The Aula Magna of the Acqua Acetosa Olympic Preparation Centre (CPO) in Rome hosted “Training at Altitude”, a seminar organised by the CONI Institute of Sports Medicine and Science and aimed at technical directors and federal coaching staff. The new CONI Olympic Preparation Centre in Livigno was presented over a long day which also featured other topics and was attended by representatives from 24 federations.
Presiding over the event was Carlo Mornati, CONI Secretary General and Head of the Sports Office: “Training at altitude is a theme that we have been pursuing for some time. We began in 2013 and with the Olympic Preparation Centre in Livigno we have reached our goal. There are many federations that organise training at altitude: we are pleased to be able to now offer the chance to go to Livigno. We will carry out research and training, secure in the knowledge that the Institute of Sports Medicine and Science and the Olympic Preparation Centre are an integral part of the Olympic Committee, and that the Sports School is an institution, a university. From now on, our aim is to go back to communication and, as mentioned, research and training. None of us knows everything, but each one of us can bring their own experience. In Livigno we can accommodate all the summer federations, considering that the winter ones are already at home. We also want to bring a medical-scientific facility, a small cell of the Institute, because we need dissemination, knowledge and data collection. We needed a Centre at altitude to test the athletes from the scientific and medical perspective: I am certain that in a few years time, perhaps in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles or Brisbane, our data will be solid enough to evaluate high-altitude training. Livigno is a unique centre in the world, capable of hosting all types of disciplines and its varying climates are a critical factor: every detail makes a difference”.
The Head of CONI’s Institute of Sports Medicine and Science, Giampiero Pastore, then introduced the speakers, giving the preamble to a speech from Alessio Palombi, Head of CONI’s Olympic Preparation: “We are happy to have formalised the partnership agreement with the Aquagranda Sports Centre in Livigno, thus institutionalising a facility that some federations were already using. It is a very advantageous agreement that provides a home to the federations, a centre at high altitude that can be used exclusively by reservation, with the possibility of also taking advantage of about 80 affiliated hotels. There is currently a 25-metre swimming pool, with a 50-metre one from March. Additionally, there is a refurbished athletics track, gyms, workout rooms, football pitch, meeting areas and more. Not to mention the neighbouring Lake Livigno, an artificial reservoir: an ideal training area for rowing or canoeing, for example. Our intention is to further develop the Centre based on indications given by the federations”.
Alessandro Pezzoli, a Researcher and Professor at the University and Polytechnic of Turin, as well as an expert in meteorology applied to sport, focused on environmental thermal comfort, performance and a climatic-strategic evaluation of the Livigno area, said: “Training at altitude brings unquestionable advantages. Specifically, in Livigno, athletes are able to enjoy the beneficial effect of the climate: in Italy the trend of heat waves is growing, so consequently training at low altitude becomes increasingly hard. An accurate analysis from the point of view of measurement has allowed us to observe that the summer of Livigno has comfortable temperatures of around 20 degrees, and is adequate for training. There is no lack of rainfall, which is useful for testing frequent conditions in certain types of races. Ultimately, we can say that in Livigno there is a wide range of temperatures, rainfall and wind that allow athletes to train in varying conditions. Furthermore, from the geomorphological point of view, there is the possibility of ascending as high as 3,000 metres: this variability is another reason why it is an interesting area. Winter? There is consistent snow. So it is a centre where one can ski”.
Dealing with the theme of physiology and checks for training at altitude, Stefano Righetti (Cardiologist at San Gerardo Monza Hospital, FIDAL and FISI consultant) went deeper into some of the technical aspects: from blood adaptations to the perception of fatigue, from metabolic performance parameters to muscle adaptations, including the immune system and changes in body composition. Antonio La Torre (FIDAL Technical Director), meanwhile, focused on altitude training methodology, scientific evidence and experiences in athletics: “The effectiveness of altitude training depends on many factors. Genetic predisposition, training state, physical and mental stress, diet, recovery and confidence in the effectiveness of training at altitude itself. The approach towards altitude has to be an extremely complex one. There are always new things to discover and the scientific literature helps us to understand a lot. It is necessary to constantly monitor the individual responses of athletes who train at altitude. The most important parameter? Experience. Training at altitude is not a magic wand that works miracles, but it represents a great opportunity”. Wrapping up the first part of the seminar Marco De Angelis (Sports Doctor and Associate Professor at the University of L'Aquila, Department of Applied Clinical Sciences and Biotechnology, Sports Movement Science degree) spoke on the nutritional aspects and monitoring of recovery at altitude: “The main factors of altitude which we must consider (including from a nutritional standpoint), given their effect on homeostasis (and to a greater degree with an increase in elevation) are: decreased availability of oxygen, decreased humidity in the air and decreased environmental temperature. Remaining at altitude involves considerable weight loss so individual monitoring of athletes is important”.
The technical experts spoke in the second part of the event. Marco Villa (National Track Cycling Technical Commissioner) noted: “Altitude is highly regarded in cycling. Over the years we have always tried to find the right place for training at high altitude: The ideal period for us is in the middle of the season, looking for the right conditions during the recovery phase, because altitude is important from both a physical and mental point of view. To give a couple of examples, before the Rio Olympics it was essential for Elia Viviani to train in Livigno. Filippo Ganna has also taken advantage of a retreat near his home in Verbania for years and today we can say that it has really paid off”. Cesare Butini, National Swimming Technical Director weighed in on swimming: “The swimming federation has always invested in altitude, trying to optimise this training practice. The season is very intense, but through dialogue with CONI we will try to find solutions involving altitude training. We have been going to Livigno since 2015, taking the sprinters to high altitude: it is a place we love for the leisure facilities that it offers out of the water too”.
The only speech concerning a team sport – football – was made by Roberto Sassi, Physical Trainer and Inter FC Consultant: “As far as team sports go, to date, it is hard to understand the effectiveness of training at altitude. Yet altitude has an effect on results, and the data shows that high-altitude teams have advantages when facing low-altitude teams, whatever the playing conditions”. In conclusion Matteo Artina, Physical Trainer and National Alpine Snowboard Physiotherapist, explained the various advantageous aspects of altitude training for power sports.