You’ve probably seen your favorite athlete wearing some type of strange mask while they’re working out. Our question is, do high altitude training masks work?
These masks are small easy to use to devices that are designed to improve an athlete’s performance. The purpose of these masks is that by limiting the amount of oxygen available to you when you’re breathing hard, it forces your body to get better.
The concept of these masks came from high altitude training, which is often used by endurance athletes. Because the air is thinner at higher altitudes, it’s much more difficult to get the same amount of oxygen with each breath.
And by working out in that environment you’re able to force the body to learn to adapt and get stronger. Thereby, bringing about better overall performance.
Now that we know what we’re dealing with, it’s time to get to the answer.
Do High Altitude Training Masks Work
The question about whether high altitude training masks or elevation masks work or not, has puzzled a lot of people.
Research has shown that, these masks do not make any difference. But rather, using them exposes the body to low oxygen supply.
Studies have also shown that most athletes expose their bodies to health risks more than they thought by training with these devices.
As much as high altitude training is encouraged, using these masks cause a lot of health complications on the participants.
Let’s take a closer look at how the high altitude masks works and what it does to the body.
How High Altitude Training Masks Work
The masks usually have mechanical valves. These valves are designed to ensure that minimal levels of oxygen are kept within then mask.
As a result there’s less than the normal amount of oxygen available to your body when you’re wearing these masks.
Doing so helps in controlling the amount of air you are able to breathe in and out. This limits how much oxygen your respiratory system gets.
The masks also has straps to ensure that the mask does not slip off during exercise. This ensures that the oxygen deprived state is constant throughout training.
What These Elevation Training Masks Do
During strenuous activities, our bodies require more oxygen supply than it usually does. This is to supply our muscles with the energy and oxygen to perform at higher levels than when we’re sedentary.
So here’s where high altitude training masks come in.
What the masks basically do is they work to restrict the rate at which air is taken out. As such, when you’re wearing the mask, you only get a certain amount of oxygen to breathe into your body.
This means the blood inside your circulatory system will have high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 along with water is the waste product of aerobic cellular respiration. It comes out each time we exhale. Water meanwhile in the form of sweat.
For health purposes, the body does not require the CO2 in the blood. This is why we exhale it to get it out of our system.
In making it more difficult to breathe, you are forced to work harder during training.
Why Don’t They Work?
In theory, these training masks work. By limiting the amount of oxygen the body is forced to release more blood volume. It also reduces the flow of blood to some organs. This is how the body works when it’s in its “fight or flight” mode or in situations of stress.
Effects are Only Temporary
However, the moment you take off the mask which is often just a few minutes later, the effects go away as the body quickly re-compensates by taking in more oxygen.
The temporary effect does work, but the length makes it minimal.
This is one reason the U.S. Olympic Training center is way up there in Colorado. This makes the athlete’s get accustomed to the high altitude environment the entire time they’re training there.
The Masks Don’t Simulate High Altitude
Another argument against these masks is that they don’t simulate the high altitude environment. In high altitudes, you still breathe air. As such, your lungs fill up.
However, the air inhaled only has a small percentage of oxygen.
The masks meanwhile, deprive you of air to inhale. And not just oxygen. So it feels more like going underwater and holding your breath or snorkeling.
Because there’s little air available, your lung muscles work harder to breathe in.
Getting Optimal Work from Our Muscles
In order to achieve optimal results during athletic exercise, energy should be increased in order to make the muscles perform better.
This can only be achieved by ensuring that the body is getting enough oxygen supply.
Restricting the amount of oxygen intake will make the body get tired very easily. And, in turn slow down the amount of work it is able to do at a given period of time.
While the main aim is to increase muscular work, what the masks do is to inhibit energy production for our muscles. Thus, not serving the purpose they were designed for.
High Altitude Training
One thing to note is that while it has been proven to improve performance, working out or exercising in high altitudes has also been associated to health risks.
Increased Red Blood Cells
One of these effects is that it increase in the red blood cells count (RBC).
A high level of RBC thickens the blood. This in turn leads to reduced blood circulation in the body. Left in this state, it can result to heart complications and breathing problems.
This is due to lack of enough oxygen among others.
Exposure to Illness
Change in altitude can also expose the body to health complications and diseases.
A decrease in amount of food intake is one of the common effects associated with high altitude exercise. Studies have shown that athletes or people who change altitudes fall sick more often compared to those who stay in the same environment.
Before changing altitudes it is always prudent to undergo a medical check up to ensure that your body is healthy enough to adapt to the altitude change.
Along with the other effects of working out in high altitude environments, is the increased possibility of dehydration.
High altitudes can make you want to pee more. Additionally, it blunts our feeling of getting thirsty. Together, they increase the risk of not staying hydrated enough.
This is why we are advised to drink a lot of water before visiting higher areas. This way you’re well hydrated going in.
It is also recommended to have enough sleep and avoid alcohol or caffeinated products.
Since the body can be at a risk of altitude sickness, it is advisable to carry high altitude medications when changing climate. This is to ensure that the body has not been exposed to health complications.