WF’s digital editor headed to London’s highest place to train for an elite-athlete style workout. 

Interval training at 2700m above sea-level isn’t easy. In fact, after the first two intervals I was almost ready to tap out. Luckily, we didn’t have to climb up the side of a mountain to make it to this altitude. We’re inside City Athletic’s altitude chamber and as I get a countdown for my third interval, I’ve decided that trainer Piers Chen is my least favourite person right now.

london altitude centre

The altitude chamber at this boutique gym isn’t large but it’s impressive. Set up with WattBikes, treadmills and rowing machines, City Athletic runs specialised altitude classes where members are put through their paces on a cardio machine of choice. My poison, the WattBike. I regretted it immediately.

Altitude training is not only challenging but is also, thankfully, very effective. “There’s less oxygen in the air, around 6% less, which means that your body has to fight harder to produce energy aerobically,” Chen explains. “At 2700m and 15% oxygen, athletes can still push themselves without a huge performance decrease.”

london altitude centre

Chen took me through a session that he referred to as a series of “pyramids”. The first interval was 20 seconds, followed by 20 seconds rest. Next, a 30 second interval followed by 30 seconds rest. Then 40 seconds and 40 rest and finally a minute interval (aka. the worst interval) followed by a minute off then all the way back down, 40, 30 to 20. We did this pyramid three times through. I was hooked up to a heart rate monitor and my vitals were projected on two large monitors in the front corners of the room. There for Chen to see how hard I was going (and when I was slacking off).

If you think this sounds pretty hardcore, I’ll admit it really kicked my butt, however this kind of training isn’t just for mountaineers and elite athletes. “Roughly half our clients are here for fitness purposes. Our classes can get you very fit very quickly, which is appealing to most people. Our clients range from marathon runners to your average office worker trying to get fitter,” says Chen.

After 27 minutes (yes, I was counting) of intense work I was well and truly spent. This kind of cardio is far more challenging than your average treadmill sesh but definitely more satisfying. So, what could I hope to have achieved from such a hard workout (apart from the glory and the bragging rights)? “Regular altitude training results in an increase in your red blood cells. This allows more efficient delivery of oxygen to your working muscles so that when you go back down to sea level, your blood is more saturated in oxygen while you exercise,” Chen explains.

While I definitely uttered my fair share of swear words during the class, the workout was fantastic. The monitor told me that my heart rate remained above 80% of my max for almost the entire session which really tested my cardiovascular fitness. While I may have had to lie down on the floor for a minute or two post-sesh I got a hefty serve of after-exercise happiness and I’ve got my fingers crossed that my one-off altitude experience has made me a much fitter athlete.

london altitude centre

If you want to go check out City Athletic’s altitude chamber book in and take a class to test your limits.