by Nicolette Mok
Team Singapore's kayakers are the first batch of athletes to try out the newly launched altitude house at the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI), in a bid to take their training to a new level before the Asian Canoeing Championships in November 2015. Photo: SportSG
Comprising sleek furniture and white walls, the warmly lit interior of the Singapore Sports Institute’s (SSI) altitude house looks just like any other modern household – comfortable and tastefully decorated.
However, the four-bedroomed apartment, which can hold up to 16 people, should not be taken at face value. Accessible only through a disguised doorway deep in the heart of the SSI, it was built specially for Team Singapore athletes to undergo altitude training, with compressors that filter out oxygen from the air inside the structure.
With controls set to simulate the hypoxic environment – one that contains low oxygen content – experienced at an altitude of 2,500 to 3,000 metres above sea level, the facility is designed to improve the oxygen-carrying capacity of the athletes, which will in turn lead to the development of strength and stamina. The effects are expected to last approximately two to three weeks.
Following a year of SEA Games successes and overseas training stints, Team Singapore’s kayakers have moved in to the SSI’s altitude house in a bid to take their training to a whole new level – literally – before the Asian Canoeing Championships in early November.
Speaking about their experience during the mid-way mark of their three-week stay, the squad related first-hand accounts on their time in the altitude house and how it would benefit their preparations for the upcoming meet.
“Initially, for the first one or two days, it was slightly difficult for me to fall asleep. But after that, our bodies got used to [lack of oxygen] and it felt just like sleeping back at sea level. I don’t really feel the difference now,” revealed national kayaker and 28th SEA Games gold medallist Lucas Teo.
SSI’s Head and Senior Sports Physiologist Dr Frankie Tan, who is overseeing the team’s progress in the facility, affirmed that the altitude he had set for them was moderate and not likely to cause discomfort.
Each athlete had to put in a stipulated minimum of 12 hours a day in the altitude house, but SEA Games champion Suzanne Seah shared that a typical day for them during the three weeks of altitude living differed minimally from their usual lifestyles.
“If I’m not training, I’m at home. So this is just like home now,” she pointed out, adding that they were free to go out in their own time as well, as long as they logged in the required hours every day.
Meanwhile, the only complaints that the team had were hardly related to hypoxia. Instead, it was the challenges of communal living that proved the biggest stumbling block.
Each Team Singapore athlete had to put in a stipulated minimum of 12 hours a day in the altitude house, but lifestyles differed minimally from their usual routine. Photo: SportSG
“We spend a lot of time together already, so we’re pretty used to each other’s idiosyncrasies. But communal living always has its challenges. These have nothing to do with the altitude. Some people are too noisy; some are too messy. There are 13 of us squeezing in this space,” expressed Suzanne.
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“But it doesn’t matter, ultimately, as long as we all tolerate a little bit!”
The national canoeing team trains at the nearby Water Sports Centre in the mornings and afternoons, with pockets of time in between used either for school or leisure. They also make use of the SSI’s altitude gym, which is located just outside the altitude house.
“The training venue is just 200 metres away; the gym is just 10 metres away, right outside here! Otherwise, I’ll have to travel home, which is a 30-minute drive back and forth. I get to rest more,” commented Lucas.
As teammate Suzanne reflected: “We don’t feel much of a difference [living in the altitude house] because it’s not that big a shock.”
“But personally, my longer [training] sets have been getting better. I don’t know about the rest. For me, it seems much easier to hold speed for a longer period of time,” she noted.
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