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Elevation Training Masks – Are They Beneficial?

This blog was written by Corey Anderson, CSCS.

Most everyone has seen the movie Batman. Those who have are all too familiar with Batman’s enemy, Bane. You may have also come across Bane look a likes at your local gym. I am referring to the “elevation simulation masks” that are becoming more and more popular. Claims have been made that the training mask can improve oxygen uptake, improve anaerobic capacity, and increase lung capacity.  Does the training mask hold up to its claims? Or is it just a great idea for a Halloween costume?

Are you familiar with the concept of ‘Live High Train Low (LHTL)? In a nutshell, the concept states that living/sleeping at altitude, where oxygen levels are low, enables total red blood cell volumes to increase (red blood cells carry oxygen) and training low so training intensity will not suffer. The training mask claims to deliver the same physiological response which has created many debates. There have been arguments that the mask is unable to accomplish this because it is only restricting the amount of air you are able to breath in; comparing it to breathing through a straw. Basically the mask is just making someone work harder to move the same volume of air.

In the study “Is Hypoxia Training Good for Muscles and Exercise Performance?” authors’ state hypoxia exposure only during exercise sessions is not sufficient to induce changes in hematologic parameters. Again, building off the concept of LHTL one must be exposed to hypoxic conditions longer than a 60-minute training sessions a few times a week.  Again, the mask is just forcing an individual to work harder to breathe; it is not changing the amount of oxygen molecules available while breathing.   Another study “Effects of Intermittent Hypoxic Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Performance” reveals no improvements in aerobic or anaerobic performance while using a mask or training at altitude.

Many believe there needs to be more research done before accepting or denying the claims made by the creators of the elevation training mask. Many people state studies need larger sample sizes and studies need to be extended to prove or disprove any physiological adaptations that occurred due to training with an elevation mask.  Now if your goal is to look like Bane while you are working out, I say go out and get a training mask. However, due to lack of evidence proving the training mask is able to deliver on improved performance, I would recommend an individual invest their time and money into services/products that have evidence of improving performance.