Does The “Elevation Training Mask” Actually Simulate High-Altitude?

The “Elevation Training Mask.” A tantalizing title right? Especially if you’re a mountaineer living at sea-level and training for Denali…(me). But would this thing actually work to get me ready for the high-altitude this June? I got one to find out.

 

Turns out, the short answer is no. The mask does not work. At least for its title purpose.

Endurance athletes, mountaineers, and obstacle racers alike are notorious for their borderline sadistic training routines, weird-looking workout devices that make all sorts of claims, and painful recovery methods. This little mask seemed to fit the bill. I’ve seen other athletes, friends of mine and fellow Spartan racers, using the Elevation Training Mask as part of their training routine and it looked like a piece of equipment that made sense to have in the workout arsenal. It was worth a try for sure.

I was optimistic about it in that video above because it was my first day testing it out, and I had read some pretty convincing material about the mask having the ability to strengthen your inspiratory muscles through cardio-respiratory training. That made sense to me. Restrict your breathing during normal workouts and improve lung capacity/strength for unleashing more power and endurance with full airflow.

Wanting to do anything I could to up my training and improve my performance on my upcoming quest for Denali, I was hopeful. I filmed that right after going through the eight recommended training routines for getting started with the mask from its instruction manual—those being:

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing in Hook-Lying Position
  2. Isometric Abdominal Crunches
  3. Supine Full Hip Flexion Diaphragmatic Breathing
  4. Standard Flat Plant Core Exercise
  5. Bridges
  6. Segmental Rotational Abdominal Crunch
  7. Flat Supine Diaphragmatic Breathing, Arms over Head Holding a Ball
  8. Practice Breathe in Short Sitting

Honestly, after doing those exercises with the mask, I felt great. I really enjoyed the added difficulty of breath work on top of fairly simple but focused core work. I knew from the start that the mask wouldn’t replicate altitude training, simply because of the science of air pressure at elevation (and we’ll get into that), but after my initial Training Mask workout, I was digging it!

Right now, I’m singing a different tune. Here’s why.

Why It Doesn’t Work

The biggest and most obvious thing to address here is simply in the name. The mask does not simulate training at elevation. Restricting air flow, yes makes it harder to breathe and makes whatever activity you are doing more difficult, as is the case at altitude, but from a physiological standpoint, it’s not the same.

At higher altitudes, the lower partial pressure of oxygen means there is less oxygen available for your lungs to transport to your red blood cells. That is what’s known as a hypoxic environment. The mask does not change the partial pressure of oxygen in the atmosphere and incoming air. Meaning, it cannot simulate the hypoxia athletes experience when living and training at altitude.

If you really want to train for altitude without going to altitude, you’re going to have to find or invest in a hypobaric chamber. These are basically incubators in which you can train, or even sleep, which simulate the effects of high altitude on the human body, specifically hypoxia (low oxygen) and hypobaria (low ambient air pressure). If preparing for altitude is your primary goal, the Elevation Training Mask, is not what you need.

Apart from the altitude training claim, the mask supposedly will strengthen your diaphragm and inspiratory muscles when used in normal training no matter your elevation from sea level. The camps are divided on this claim, but after doing some more of my own research, I find myself in the “nuh uh” group. At least, “nuh uh” for athletes.

“Inspiratory muscle training is an incredibly effective and well-utilized tool in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It can bring about improvements in inspiratory muscle strength and endurance and exercise performance.8,9 But in an athletic population? Not so much.” – Bodybuilding.com

Ok, so there are merits to this type of training, but not for endurance sports athletes. Why? Well, for the short bursts, you may notice a difference. For instance, if you did a 100-meter sprint with the mask on every day for one week, and then did the same dash without the mask, you may put up a better time or be less winded. However, for serious distance and time intensive pursuits, your main goal is to continue to deliver oxygen to your working muscles over time as needed. Restricting your breathing and air intake during training may result in losing power and pace earlier.

“To improve fitness for endurance sports you need to accumulate enough workload to create a training stimulus, and you can’t work as hard when your breathing is restricted. Ironically, the mask makes your workout difficult and exhausting, but ultimately less effective.” – Trainright.com

It Is Good For Anything?

I asked the most knowledgeable physical trainer I know, my friend, founder of JES Wellness and Explore Inspired contributor Jeffrey Siegel. His reply:

“I’m not a huge fan.”

And that’s that! But in my opinion, I’m still glad to have the mask.

Despite the “Elevation Training Mask” not functioning in any way to simulate elevation or altitude, nor having merits to train with in pursuit of increased endurance-sport performance, for whatever reason, I still like the thing!

There’s no scientific backing here and I’m no Yogi, but I really enjoy the experience of having restricted air flow when in a state of rest. It’s almost meditational. If you use the mask for nothing more than practicing breath control during light activity, stretching, or rest states, I think you’ll enjoy it for the challenge and, odd enough, relaxation it provides.

As with anything, it’s always best to try for yourself and see what you think. They’re $79.99 on Amazon.

Jonathan Ronzio
Jonathan Ronzio

Adventure filmmaker/photographer, outdoor athlete, & speaker. Director, Between The Peaks. Founder & Chief Editor, Explore Inspired

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