Everyone is always looking for new and better ways to get stronger, fitter, faster. In a competitive setting, having access to some thing in training that gives you an edge over your opponent is a critical bonus. Everyone wants more for less. All you need to do is look at all the crap fad items that have been sold through TV marketing channels. Get yourself a shake-weight to improve your masturbating arm. Or 7 minute abs and an electric shock machine to get your fat arse into shape while you sit on the lounge eating a triple cheeseburger. Whatever it is, people seem to buy into the marketing campaign behind it - without critically looking into the research supporting these claims.
So what is the science behind these elevation masks? The principle behind them rests on previous scientific research that established a significant positive relationship between training at altitude and competing at sea level. But there were a few caveats to these findings as well. In a nutshell:
"At a higher altitude, the amount of oxygen in the air is reduced, and your body compensates for this by producing more hemoglobin— the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen to tissues to create energy for your body. Over time, training at high altitudes is thought to create more hemoglobin in your body so that when you return to sea level, those extra red blood cells continue to carry more oxygen to your tissues and thus give you more energy to push yourself harder for a short period of time. However, studies suggest this extra boost lasts only for about 15 days before it fades and normalises."
An important side-note to this also includes the requirement to recover at altitude. Without going too deep into this, there are also some negatives to training at altitude. One of them being that due to the restriction of oxygen, the actual intensity of training output is limited and thusly restricting the maximum effort one can put into each training session.
Elevation masks attempt to simulate altitude training by making your lungs work harder to breathe. These masks use a valve system to reduce the amount of airflow to the lungs, which forces you to take deeper breaths. This is what's known as "restricted-air training" or "inspiratory muscle training."
This is the important bit. Restricting the volume air you inhale with each breath is NOT the same as a naturally occurring decreased volume of oxygen in the same volume of air.
There's plenty of scientific research out there which have tested this hypothesis and they do not support the use of an elevation mask. Even though both sample groups do show increased performance through exercise, there is no statistically significant evidence to support that this increase can be attributed to elevation masks. Amongst other factors, the most important one is that there is no significant increase to VO2MAX. VO2 max is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilise during intense, or maximal exercise. It is measured as milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (ml/kg/min). It is one factor that may help determine an athlete's capacity to perform sustained exercise.
"Wearing the Elevation Training Mask did not improve lung function, inspiratory muscle strength, or stimulate changes in hemoglobin or hematocrit levels.The Elevation Training Mask does not simulate altitude, but works more like a respiratory training device."
It's not all doom & gloom though, there's a few upsides.
If they actually did have a scientifically proven advantage, you'd see every professional endurance athlete implement them into their training program. Don't take my word for it though - A quick google search for peer-reviewed medical journals will tell you everything you want to know.
By Ted Hanlon
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