Physiological profile of world-class high-altitude climbers

O. Oelz, H. Howald, P. E. Di Prampero, H. Hoppeler, H. Claassen, R. Jenni, A. Bühlmann, G. Ferretti, J. C. Brückner, A. Veicsteinas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The functional characteristics of six world-class high-altitude mountaineers were assessed 2-12 mo after the last high-altitude climb. Each climber on one or more several occasions had reached altitudes of 8,500 m or above without supplementary O2. Static and dynamic lung volumes and right and left echocardiographic measurements were found to be within normal limits of sedentary controls (SC). Muscle fiber distribution was 70% type I, 22% type IIa, and 7% type IIb. Mean muscle fiber cross-sectional area was significantly smaller than that of SC (-15%) and of long-distance runners (LDR, -51%). The number of capillaries per unit cross-sectional area was significantly greater than that of SC (+40%). Total mitochondrial volume was not significantly different from that of SC, but its subsarcolemmal component was equal to that of LDR. Average maximal O2 consumption was 60 ± 6 ml·kg-1·min-1, which is between the values of SC and LDR. Average maximal anerobic power was 28 ± 2.5 W·kg-1, which is equal to that of SC and 40% lower than that of competitive high jumpers. All subjects were characterized by resting hyperventilation both in normoxia and in moderate (inspired O2 partial pressure = 77 Torr) hypoxia resulting in higher oxyhemoglobin saturation levels in hypoxia. The ventilatory response to four tidal volumes of pure O2 was similar to that of SC. It is concluded that elite high-alitude climbers do not have physiological adaptations to high altitude that justify their unique performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1734-1742
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Endocrinology
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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