So it goes with the high altitude training masks that you see athletes wearing during their training.
No doubt you’ve seen photos of folks training with these littering Facebook and Instagram.
Heck the masks even make in into Hollywood. Michael B. Johnson, the main character in “Creed”, wears one in a scene depicting his treadmill training.
So what are these masks supposed to do?
The premise is that the mask simulates training at a high altitude.
Adaptations that occur when training at altitude include improved oxygen carrying capacity of blood as well as the improved oxygen extraction of tissues.
In essence your body adapts to the lower oxygen concentration by being better at using the oxygen it gets.
Training at altitude could therefore improve endurance capacity—something athletes, especially boxers and other martial arts athletes, are always looking to improve.
This is the reasoning behind ‘live high train high’ (and compete low) or ‘live high train low’.
Adaptation to living at high altitude will result in the body’s ability to perform work with less oxygen. It also results in increased production of red blood cells to better transport the oxygen to working tissues.
Competing at sea level with increased red blood cells will help to transport more abundant oxygen and result in improved performance.
Ideal living/training conditions seem to be between 2200m and 3500m above sea level in order to see these adaptations without running into some of the less appealing effects of high altitude.
The problem with high altitude training masks is that they do not induce the same adaptations that training at altitude does.
Using a training mask does not change the amount of oxygen in the air you are breathing.
On top of that, training masks typically result in increased utilization of accessory respiratory musculature. In plain English you are trying to breathe harder so all of the muscles that help you do that get overworked.
In a world where we sit at computers and have terrible posture, overworking these accessory respiratory muscles is not something we need or want to do. Because of our lifestyle they tend to do the majority of the breathing work anyway.
Not only can this lead to increased risk of injury, it also further impairs proper breathing patterns.
Never knew there was a ‘proper’ breathing pattern?
Yep. There is.
In addition to this, adaptations to training at altitude take time- anywhere from 1 to 12 weeks depending on the specific adaptation in question.
Wearing a mask for an hour during a training session and then returning to normal living does little to mimic ‘live high train high’ or ‘live high train low’.
So, unless your ultimate goal is to look like Bane from Batman spending your money on an altitude mask is a complete waste.
If you are really after results from your training spending your money on a specialist who can design a program to help you reach your specific goals is definitely your best option.
Interested in learning more about designing a program that is guaranteed to deliver the results you are after? Read more here
Looking for a specialist in your area? Find one here.
Sellers JH, Monaghan TP, Schnaiter JA, Jacobson BH, PopeZK. Efficacy of Ventilatory Training Mask to Improve Anaerobic Capacity in Reserve Officers; Training Corps Cadets. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Sept 7.