Close this search box.


FSA research – the Peak Performance Project

The Peak Performance Project is an FSA scientific research program studying skyrunning and associated high altitude sports.
A team of physiologists and psychiatrists have carried out tests on skyrunners in the field since 1992 making these athletes probably the most studied in any sphere. The PPP’s unique findings, published in scientific journals, have also been the subject of various international conventions. Since 2008, the FSA has been transformed into the International Skyrunning Federation and continues research on the subject with the Medical Commission. Studies on vertical running (stair climbing) are currently being carried out.

New discoveries, tests, theories – the results of seven years’ studies at high altitude were presented in a convention aimed at promoting the FSA research program to the media.
The convention took place in St Vincent in the Aosta Region, Italy, on February 18, 2000, conducted by Marino Giacometti, FSA President, and Dr Giulio Sergio Roi, FSA Medical Director, in a “show” supported by slides and films.
The fascinating theory of a high altitude “pill” and the consequent possibility of actually living at such heights were speculations that emerged from the studies.
Some of the subjects examined included the following:

• 50 high altitude races are in the FSA Circuit (30 at 4,000m)
• 21 records established from 0 – 8,000m
• 12,000 athletes have run high altitude races (all-time)

• 10 international scientific publications
• 12 international congresses
• 28 researchers in eight research groups involved
• 5 countries have participated in research studies (USA, GER, GB, ITA, SUI)
• 156 athletes were studied

• is running at high altitude harmful?
• is greater psycho-physiological stress experienced?
• is there evidence of brain or heart damage?
• what is the limit of performance at high altitude?

• the average speed compared to performance at sea level is 72% at 4,200m, at 5,200 it’s 62%
• ascent speed is 1,657 meters per hour in the Vertical Kilometer
• descent speed is 3,410 m/h in the SkyMarathon
• average ascent speed is 1,248 m/h

•There was no evidence of pathological alterations in EEGs carried out on skyrunners at high altitude

• EEG activity recorded after 32-38h of acute hypobaric-hypoxic exposure (acute acclimatization) at an altitude of 3,680m, compared to sea level, showed a significant temporary depression of the high frequency EEG activities.

• A significant increase of high-frequency EEG activity was recorded after 145-153 h of chronic hypobaric-hypoxic exposure (chronic acclimatization) at around 4000m, in comparison to sea level

• the EEG power spectrum analysis after the marathon at 4,300m, after 145-153 h of chronic acclimatization around 4,300m, compared to that before the race, showed a significant temporary increase in neuronal excitability, probably due to the effects of running, as was observed at sea level

• no cases of high altitude sickness were encountered
• before the advent of skyrunning, it was thought that training at such altitudes, even 5/6 years ago, was impossible
• 30,000m a month elevation gain represents the training of top skyrunners (that’s nearly four times the height of Everest)
• theoretically, it’s possible to run at 7,000m
• top skyrunners represent a unique subject for study and probably represent the most studied athletes to date
Research was carried out in collaboration with the following: American College of Sports Medicine; Casa di Cura S Maria, Castellanza, Italy; Centre Médical Universitaire, Geneva, Switzerland; Istituto Scientifico H San Raffaele, Milano, Italy; Manchester Metropolitan University, UK; Università di Milano; Università di Padova; Università di Trieste; University of North Dakota, ND, USA.
These unique findings, carried out by the Peak Performance Project, the FSA’s scientific division, form an important data base which is being elaborated for future applications.

A group of FSA researchers is concluding one of the most important scientific research studies carried out at high altitude.
The aim of this new research is to confirm and develop data gathered in Tibet in ’98 and to study alterations in the sleep-wake cycle.

Skyrunning via satellite. A recent study carried out on skyrunners involved the use of a GPS receiver enabling a race course to be marked out in great detail and to assess athletes’ performance during the race and after. Precious details for athletes, organizers and rescue services. The data can also be used to mark courses for trekkers, hikers and mountaineers.

The initiative was in collaboration with Leica Geosystem, the manufacturers of the equipment.
The system is able to register the linear and vertical position of the athlete within centimetres and can reconstruct the linear and vertical speed of the athlete’s performance: for every second of the race the system is able to register the position of the athlete up to ten times.
The research for this project is in collaboration with Geneva and Manchester Universities.

Innovative studies were carried out in 2000 on some top level skyrunners at Geneva University on a special treadmill with an incline that reaches 45%, the only instrument of its kind in the world. The aim of the studies was to assess the maximum performance levels on a steep incline.