Have you seen someone at your gym wearing an elevation mask during his or her workout? Popular especially with mixed martial arts athletes, the elevation mask is making its way into commercial gyms across the country and catching people off-guard.
What are Elevation Masks?
When I first saw someone training with a mask, I was curious and confused. What the heck was he wearing? A scuba mask? A Halloween costume? As a personal trainer who is fascinated with any methodology that promises to elevate fitness levels, I wanted to investigate a bit further to see whether elevation masks actually work and are worth the investment.
Elevation masks are designed to improve one’s cardiorespiratory fitness by simulating the oxygen levels at a higher altitude. But research doesn’t show that this simulation is occurring. When you’re at a higher altitude, the air is thinner and breathing becomes more difficult. The body responds to this change in oxygen level by increasing the oxygen transportation, hemoglobin content and the overall density of your capillaries, thus creating a serious cardiorespiratory advantage. But this adaptation doesn’t take place with a few training sessions. It takes weeks and sometimes months to occur! And these adaptations typically fade with time.
Elevation masks appear to simply restrict airflow to your lungs while training. They haven’t been shown to produce the physiological change in hemoglobin content that would occur if you were at a higher altitude. Sure, it will feel harder while you’re training thanks to the restricted air flow and can strengthen inspiratory muscles. But this doesn’t lead to elevated performance in exercise and has yet to be shown as an effective method of catapulting someone’s level of fitness. It’s also important to note that an elevation mask prevents you from taking efficient breaths, especially if you’re using it during a strength training or anaerobic workout. This doesn’t allow you to stabilize via breathing during a lift and can lead to injury.
So do elevation masks actually work?
Evidence seems to show that these masks don’t simulate high-altitude training or create the physiological adaptations one would experience at elevation. I’d suggest spending your money on something else that is supported by science and allows you to train in a more optimal and safe manner.