Hypobaric chambers are also known as altitude or decompression chambers. They are primarily used for training and experimental purposes. They are used during high altitude research or training to simulate the effects of high altitude such as hypoxia i.e. low oxygen and hypobaria i.e. low ambient air pressure on the body. Chambers for temperature and relative humidity control are also available. In home hypobaric chambers can be used by athletes to improve their athletic performance.
Need For Altitude Chambers
For athletes competing above 1500m, acclimatization is an important part of their training and preparation. At these levels, physical activity becomes more difficult and performance is limited. Although air at any level contains about 21 percent of oxygen, the partial pressure of oxygen is progressively lower with increasing elevation. The more the air above any point on the earth, the greater will be the barometric pressure at that point. As we breathe, oxygen from our lungs passes to the blood due to a pressure difference known as pressure gradient. The pressure exerted by oxygen in the lungs is greater than the pressure of oxygen in the blood surrounding the lungs. Any reduction in the pressure of oxygen entering the lungs will cause a change in the pressure gradient and hence a reduction in the amount of oxygen being carried to the lungs. Hypobaric chambers are necessary to acclimatize the body to such conditions which are experienced at high altitudes.
What Is A Hypobaric Chamber?
A hypobaric or altitude chamber is used to simulate the effects of high altitude on the human body without having to visit high altitude training camps. High altitude conditions are simulated by reducing the ambient pressure as would be experienced while ascending to a certain altitude. Hypobaric chambers are also used to enhance physical endurance and gain considerable health benefits. Increased physical endurance leads to an increase in the production of red blood cells. Research has shown that being at a high altitude even for four hours a day, can stimulate a hormone erythropoietin, which causes more red blood cells to be produced. Due to the increase in red blood cells, more oxygen is carried in the blood to the muscles causing them to work at a higher level, thereby increasing your aerobic capacity. After using the hypobaric or altitude chamber, athletic performance is increased as the increase in red blood cell count carries more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles where it is converted into energy for athletic performance. Also these red blood cells transport waste material such as lactic acid away from the muscles.
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Sleeping in an altitude chamber also causes an increase in myoglobin, an iron containing protein. This protein is responsible for storing and transporting oxygen from outside the cell to the mitochondria. The increase in mitochondria causes more oxygen to be converted into energy. This results in greater power and endurance. Altitude chambers also cause an increase in oxygen dissociation resulting in more oxygen reaching the working muscles. This increases the overall performance of the body.
At higher altitudes, there is a reduction in the fluid volume in our body. So it is necessary to pay attention to fluid intake at altitudes along with proper rest and sleep. These factors should also be taken into account when using a hypobaric chamber for altitude training.
Hypobaric chambers are also useful for athletes and cyclists who find it difficult to train and remain at high altitudes. Using a hypobaric chamber at home, one can gain the benefits of high altitude training according to one’s convenience and location.
How Does A Hypobaric Chamber Work?
The hypobaric chamber simulates high altitude conditions by using a vacuum pump to evacuate the air out of the airtight chamber at a constant rate. You can also adjust the amount of airflow into the chamber manually using the hand valve provided. The pressure inside the chamber is controlled by the regulated rate of airflow in the altitude chamber. The lower pressure inside the chamber is similar to the conditions experienced during ascent in altitude. This is how a hypobaric chamber simulates the conditions of high altitude.