Huge high-altitude training center opens
By Lou Fancher Correspondent Contra Costa Times
LeBron James and Michael Phelps use it. Tiger Woods has one in his home. And now, Bay Area gym rats can soar to new heights of cardiovascular fitness in the largest AirFit altitude training facility in North America.
Leisure Sports Inc. has opened The Quad, a five-in-one fitness center operating out of new facilities in an inauspicious office park in Pleasanton. The 20,000-square-foot club features a fully-equipped fitness room and four specialized training centers: Absolute Barre, CrossFit NST, Undisputed Boxing and AirFit.
The spalike Absolute Barre room is soothing -- and the Olympic lifting platform, ropes, rings, medicine balls and serious dumbbells promise CrossFit buff-ness. And sequestered in Undisputed Boxing's black-painted room with roll-up walls are 28 150-pound Muithi boxing bags suspended on a trolley system like a regiment of soldiers, begging to be pummeled by even the most docile exerciser.
But it's the 1,100-square-foot AirFit room -- where hypoxic air gets as much of a workout as people do -- that's most breathtaking. It's closest size-competitor is Leisure Sport's 450-square-foot training room in Tigard, Oregon.
Two walls of floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a mirrored third wall expand the room's spacious, first impression. Below a 15-foot-wide photograph of a snow-frosted mountain range, top-brand spin cycles, rowing machines and functional training equipment -- used in the chamber's small 50-minute training classes -- wait to be rotated in and out of the space. Yoga mats indicate AirFit's most low-tech application: mile-high "Summit Yoga." A large-screen television, it's grid-like display revealing "Brad's" oxygen saturation was 92 percent when the room's altitude was at 7,904 feet above sea level, serves as a prompt for Dennis Dumas, Leisure Sports' wellness director, to explain the process and purpose of removing oxygen from an exercise room.
"We reduce the oxygen and train people at high altitude, anywhere from 5 (thousand) to 22,000 feet (above see level)" he says. "Even the three-day-a-weeker will ultimately utilize oxygen better. The group setting makes it social. People gain efficiency, speed and endurance."
They also gain Dumas' expertise and an underrated coaching skill: compassion. In 1994, he was an ATV accident victim, with four crushed lumbar vertebrae. After a year in bed, he sported an extra 100 pounds on his just-over-six-foot tall frame. As the lead trainer for AirFit, he knows firsthand the importance of maximizing exercise's physiological benefits while also letting the body heal.
Counterintuitively, working out at higher elevations means there's less pounding and more payoff, as muscles reach maximum output sooner and produce less lactic acid than they do at sea level. Dumas says the level of training is adaptable to different fitness levels and ultimately, wellness isn't about being thin or strong, it's science and learning and being well without beating up your body.
The AirFit room's elevation can be adjusted, but it doesn't happen without effort. "See those?" Dumas asks, pointing at brown, can-shaped objects mounted on an unobtrusive cluster of ceiling pipes. "Those are mufflers. The pressurized air pumped into the room would be deafening without them."
Opening a locked door in a gold-toned wall, Dumas leads the way to AirFit's command center. A vibrantly yellow Kaeser compressor (Dumas calls it "ginormous") pushes pressurized air into an equally ginormous gray tank. Snaking through three black vessels that filter out toxins, like pollen, carbon dioxide and anything "not oxygen," the air moves into a row of red "membrane" tanks that "scrub" air and remove oxygen. It's a large, semi-noisy enterprise -- partially powered by a transformer the club purchased to boost the building's power -- ending with the seven-times filtered air being pumped through skinny black pipes into the AirFit room.
Viviana Cherman, a Pleasanton resident and financial adviser for TransAmerica Financial Services, works out three days a week. Growing up in Colombia, in an area close to 4,000 feet above sea level, Cherman says she used to be more physically fit. "I thought AirFit would help me get back to that. I did one hour -- cycling, rowing, abs and burpees (push-ups with jumps inserted). I had no air and was thirsty, sore and tired," she says. But two days later, her first thought was, "I want to do that again."
Dumas says the room's pristine atmosphere can be addicting. Whether attracted to the clean air or motivated by competition (optional finger monitors track and display oxygen saturation and other much-sought data on overhead screens), he says numbers are tangible proof of results. People ask him if they ever have to work out at sea level again. (Yes, he insists, for variety and overall fitness.)
For elite athletes like Hans Florine, the Speed Climb World Record holder for climbing the nose of Yosemite's El Capitan in 2:23:46 in 2012, training at simulated high altitudes would give a high climber an edge. Not yet a visitor of the Quad, he says in an interview that pre-climb high-altitude training would allow rapid acclimatizing once at a base camp and be a definite advantage at competitions in places like Colorado.
Of course, everything has its price. General memberships include child care and are $39.99 per month. Component packages, adding in unlimited classes in one of the four specialty areas, are $180, but single or class packages are available. A "catchall" fitness enthusiast will pay $220 to barre, cross, box and elevate their way to complete fitness.