The talent/practice debate and altitude

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original Blogs.

Sorry this is a little late. About 2 hours before I intended for this post to appear, I came across one of the links included in the altitude portion that caused me to rewrite part of this. I didn’t want to post without it, though, as I felt it gives a more complete picture of the topic.

Talent vs. practice

We all know the debate and we probably have our opinions on it. Is success at the highest level a matter of innate talent or "deliberate practice"? Malcolm Gladwell, with his 10,000 hour rule, might suggest it’s all deliberate practice. Anyone can be an expert with enough of the right kind of practice. Others say it’s all about talent. If you aren’t born with the right genes, you might as well not try.

I’ve always been one who felt the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Practice can make a big difference. You can transform yourself with practice and go a long way. However, if we’re talking about being an expert or among the best of the best, you can’t get there without the right genetic makeup. Likewise, you can be very good with the right genes even without much practice. However, it definitely takes some practice and refinement of skill to become one of the best. I think it’s also important to realize that neither of these factors is an either/or proposition. You can have varying degrees of both talent and deliberate practice. I’m pretty sure I have more talent for distance running than most NFL offensive linemen, simply by being shorter and having a smaller natural build. However, I’m also pretty sure I have less talent for distance running than Dennis Kimetto or Wilson Kipsang. I could make similar comparisons with practice.

Alex Hutchinson looks at a study related to this question with interesting results.

While valid questions are raised about this study at the end, it’s interesting to at least think about the results. If you want to succeed in sports, you can’t ignore the practice but you need more. If you want to succeed in a profession (medical profession, for example) practice appears to be far less important.


I post this more as a curiosity. Very few, if any, of us will be planning a trip to altitude just for the training benefits. However, we’ve all surely heard of the benefits of training at altitude. Fewer of us have heard of the drawbacks.

For a long time, I recall a theory that people got worse sleep at altitude. When I made my annual trips to Colorado as a child, it was just assumed my sleep wasn’t as good out there, even though I can’t recall any time where it really seemed to be an issue.

This study suggests that theory may not be quite right:

The results suggest that 5 nights under hypoxia improves the sleep quality.

IMPROVES sleep quality. My theory for why some people may feel altitude harms your sleep quality: travel. When you’re not sleeping in your own bed, you may have more restful sleep. This probably plays a big role in the impression people who travel to altitude have on how altitude affects one’s sleep.

However, not everything about altitude is good news.

Could altitude cause depression?

I would note that this is just a theory. No studies have been performed yet but it’s something to think about.

So what to take from these two things? Well, for most of us, probably not much. For those who might have the opportunity to consider a stint of time at altitude, don’t get too stressed about your sleep but it might be worthwhile to be aware of your mood and sense of well being. Fortunately for those of us born at altitude, this theory seems to suggest that we’re less likely to suffer from this problem.

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