New Mt Maunganui complex boasts high-tech training facilities for sport’s ‘one-percenters’.

Intense training amid 35C heat and 80 per cent humidity may sound like hell to most of us, but to elite athletes it could mean all the difference in making it to the podium.

Pushing some of sport's top performers to the edge will be a big part of a $3.5 million facility officially opening in Mt Maunganui today.

Alongside the largest gym of its kind in the country, the University of Waikato Adams Centre for High Performance includes laboratories, plunge pools and specialist training zones already being used by the All Blacks Sevens and Bay of Plenty Steamers rugby sides.

The centre also houses one of just a handful of high-tech environmental chambers in Australasia. Sports scientists are increasingly turning to these as they search for ways to nudge at the boundaries of human physical performance.


National body High Performance Sport New Zealand is setting its sights higher than ever, with goals of winning at least 14 Olympic medals this year and at least 16 in 2020, by which time the country would be "recognised as having one of the world's leading high performance systems".

Waikato University senior lecturer Dr Matt Driller and fellow researchers will be carrying out a range of studies using the chamber, which creates a hypoxic environment for athletes to train in.

"It's called a membrane system, and it basically alters the oxygen and nitrogen mix in the room to simulate a high-altitude environment," he said.

While the air we breathe contains about 78 per cent nitrogen and just under 21 per cent oxygen, when the chamber is set to simulate conditions at 3000 metres above sea level, oxygen is lowered to around 14.5 per cent and nitrogen increased to about 85 per cent.

"While this isn't what happens in natural high-altitude environments - where we breathe in the same percentage of oxygen and it's just the partial pressure that changes - we can still get the same effects with altering oxygen levels in the chamber."

Altering temperature and humidity levels - the chamber can simulate maximum levels of 90 per cent humidity and 40C heat - is also important for improving physiological resilience.

"In many ways it's a case of more bang for your buck. Your body is having to over-compensate and adapt by having an increased physiological stimulus added to the training."

It trains the body to maintain core temperature by sweating more, helping the brain to better regulate hormonal responses during exercise and improve the distribution of oxygen and blood to the muscles during exercise.


This has well-researched benefits for athletes competing in any environment, but also to those recovering from injury, according to Dr Driller.

While a team sports athlete such as a rugby player might exercise in the chamber for up to 90 minutes, a top ironman triathlete could typically spend as long as three hours at a time.

Outside the chamber, scientists monitor physiological responses in areas such as blood lactate, sweat rate, heart rate and core temperature.

Dr Driller felt the technology was crucial for achieving those incremental improvements in performance which could prove significant for elite sport's "one-percenters".

"It's a big reason why more and more professional teams and organisations that have the money are looking at investing in this sort of area."