While downtown Toronto remains relatively flat, a new luxury fitness centre, Altitude Athletic Training, can give you the feeling (and results) of training at a height, thanks to its 1,200-square-foot reduced oxygen room, state-of-the-art technology and personalized coaching. We chatted with founder Melanie Miller to get the 411 on this unique exercise experience. —Noa Nichol
Hi Melanie! Please tell us a bit about yourself/your background to start.
I am the founder of Altitude Athletic Training! My background is in engineering but I’ve always had a strong passion for fitness and design.
When and why did you launch Altitude Athletic Training? What products/services do you offer?
We were just about to launch Altitude in March 2020 but COVID got in the way. So we waited and kept busy by making improvements to the chamber (not only are we the largest chamber in the world, but also the quietest) and building a library of altitude training workouts based on academic research. We re-launched as soon as restrictions allowed in mid-July this year. Altitude was created to help athletes of all abilities make the most out of their exercise time and empower them to go on great adventures, tackle physical and mental challenges and live healthier lives. Whether preparing for a climb up Mount Everest or just to feel good in their bodies, we make it our mission to give clients access to the tools they need to optimize their training and reach their goals faster. We do this through our range of tailored services, including: memberships, personalized fitness programming, drop-in packages, personal training, fitness and movement quality assessments and altitude equipment rentals.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of what makes Altitude different: first, what is a luxury altitude training centre (i.e., a mountain in the middle of Toronto)?
Professional athletes travel to high altitude locations (over 5,000 FT/1524 M) to train because exercising in the thinner air stimulates unique changes in the body—called physiological adaptations—that enhance performance. These physiological adaptations make the body more efficient at using oxygen, which leads to improved stamina, speed, power and strength. Although professional athletes were the first to use altitude training, anyone can do it and benefit from it. But Toronto is at sea-level and since few of us are in a position to jump on a flight to the mountains for a Saturday jog, we built Canada’s largest publicly accessible altitude training facility: a luxurious training centre containing a 1,200-square-foot room with the capacity to simulate high altitudes and deliver the same benefits of real mountain air. The room itself models a high-end gym, with state-of-the-art cardio equipment, free weights, a functional training area and stretching mats. It’s what’s in the air that’s different. So now there’s a mountain in the middle of Toronto where athletes of all abilities can go to achieve the benefits that professionals have been enjoying for years. And the best part is, due to the unique demands altitude puts on the body, they can get these results in about half the time as a regular sea-level workout.
If you haven’t already, tell us about the oxygen room; for those who don’t know, what is it, and how does it aid in fitness/training? Is it the same as the altitude room mentioned on your website?
Simulated altitude training involves exercising in or simply inhaling the oxygen-reduced air that you find at high altitudes. We achieve lower oxygen concentration levels through computer controlled manipulation of atmospheric gases in our sealed chamber to mimic the altitudes of locations such as Flagstaff, Arizona. Toronto sits at 76 meters (approx. 250 feet) above sea level where there is approx. 20.9 per cent oxygen in the air. In our altitude room, we can reduce this amount to simulate elevations as high as 12,000 FT/3,657 M. Each day of the week, our facility rotates through three altitude zones, aside from Sunday, when the facility remains at sea level for fitness assessments (or client sea level workouts). You can see a full breakdown of our elevation schedule here. When the body is exposed to altitude, it is challenged to produce the required amounts of energy with less available oxygen. The body responds to this challenge by triggering a range of physiological adaptations geared toward improving the efficiency of its respiratory, cardiovascular and oxygen utilization systems, which can help:
- Get better results faster
- Improve endurance, VO2 Max and power output
- Pre-acclimate the body prior to high altitude travel
- Accelerate recovery rate
- Maintain fitness during injury rehab and recovery
What other unique technologies/methodologies/tools/equipment does Altitude take to help clients achieve their fitness goals (very intrigued by the Custom Weighted Mountaineering Packs!)
Aside from the chamber itself, we have lots of other cool tech and tools for fitness testing and training. For example, we have the capacity to run clinical-grade VO2 Max tests using the PNOE metabolic analyzer. VO2 max is a measure of your oxygen consumption during exercise. This test is considered the gold standard for assessing aerobic performance and cardiovascular health. Runners and cyclists love our state-of-the-art Technogym equipment, including indoor bikes with a real gear shift and treadmills that measure cadence, power and ground contact time, and Kickr Core bike trainers. Since simulation and data analysis is key for these athletes, we ensured all equipment could sync with third-party apps like Zwift and Strava. Mountaineers can replicate the demands of their expedition in the gym with custom weighted mountaineering packs and tools that simulate the mountain experience, such as our Stairmaster and Versa Climber. Power-based athletes such as football, hockey and soccer players can challenge coordination, speed, agility and strength with functional training tools, dumbbells, and the sled-push setting on our treadmills. Their progress can be evaluated regularly using PUSH Band Pro Power testing—an accelerometer worn as a band around the arm or waist that measures power output.
Who are your coaches, and what makes them trusted experts when it comes to clients’ fitness goals?
Having access to high-tech tools (like an altitude chamber) is awesome. But working with experienced professionals who know how to use those tools to get the most out of your training is even better. We have two amazing coaches at Altitude: Josh Downer and Damien Allen, both certified strength and conditioning specialists (NSCA). Altitude coaches are unique. They love data, because it documents progress and proves results. They love learning and are inherently curious about things like how the body performs at sea-level and hypoxia (reduced-oxygen). And they love to motivate their athletes and see them succeed. The combination of those attributes builds a great coach and a great opportunity for client success.
What kind of service can Altitude clients expect? What amenities are offered at the gym?
Alongside science-based training, we are passionate about member experience and strive to provide the highest level of member comfort and service. We want our clients to be transported from the bustle of downtown Toronto to a peaceful and inspiring environment, much like being atop a mountain. Outside the chamber, clients can find all the amenities they need, including rain showers, lockers and towel service.
In that vein, WHO is Altitude for?
Altitude is for busy professionals looking to supercharge their workouts, those recovering from an injury but looking to maintain aerobic fitness while minimizing training load, active adventurers traveling to altitude for climbing expeditions and athletes of all abilities looking to gain an edge and improve endurance, speed, power and strength.
Tell us about the upcoming Altitude camps?
These are actually altitude camps done at our facility in Toronto! One of them operates with the room set to the elevation of Flagstaff (7,000 FT/2,134 M) and the other at the elevation of Aspen (8,000 FT/2,438 M). Athletes participate in training camps like this in the mountains to trigger physical and mental benefits that can last for weeks. For locals looking for something closer to home, Altitude offers multi-week camp-style experiences that deliver the same benefits of real mountain air in the city. Clients immerse themselves in altitude training with a small private group of friends, family or like-minded athletes. Camp members train five times per week, 60 minutes per session at a set time and altitude for two, three or four week durations. Pre/post camp fitness testing is included in the price.
You also offer some unique equipment rental options; can you tell us about those?
Our altitude equipment rentals give athletes and climbers the opportunity to achieve the benefits of altitude training without leaving home. We rent state-of-the-art altitude mask and tent equipment for sleeping, breathing and stationary exercise training. Clients can acclimatize to altitude or improve sea-level performance using a comfortable and convenient home setup. We will also include a custom exposure protocol based on the client’s specific trek, race or performance goal.
Final, personal question: what are you training for?!
I’m a runner and currently training for a half-marathon. I’m doing all of my long runs and speed training in the chamber. I can already see the difference when I go to do a recovery run outside—it’s like having an extra lung!