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Can the Training Mask 2.0 really simulate elevation training?

Independent studies have shown mixed results about the impact of training masks that claim to simulate elevation training.

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With the rise of many different sport technologies, consumers are likely to research ways to improve their training methods. New equipment available is able to change the way people conduct their own personal workouts and even improve the quality of their conditioning.

This is why elevation training masks have burst onto the scene recently. Athletes are convinced they can emulate the conditions that increase red blood cell production, thereby increasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.

The masks limit the flow of air to the nostrils and mouth, simulating the effect of training at higher altitudes. According to Benjamin D. Levine, James Stray-Gundersen’s 1997 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, an increase in oxygen-carrying capacity has been correlated to improvements in endurance performance, so taking advantage of these training methods is of high interest for athletes wanting intense training regiments.

The Training Mask 2.0, developed by Training Mask, LLC, has attempted to capture these aerobic- and endurance-enhancing technologies into its design. Their elevation training mask has different-sized openings and flux valves that are adjustable to different simulated effects of elevations. According to the company, the simulated altitude can be set to elevations ranging from 3,000 to 18,000 feet.

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However, a recent study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) has found that these types of masks may not be fully delivering on their expected capabilities. While the mask is able to provide overall respiratory compensation and power output at respiratory compensation thresholds, the mask simply does not simulate training at an elevation.

“When it comes to increasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, the benefits of elevation training are powerful and irrefutable,” American Council on Exercise chief science officer Cedric Bryant said in a statement. “But elevation or high-altitude training remains complex and tough to replicate without an actual high-altitude environment.”

In the ACE study, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse split 24 experimental participants into two separate groups: 12 who wear the mask and 12 who do not. The participants would test increased simulated altitudes in their training week by week for six weeks, seeing if they felt an actual difference in elevation.

Results showed similar improvements between the control group and the experimental group. Additionally, there were no drastic changes in lung function, hematocrit levels, or hemoglobin for either group as a result of training.

“Wearing the mask clearly made it more difficult for study participants to breathe, making it more like an inspiratory muscle training device,” continued Bryant. “While a longer-term training protocol would be needed to see if the improvements observed in the lab can be translated to performance in the real world, the Training Mask 2.0 could prove to be a very valuable training adjunct for endurance athletes.”

Although the Training Mask 2.0 fails to emulate an actual change in elevation for users, the athlete can at least reap the benefits of increased stamina and endurance from exercising with it and use it as more of a respiratory muscle training device. Technology will have to develop in order to establish a training mask that can efficiently push users to new thresholds.