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Do Altitude Training Masks Work?

Have you spotted someone running or lifting with an unusual looking mask? Like the one Cumber wears in the Super Dragon Ball Heroes series? These masks have interchangeable names; High altitude training masks, elevation masks or simply training masks. these masks are commonly misunderstood and are used by some who believe these masks will simulate high altitude training and improve aerobic capacity. Unfortunately, the only benefit about this type of mask is that they can be used for a kick-ass Cumber cosplay.


  • What is high altitude training

  • Effect on cardiovascular system

  • Live high and train low

  • Why You'll benefit from high altitude training

  • Masks will not replicate high altitude training

  • Final Thoughts

What is high altitude training? High altitude training is completing workouts at high elevations starting at 8,000 feet or higher above sea level. As individuals ascend to higher altitude, their is a reduction of the partial pressure of oxygen in the inspired air, resulting in decreased arterial oxygen levels. Due to high-altitude exposure, the individuals physiological reaction, whether at rest or training, is sent into a hypoxic ventilatory response. This means there is an increase in ventilation induced by hypoxia that allows the body to intake and process oxygen at higher rates.

High Altitude Training

Effect on cardiovascular system Because of the decrease in oxygen pressure, the body begins to increase it's cardiac output, primarily due to an increased heart rate. This process will increase our red blood cells and this naturally means more oxygen can be carried to our working muscles for energy.

Live high and train low This physiological process won't occur overnight and red blood cells won't develop as fast as you would think. This training process can take up to ten days or three weeks at minimum to see minor benefits transpire, reasoning why us human warriors may follow a training method of “living high and training low”. This method allows warriors to spend the majority of their time in high-altitude where their bodies can spend the next few weeks adjusting to its environment physiologically but also allow them to train at their fullest potential while at sea-level. According to research, living a minimum of 28 days at high altitude is recommended to gain maximum benefits.

Why You'll benefit from high-altitude training Those who live and or train in high-altitude will have developed additional red blood cells allowing more oxygen to be transferred to the working muscles for energy. This means, once returned to sea level from living in higher elevation, warriors will now have even more oxygen flowing through the body for the next 2-3 months thanks to the production of additional red blood cells.

Masks will not replicate high altitude training. Unfortunately, their has been a misunderstanding with training masks. No training mask can simulate such an environment of "thinner air" and produce physiological benefit as traditional high-altitude training. Training mask will simply restrict breathing but won't reduce the oxygen in the air you inhale and won't prompt the body to produce new red blood cells. However, because these masks do make it more difficult to breathe and restricts airflow, some studies state that it can be a tool for respiratory training, aka training the respiratory muscles such as the diaphragm, external and internal intercostals and the abdominal muscles; however, other studies have shown no improvement with respiratory training. But one must be mindful when using it for this purpose. Because of the airflow restriction, less CO2 will be exhaled causing an imbalance between CO2 removal and oxygen uptake. This would cause our body to have a difficult time transferring oxygen to the working muscles due to the CO2 taking up all the carrying capacity of our blood thus causing exercise to be potentially detrimental and or counter intuitive with some side effects being headaches, dizziness, fatigue or even loss of consciousness.

High altitude training masks

*Snippet from research study referenced below. Final Thoughts

I've tried two methods of mimicking high altitude training which included Hypoxico training where I wore a similar mask that was attached to a device via plastic hose that decreased my oxygen intake while exercising and of course, trying a "high-altitude" training mask. In the end, I've concluded that I was able to achieve peak fitness in both cardio and strength by simply following a well designed program and fine tuning my nutrition with a registered dietitian.

Disclaimer: All information presented and written within this article are intended for informational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you should choose to follow or participate in any workout, program or practice, you do so voluntarily and do not hold Initial Mile and it's founder responsible for any cause of injury or death. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional. References:

ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription


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