fat, increased muscle mass, improved their 10km run time, competed at world-class events such as triathlon and kayaking, lowered their cholesterol and blood pressure and stabilised their blood sugar levels so they no longer had to take medication,’ she says. ‘However, it’s obviously dependent on the individual, their targets and their commitment to changing their lifestyle. It must be stressed that for weight loss, it’s no miracle cure. Clients do lose weight during the programme, but if they commit to eating correctly during the training, the weight loss is far more profound. We had one client who trained for one hour a day for 12 days, followed a healthy-eating plan from the team and lost 7kg.’
So how does it work? Well, here comes the science. Hypoxic training, the technique’s technical name, results in a decrease in the amount of oxygen saturation in the blood, similar to conditions at high altitude. In order to compensate for this, erythropoietin, a hormone secreted by the kidneys, stimulates red blood cell production from bone marrow in order to boost oxygen levels. The resulting health benefits include better use of nutrients within muscles and tissues, faster weight loss, higher endurance thanks to an increased number of red blood cells, and better concentration levels. Sign us up.
Dhs4,500 for 12 sessions; Dhs5,000 for 15 sessions or Dhs6,000 for 20 sessions. Quay Club, Madinat Jumeirah (04 406 8534).