Altium i10 is an altitude simulator device that was originally unveiled in late 2015, and has been rolling out to consumers this year. Targeted specifically at the endurance sport community – from triathletes, to runners, cyclists and obstacle racers – the device presents an interesting tool for elite athletes and committed age groupers to raise their performance levels.
The key benefit put forward by Altium i10 is that the device gives a boost to the ‘engine’ of the athlete… ‘By controlling and reducing the amount of oxygen that athletes experience at high altitude, the Altium i10 device triggers the body to improve oxygen efficiency – and, in turn, boosts endurance performance.’
We got the chance to play around with one of the devices and spent the last few weeks putting Altium i10 through its paces…
To start with, at a price point of £499 (around £449 to the consumer if they get hold of a discount code), the Altium i10 isn’t particularly cheap. Yet, it is considerably more affordable than the many thousands that can be spent on an oxygen tent, or other altitude simulators that make use of a generator to reduce oxygen levels.
A price point of £499 is also well below the price paid for a range of other products that have enticed cyclists and triathletes over the years, such as carbon wheels, power meters and other accessories. Also, as mentioned, what makes Altium i10 interesting is that the device trains the ‘engine’ of the athlete – in other words, it helps to boost the endurance performance of the individual.
In summary, the Altium i10 altitude simulator is a re-breather device that is calibrated to each user’s breathing volume and flow rate. The £499 Altium i10 starter pack includes the device itself and cartridges for the main 28-day altitude simulation phase. Cartridges typically last two to three sessions and can be bought separately at £10 per unit (or £50 for a 5-pack of follow-on cartridges). A free iPhone app works with the device to analyze and track progress.
By volume, the air we breathe consists of around 21% oxygen. When using Altium i10, exhaled air passes through the cartridge (where the CO2 is removed) and into the device’s mixing chamber. Then, after around 100 seconds using the device during each session, the rebreathed air consists of a lower oxygen concentration of around 9-12%, simulating altitudes of around 4,500m – 6,000m.
It is well understood that improving oxygen uptake is key for athletes to boost cardiovascular fitness. With this specific aim, the Altium i10 device measures and reduces the oxygen concentration that the athlete breathes in. Over an initial period of 28 days, using the device for one hour a day, every other day, the body adapts to improve oxygen flow to the muscles.
In the first use of the device, on day 1 of 28, three foam discs were added to the mixing chamber with one hole at the bottom for ambient air to enter. The app was set-up quickly and easily on an iPhone. The app itself isn’t required, as the pulse oximeter (attached to the middle or index finger) takes the necessary readings. However, the app does keep track of each session, has a calendar function and provides the user with ‘Altipoints’ after each session, based on the simulated altitude that is achieved in that session.
The first session seemed to work OK. Breathing felt a little laboured; and a couple of times the app cut in to suggest a pause in the session. This was because the measured blood oxygen saturation level (SpO2) went below the recommended 78%.
The team at Altium i10 stress that the device should be used with gradual shallow breathing, much like sipping air through a straw – rather than big, stress-inducing breaths. After a few goes on the device, it’s fairly easy to get into a pattern and watch the oxygen levels drop to the hypoxic zone, which is around 90% SPO2. Thereafter, the trick is to hover between 80% and 85% SPO2 throughout the session.
Each 1 hour session using Altium i10 involves 6 minutes using the device, followed by 4 minutes of rest. This 10-minute chunk of usage/rest is repeated six times in total throughout the hour.
Altium i10 is also used entirely at rest. In other words, it supplements existing training so that there are 3 or 4 hours of Altium i10 training added into a given week’s regular training.
The device is used every other day. Thus, there are 14 sessions over the initial 28-day loading phase.
After getting used to the device, much like perfecting cadence on the bike, or run form, the sessions feel that they are less effort – and it’s possible to sit back and watch a TV show. This is quite a nice way to train. The sessions do exert the body, but they are done at rest and therefore do provide some bonus training hours each week without hitting the bike, the water or putting on a pair of run shoes!
To test the performance claims of Altium i10, a Functional Threshold Power test was performed prior to the 28-day loading phase. This involved measuring power via a Kinetic Smart Trainer and the inRide power measurement hardware from Wahoo Fitness.
To get through the test, the Sufferfest Rubber Glove video was used (an hour of utter misery, with a standard 20 minute FTP test at the end of the hour). The initial test was undertaken after a good few months of solid training. This arrived at an FTP of 315W, which was at the top-end of FTP tests previously conducted over the past few years.
Then, on to using Altium i10 for the 28-day loading phase. The device was used as recommended on an every-other-day basis. There were one or two occasions where travel or other commitments meant that a planned evening session using Altium i10 had to skip to the next day.
This didn’t appear to be an issue; and Dr Mathew Piasecki, Altium i10’s physiology consultant, confirmed that missing a day was OK, as long as the every-other-day approach continued thereafter.
After the 28 day phase was complete, it was back to the turbo and the joys of the Sufferfest Rubber Glove video. The second FTP test was conducted in late May, 37 days after the previous FTP test. Usually, FTP testing would be conducted on a 10-week basis, with a block of training building up to each subsequent test.
During the time between the two ‘before’ and ‘after’ FTP tests, training was undertaken as normal – with Altium i10 simply added into the mix. So, there were three or four Altium i10 sessions in any given week.
The results from the second test were a surprise as the FTP jumped 314W to 329W. This was a personal best FTP and was achieved in around 5 weeks.
Other performances also improved following the use of Altium i10. Despite recovering from a run injury in April/May, it was encouraging to see that run times were on a par with late 2015 results; and in a couple of instances a local 5 mile or 8 mile run personal best came out of the blue. Swim times were also improved whilst Altium i10 was being used (within 5 days of starting with the device).
Anecdotally, on the run and the bike, hill sessions felt quicker. There was less of a gasping sensation putting in hard hill efforts, as had been the case earlier in the season.
In summary, it is of course difficult to say if Altium i10 contributed entirely to this boost in performance. Yet, it felt certain that Altium i10 did contribute, and genuinely brought about an uplift in performance – in what was essentially a short space of time.
During the review of the device, we didn’t get before and after blood samples taken or have other independent testing initiated. Although, other reviewers are looking at this; and it will be interesting to see the results.
What came through whilst using the Altium i10 was a feeling of being stronger, particularly on the bike and whilst running. The gains didn’t seem marginal either. There was a clear boost to power on the bike, and this helped with climbs and group rides where an injection of pace was required.
Going forwards, once awareness builds, we would expect Altium i10 to start making waves in a number of areas – such as triathlon and cycling in particular. Whether it be club cyclists or triathletes chasing points or simply looking to beat a personal best or a friend/rival, there’s a lot to be said for training the engine rather than adding a bit of bling to the bike.