The highs and lows of the Hybl Center altitude chamber

William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center exterior in the evening. Photo by Don Jones

Need an altitude adjustment?

At the Hybl Center, the altitude chamber gives users a chance to train at various elevation levels. By changing the oxygen percentage in the air, the chamber can mimic low or high altitude, allowing those inside to prepare for diverse circumstances depending on their goals.

The benefits to the chamber are numerous. Athletes and competitors can train in the environments they’ll be participating in, like the cross-country team that used high oxygen in the chamber to train for a race in Florida at a much lower elevation, or the mountaineers who can use it to prep for high altitude summits in low oxygen.

“Before, oxygen canisters and masks had to be used to create different oxygen levels, but now we can just step inside the chamber and it’s much easier,” explained Dr. Andrew Subudhi, Human Physiology & Nutrition professor and department chair.

Another advantage is the ability to research and test the human body’s responses to elevation changes in a controlled and easily accessible environment. One such case involved a Special Forces soldier with a head injury. Military personnel had concerns about the soldier’s performance and ability to make decisions in an elevated climate post-injury, and the chamber allowed for easy testing and proof that the soldier could operate at higher altitude.

Subudhi usually recommends a seven-session training plan for those using the chamber to prepare for physical activity. The first few sessions tend to be lighter and mostly serve to acclimate to the change before training heavily. When the oxygen level is increased to mimic low altitude, it’s easy for users to overexert themselves with how energized they feel.

“Sometimes we have to hold people back a little,” Subudhi said of the first sessions.

Unlike most places with similar altitude chambers, Hybl doesn’t require a membership and their space can be used by anyone.

“That’s one of the wonderful things about the Hybl Center,” said Subudhi, “whether you’re a recreational athlete or a pro, we’re giving everyone the same level of care. We’re offering services to everyone.”