I would like to prepare myself for the climb in the high mountains (for now by "high mountains" I mean elevation 4000 m and more, but eventually eight-thousanders).

What can I do to improve my general physical condition specifically for this purpose (oxygen deficiency)?

I am asking about both types of physical activity, as well as training methods (in the countryside and in the city). The question is only about physical condition (not strength), I've seen similar questions here but they weren't specifically related to dealing with low oxygen levels.

  • 3
    I would note that it isn't oxygen deficiency that is the primary challenge with high altitude - it is the pressure difference. Oxygen is often supplemented on high ascents, but it isn't a cure-all, because oxygen isn't the big issue. Also note that you can be struck with AMS, HAPE, or HACE even if you are an accomplished and otherwise unaffected mountaineer.
    – Greg.Ley
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 22:39
  • @Greg.Ley You're right, but do I understand it correctly that the same training options I'm asking about in this question will apply to coping low pressure in high mountains (and will therefore minimize risk of different kind of altitude sicknesses for most of the people)?
    – syntagma
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 22:47
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    I think so, yes. The problem is that there is no way (that I have ever heard of, anyway) for a body to adapt to a pressure situation that it is not currently in. This is why you acclimate slowly as you ascend, and why your body returns to normal function not long after returning to lower altitudes. If you're really interested in the scientific details, see the research from Ev-K2-CNR (near Everest): evk2cnr.org/cms/en/research/results . So, long comment short, go high slowly, be in fantastic physical condition, and hone your winter camping skills.
    – Greg.Ley
    Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 17:15
  • do I understand it correctly that the same training options I'm asking about in this question will apply to coping low pressure in high mountains (and will therefore minimize risk of different kind of altitude sicknesses for most of the people)? No, there isn't any training you can do that will have any effect on altitude sickness.
    – user2169
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 22:29

3 Answers 3


To deal with low oxygen environments you need more red blood cells. To get more red blood cells you have very few options.

  1. Blood doping
  2. Low pressure chamber treatments
  3. Actually going into higher altitudes on a regular basis (I recommend this one)

Make sure your diet has enough iron to support the red blood cell production. However, iron by itself is not enough. You have to put yourself in the environment that triggers your body to create the extra red blood cells.


Acclimatization is the most common technique. Altitude sickness occurs at 2,400 m, so you go to a base camp (for example Cuzco if you're doing the Incan trail, or the South/North Base camps for Everest) and you let your body adjust to the altitude over a few days although it can easily take a week.

However, acclimatizing has its limits, somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000m any length of time is detrimental due to the decrease in air pressure, so you can't just climb half-way up Everest, spend a week resting and the kick it for the last part, you'll be worse off after that week than when you began.

  • 2
    I'd add that low-intensity exercise helps acclimatization - don't just sit on your butt and hope you acclimate.
    – Greg.Ley
    Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 17:18
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    General fitness doesn't affect your chances of getting AMS, HAPE, or HACE.
    – user2169
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 22:28
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    @furtive Would you consider deleting your answer please? I do search and rescue in the California mountains and being in better shape does not change your risk of AMS. This is a common, but dangerous misconception. My wife is a doctor and she backs me up. If you can, please check page 4 of Wilderness medicine: amzn.com/1437716784 Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 19:51

I thought that a sportsman has more red blood cells because his body needs more oxygen during peak performance. Working out uses up oxygen, and breathing hard is required to get more oxygen into your body. This demand for oxygen stimulates red blood cell production, and lowers the age of red blood cells. The result is that a sportsman has more oxygen carrying capacity. Therefore an athlete can deal better with low oxygen at high altitude.

However, it has no effect on high altitude disease, which is caused by the pressure difference.

  • The consequence of what you are describing is that it would have an positive effect on high altitude disease. Yes it has to do with pressure difference and this lower partial pressure lets you get less oxygen in the blood. So the athlete should have a benefit which is said to be false.
    – Wills
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 21:39
  • As far as I know, it is true that the sportsman has higher blood cell levels, but not significantly enough to make a substantial difference in getting AMS at high altitude. So in studies no link has been found between activity and chances to get AMS. But technically, that does not imply hat there is no such effect either!
    – imsodin
    Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 16:50

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