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The Truth Behind The Training Mask | OWEN FLITTON

We have all seen it, that chap who "TRAINS INSANE TO PREVENT REMAINING THE SAME". He has the tight vest, baseball cap and Dre BEATS headphones. Then he straps on some weird contraption to his face, makes loads of noise, grunts and then takes a selfie. That thing on his face is a Training Mask, but what does it do and is it worth looking like a total weirdo in pursuit of the gains?


EPO, RBC, Boyles Law and 02.......


Most people wear these masks in an attempt to increase the body’s natural red blood cell volume by stimulating the kidneys to produce greater natural EPO levels. The masks were developed in an attempt to mimic training at altitude (5,000 feet above sea level). Due to the bariatric pressure being decreased at altitude, this causes a reduction in total oxygen molecules available, as Boyle’s law dictates that volume and pressure have an inverse relationship. So in layman’s terms, although the Oxygen molecules remain the same at altitude, less is available to breath due to the decrease in air pressure. This, like any other training stimulus we give the body, requires an adaptation. In the case of living and training at altitude, your body will increase its production of erythropoietin (EPO). Increases in EPO will result in the body producing more Red Blood Cells (RBC). An increase in RBC will mean that the body is more efficient at delivering oxygen to working muscles.

But can the training mask actually mimic altitude?


Well no of course not, it’s not going reduce the bariatric pressure of the air you are breathing as you exercise. It’s actually just going to affect your performance, decrease the intensity you are able to exercise at and ultimately decrease your performance. Plus you look like an idiot. Not many studies have been conducted on training masks, but the one that the companies love to wheel is the 2014 Clinical Study and Technical Report by NAIT University. 14 participants, split into 2 groups, both groups took part in a 5 week periodised high intensity interval training program. One group were wearing a training mask, whilst the other group were wearing firefighter breathing apparatus. Funnily enough they didn’t use a control group, which in an ideal world would have been doing the same training program but without wearing any masks or training apparatus. The researched monitored VO2 max and found a significant increase in VO2 max from both groups, but they did not notice a significant difference between the groups when it came to increase of VO2 max. So what the result might in fact tell us is that high intensity interval training over a 5 week period, significantly increases VO2 max. This is not an earth shattering finding, check out the infamous TABATA et al published research conducted in 1996. The other glaring issue is that even if the masks did create a mini high altitude environment on you face, wearing it only when you train is not going to be anywhere near long enough to create a stimulus to increase EPO levels. We know this because the live at sea level but train at altitude method, has not shown significant improvements in performance.


So in conclusion I would save some of your hard earned cash and spend it elsewhere. We don’t have enough research to truly understand if these masks have any benefits. 

Owen Flitton

Strength & Conditioning Coach

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