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Everything You Need to Know About Training with Elevations Masks

"When it is done and the gym is ashes, then you have my permission to die."

Elevation masks are a unique new addition to the world of fitness gear, and one you should definitely consider adding to your gym bag if you want to drastically improve cardiovascular endurance. Below, you'll find out everything you need to know about them …

What are Elevation Masks?

Elevation masks are masks worn over the lower face (covering the mouth and nose). They're designed with special valves that reduce the amount of air flow that enters the mask, similar to the reduced oxygen at high altitudes. The masks force you to work harder for each breath. According to the creators of one elevation mask, the fact that you're working harder encourages a better pacing of inhalations/exhalations and deeper breathing.

Your body has to adapt to the increased breathing difficulty, and it does so by:

  • Increasing your fatigue threshold. This leads to better tolerances to peak intensity workouts and high-intensity intervals, meaning you can work harder for longer without tiring.
  • Strengthening the breathing muscles. This leads to stronger lungs, which in turn can absorb more oxygen for your blood to distribute around your body.
  • Improving breathing efficiency. This can lead to more controlled breathing patterns, better mental acuity, and a reduced negative response to high-stress athletic performance.
  • Elevating Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). This can lead to better fat-burning during and after the workout, as the body uses more oxygen and thus is able to burn more fatty acids.

All of these things combine to make your body more efficient at "normal altitude workouts".

Do They Work?

This is the real question! The above list describes what the masks are designed to do, but do they actually work?

Experts and fitness trainers aren't quite certain the elevation masks do all they claim to. One trainer broke down each aspect of the mask to explain why it may not be the best option: it simulates the reduced oxygen availability of high altitudes without reducing air pressure, it can decrease performance as your body adjusts to the new workout conditions, you make the workouts more difficult by reducing air flow/oxygen availability, and it won't be as effective for resistance training.

Even medical studies have failed to find evidence to support the claims that elevations masks are highly effective. One study found that the mask did help to raise maximal oxygen uptake, but it didn't increase lung function, hemoglobin, hematocrit, or inspiratory muscle strength. It was simply effective at strengthening the muscles responsible for inhaling and exhaling.

Should I Use an Elevation Mask?

If your goal is to strengthen the muscles that regulate your breathing, an elevation mask can be a good tool to use. The fact that they force you to work harder for each breath can encourage stronger lungs, diaphragm, and intercostal muscles.

However, if your goal is to improve performance by working out in hypoxic conditions, this isn't the right option. As fitness experts and medical studies alike have concluded, the elevation masks won't have the desired effects, and you'll just make the workouts harder and decrease performance without seeing the benefits you want.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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