If you’re at all into fitness, you will have heard about elevation training masks recently. A lot of the hype around them has been in the context of the upcoming Spartan Race World Championships, where athletes are using them to get ready to dominate the mountainous areas. In fact most Spartan and OCR athletes have put up at least one social media photo of themselves sporting a mask and many swear by it as though it’s a miracle solution that will get you training hard for amazing results later:
Taking a step back from all the hype – is an elevation training mask really going to prepare you for high altitude conditions and give you lungs like the buff
Superman Batman villain Bane?
Short answer: No.
However, the mask can still help you out heaps in improving your lung capacity. Let’s dive into this deeper.
How does the mask work?
Hypoxic training and oxygen reduction is not a new thing in sports coaching and the fitness industry. Have you noticed how many Olympic gold medallists involved in ultra endurance events lived or trained in mountainous areas? A notable example are the fastest, super resilient runners from Kenya who train in the Mount Kenya regions. These athletes train at higher altitudes so that they could achieve greater results at lower, sea-level altitudes.
So we’ve known for a while that adaption to reduced oxygen levels can improve a person’s sports performance and well-being. You can think of it as a more extreme version of boosting your VO2Max with sprints or dashes while racing.
Undoubtedly there are benefits to training at higher altitudes, but an elevation training mask is no mountain.
Let’s take a look at what the official product materials state:
“Elevation Training Mask mimics the effects of High Altitude Training. When elite athletes want to improve their performance they go to high altitude levels to train. When they come back to sea level they perform much stronger, faster, and have increased endurance…Elevation Training Mask is a patented (PAT.8.590.533 B2) “Resistance Training Device” that helps condition the lungs by creating pulmonary resistance and strengthening the diaphragm.”
And that is about all you need to know about its efficacy. While the mask itself is a resistance training tool, it will not prepare you to climb mountains. A basic protocol to prepare for this would be to actually train, sleep and live in such high-altitude conditions. Imagine doing your usual workouts at 8,000 ft above sea level or so, where oxygen makes up only about 20% of air.
But V, you might ask, isn’t this exactly what an elevation training mask does?
Not really. Your body would need to spend extended and strenuous amounts of time in these conditions (all day, every day) to produce the desired effects: red blood cell mass increase, enormous VO2 levels, hormone (EPO) and muscle metabolism changes.
And this is quite different from the lung and diaphragm strengthening effects promised by the mask manufacturer. Right?
Don’t be quick to throw it away or completely dismiss it.
As noted above there are benefits to training with an elevation mask: lung conditioning, diaphragm strengthening and of course its amazing ability to make you look like a badass action movie hero (or villain). For extra points, you could even introduce the mask into your longer endurance workouts to at least briefly mimic the effects of actual high-altitude training.
If you don’t have access to higher terrains, the mask is a good enough alternative. It will surely boost your fitness and make you more prepared to tackle the hills of Lake Tahoe compared to someone who trains strictly at sea level and with no resistance all year long.
We’d love to hear about your experiences with the mask – do let us know what you think about it below!