High-altitude, or elevation, training is a technique used by athletes all over the world to enhance their workouts. But for many athletes, elevation training isn’t something they can often do, or at all. This is where elevation, or altitude, masks come into play as a potential solution.
The big question is, do elevation training masks really work for what they’re intended for? Let’s dig into this question further before you run out to purchase what can end up being a 200 dollar mask.
What Is High-Altitude Training and Its Benefits?
When you’re at a higher altitude, the air tends to be a little “thinner” due to the increased pressure in the atmosphere and the reduction of oxygen available in the air. People generally will have a more difficult time breathing under the conditions of higher altitudes due to the body’s available oxygen being lessened and affecting the body’s ability to perform its normal processes.
Sometimes, when increased elevations are experienced too quickly or at altitudes over 8,000 feet, people can become sick with a condition called mountain or altitude sickness. Here are some examples of typical symptoms when this happens:
- Appetite loss
- Severe headache
- General weakness
- Behavior changes
While the above symptoms are rare, it’s important to note the severity of symptoms that high altitudes can cause on the human body.
While high altitudes can exert extreme conditions difficult for humans, it was discovered that high-altitude training could actually be beneficial for athletes in some cases. Primarily, over the course of continued training in areas with higher elevation, it’s been found that more red blood cells are actually created by the body to help account for the lack of even oxygen distribution. When cycles like this begin taking place in the body of an athlete, it can help give them a particular advantage under conditions of average elevation; this is because the body has become accustomed to having to work harder for its oxygen supply. Thus, when conditions are ordinary, athletes can find they have an easier time performing better.
It’s been said that elevation training can provide the same benefits of other illegal methods, such as blood doping with injections of synthetic chemicals meant to help increase the number of red blood cells distributing oxygen throughout the body.
The downfall of elevation training is that it can be challenging to implement in a regular training schedule. For it to work correctly, athletes would need to regularly work out at high altitudes over the course of weeks or months. Picking up and leaving for a high-altitude training vacation simply isn’t feasible for most athletes; enter the elevation mask.
What Are Elevation Masks?
Elevation masks were designed to be the answer to those who wanted to incorporate high-altitude training into their workouts more easily. By restricting the oxygen flow to the mask wearer, elevation masks are intended to simulate the same or similar experience of high-altitude training.
When elevation masks are worn, the wearer can experience fatigue at an increased level due to oxygen flow reduction causing their muscles to work harder to keep up. This process of oxygen flow restriction is called “inspiratory muscle training.” Still, it’s not typically used for muscle building or athletic training. Inspiratory muscle training is generally used to help those suffering from COPD or asthma build up strength in the corresponding muscles.
What Studies Say
Unfortunately, all signs seem to point to elevation masks not working as they are intended. Recent studies on the use of elevation masks have determined, mostly, that they don’t work as a substitute for high-elevation training. In fact, they can at times cause more harm than good according to one controlled study stating, “The training mask caused inadequate hyperventilation that led to arterial hypoxemia and psychological discomfort, but the magnitude of these responses were small and they did not vary across mask configurations.”
Another study conducted on mask usage stated, “Wearing the ETM during bouts of resistance training did not hinder the ability to achieve desired training volumes during the resistance training session. However, wearing the ETM does seem to attenuate the ability to maintain working velocity during training bouts and negatively influence ratings of alertness and focus for task.” This study is inconclusive.
There is one study that claimed to have found an increase in maximum oxygen consumption for users while wearing the elevation mask, therefore increasing exercise intensity. However, this same study also noted similar results with participants not wearing the mask.
While further studies need to be done on the usage of elevation masks, it seems apparent that they may be a poor investment for athletes seeking to increase their endurance through high-altitude training.
What You Can Do Instead to Amp Up Your Stamina
So what can you do instead of wearing an elevation mask to increase your endurance, cardiovascular endurance, and stamina? We’ve got some tips below that may work better for you:
- Interval Training – When you cycle through circuits for three to five minutes at a time while putting forth intense effort, this is known as interval training. Interval training has been shown to help increase physician endurance through a variety of intense workouts on a regular basis.
- Long-Distance Training – By engaging in exercises such as cycling and marathon running, you can improve your body’s ability to put forth increased energy over long periods of time.
- Circuit Training – Circuit training is one of the more intense methods of increasing your stamina and endurance. Through circuit training, you’ll essentially build up your stamina through exercises that are done quickly, back-to-back, and with no rest until the entire circuit is complete.
- Tempo Training – Tempo training is done through exercising at maximum intensity at an even pace for about 30 minutes. Over time, this can build up your endurance through consistency.