Training Mask - High Altitude Simulation

Updated: Oct 21

What they are, how they work, how they can be used - product reviews

As an aid for improving physical performance the training – or ‘hypoxic’ – mask has become quite popular of late. And though previously reserved for the professional athlete (or that weird guy in the gym nobody talks to) many people are starting to introduce them into their exercise diet for the fitness gains they can confer.



So how do they work?

The scientific name for this quirky contraption is hypoxic mask. Anything that’s in a state of hypoxia is being ‘starved’ of oxygen. Yep, you read that right. When you don a training mask you are purposely and consciously starving your body of oxygen.



In the ears of most people that wouldn’t sound like a particularly good way of improving fitness. However, the training mask is merely simulating another method of improving physical performance that athletes from runners to cyclists to boxers have been making use of for years.



High altitude training has long been recognised as an effective way of increasing energy and stamina.



When we starve – a better word would be ‘restrict’ . . . so when we restrict the uptake of oxygen into the lungs, thus exposing ourselves to a state of hypoxia, the body adapts by increasing haemoglobin concentrations. And as we all learnt in biology at school, haemoglobin is a protein in the blood that attaches to oxygen - aka fuel - and delivers it to the working muscles (more accurately cells) - for that information I owe credit to Google, not my biology teacher.



Having more haemoglobin in circulation is analogous to having more delivery vans on the road; meaning more parcels and goods can be conveyed from the warehouse (heart) to homes (muscles).



After a couple of months of training at high altitude an athlete’s haemoglobin concentrations could have increased by as much as 12% (Berglund, 1992). Which is why Barry Fudge, head of endurance and sport science for British Athletics, said, 'You don’t tend to get people operating at the top end of the 5000, 10,000 and marathon without doing some investment into altitude training.'* When the athlete returns to lower altitude, with its abundance of oxygen, their cardiovascular system will be able to deliver significantly more fuel to the working muscles. And more fuel enables the athlete to perform at higher intensities for longer.


Hannah England, British athlete and silver meddle World Champion middle distance runner, training at high altitude across the hills of the Rift Valley in Africa.



Another method of inducing the same effects of both the hypoxic mask and high altitude training is blood doping. Though a controversial method of enhancing physical performance, and one that if discovered will result in disqualification and a hefty ban, blood doping is where the athlete intravenously introduces blood (sometimes their own, sometimes someone else's, sometimes a farmyard animal's) into their body increasing the volume of haemoglobin in circulation by as much as 12.5%.



By frequently exercising with a training mask we can enjoy the benefits of this fitness enhancing physiological adaptation without spending thousands to exercise at altitude - nice though it would be - or dabbling in dangerous doping practices. Over time and with regular use we could see marginal gains in performance. According to Berglund (1992) exercising even at moderate altitudes for as little as 3 weeks can increase haemoglobin concentrations by as much as 4%.


How to use the training mask

Now that we've had a look at how training masks can improve our fitness levels, let’s consider how they might used in training sessions.



The method of using a training mask would be entirely dictated by your fitness objectives and exercise discipline. For example, a runner preparing for a half marathon might wear a training mask every other run or increase the usage across the duration of competition preparation – which would see them wear the mask for the majority of training sessions a week or two prior to stepping up to the start line.



A boxer or combat athlete, on the other hand, might induce hypoxic conditions during high-intensity pad work when the body is most in need of oxygen. This would likely confer not only a physiological benefit but also a psychological one too; for unlike the endurance athlete the boxer cannot, even when they are fatigued and feeling light-headed, switch off for a minute. The heavy weight world champion Anthony Joshua uses the training mask in a different way than I have described. He wears a mask during conditioning training as means of improving stamina.


Because cyclists typically spend considerably more time in training, comparative to the aforementioned disciplines, they might wear the mask for sections or certain distances of a ride. Say they planned for a 40 mile ride, though relatively short as cycle distances go, the cyclist could induce hypoxia for 50% of the distance or apply it in an on-off fashion (5/10 miles mask on / 5/10 miles mask off).



Really the way in which we approach this physical performance aid is entirely predicated on the yields we want. The more it is used the more benefits conferred – to a point.



Product Review

Below I gave source 4 of the best rated training masks. They all satisfy the following requirements:


- Over 100 customer feedback reviews

- Awarded 4 or more stars

- Durable and built to last


1: TRAININGMASK Elevation Training Altitude Mask | Adjustable Cardio Fitness Cycling Running Triathlon Lifting Endurance Sports Exercise



£ 19.99



126 reviews and still retaining 4 stars

What the customers are saying

Favourable

  • Very good

  • Improved performance

  • Fit very well


Unfavourable

  • Sizing a bit small

No product specifications







Click on the image for availability




2: Training Mask MK Attitude


£49.99



Very well rated: 273 reviews and still retaining 4.5 stars



What the customers are saying

Favourable

  • Increased my stamina

  • Great product

  • Has definitely improved my stamina



Unfavourable

  • Good product but can be restrictive for people with ponytails/long hair

  • Quality could be better

Altitude simulation

  • 3,000ft Altitude Resistance

  • 6,000ft Altitude Resistance

  • 9,000ft Altitude Resistance


Click on the image for availability




3: TRAININGMASK Training Mask 3.0 [All Black] for Performance Fitness, Workout Mask, Running Mask, Breathing Mask, Resistance Mask, Cardio Mask



£ 59.99



Excellent rating: 343 reviews at 4.5 stars



What the customers are saying

Favourable

  • Love it!

  • Work a treat

  • Greta product

Unfavourable

  • No altitude indication on the dials

  • Quality could be better

No altitude simulation included

Click on the image for availability




4: Phantom Athletics Training Mask with Valve



£89.29



An Amazon Choice product

138 reviews - 4.5 stars



What the customers are saying

Favourable

  • Excellent!

  • Worth the money

  • Good product


Unfavourable

  • Couldn't source any unfavourable reviews (one person did complain that they experienced no physical improvement but that is not indicator of the quality of the product but could be result of improper use or no use!)

Product specifications

  • Train your respiratory muscles and increase your athletic performance

  • Change resistance levels during training without removing the mask

  • Fastening: velcro

  • Ergonomic sleeve provides comfortable grip and prevents slipping



Click on the image for availability




Conclusion

Though training masks maybe in the fad stage at the moment their performance enhancing effects are time honoured and are not subject to the changing winds of fashion. Thus if you adopted this training aid and found a permanent place for it in your exercise regime, you could well enjoy a spike in energy, improved physicality and you might even shave a few minutes off your PBs.



(As we are very interested in user feedback at Hungry4Fitness, I would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)


Blog Author

Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, professional personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast




Reference

Berglund, B. High-Altitude Training. Sports Medicine 14, 289–303 (1992). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-199214050-00002


*For the Barry Fudge quote I owe thanks to Jason Henderson's interesting article on altitude training The high way to heaven (Dec 5, 2014) which can be found by following the link: https://www.athleticsweekly.com/featured/high-way-heaven-14294/

© 2020 Created by A. J. Priest & L. J. Allen

Hungry 4 Fitness

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