With the 2012 London Olympic games beginning in under a month many athletes have been hard at work, training day in and day out. But some endurance competitors have found a secret advantage… One that lurks high above sea levels and upon mountain tops. No, it’s not Julie Andrews, but rather the altitude itself. These athletes are using Altitude Training. Most of us have experienced being under water, and the pressure that comes along with swimming too deep. This is because the further down you go, the more water molecules you have above you, compressing the water down on you. This pressure can even cause your ears to pop The same goes for air. At sea level, the air particles exist at a particular distance from one another. And the higher up you go, the less pressure they have on them, allowing them to spread apart more freely. But because of the spreading, the availability of oxygen for you to breathe in actually decreases. So how could this possibly create an advantage? Well, to compensate for the lack of available oxygen in your body A protein in your body called Erythropoictin is triggered. And begins the production of more and larger red blood cells. Blood cells carry oxygen around the body, so the more blood cells you have, the more oxygen can be transported to your muscles and organs. But this process takes some time, which explains why some people feel sick when quickly travelling to high altitudes. Their body is simply isn’t receiving enough oxygen. Once the extra Erythropoictin kicks in, their body will slowly acclimatise. But just as it takes time for the process to kick in, it can take a while for it to turn off as well. In fact, it can take up to 10-14 days after returning to lower altitudes. For this reason, many athletes will subject their bodies to high altitudes. Preferably, over 2400m. So that when they come back down to lower levels, the body has increased blood cell mass and volume. This method has been dubbed the “live high, train low” principle. Whereby, the athletes train at low altitudes in order to not over exhaust their bodies or get sick. This extra oxygen in the body, not only creates a distinct advantage for aerobic athletes, but could be the distinction between bronze, silver or gold In fact, some facilities are now being created as low oxygen level houses. The athletes live and sleep inside of the house but train outside where their bodies will take in higher oxygen levels. Yeays, somewhat natural alternative to drug enhancements. Got a burning question you want answered? Ask it in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter. And subscribe for more weekly science videos.