Everything You Need to Know About Training Masks

Training masks are here to stay. Are they effective? Although there isn’t enough evidence, in this article, we’ll share the most relevant studies about them.
Everything You Need to Know About Training Masks

Last update: 28 June, 2021

Technology has made life easier in many different ways. Nowadays, sports equipment, such as training masks, promise to boost performance. However, many doubt their true impact and there isn’t much scientific evidence regarding their benefits.

Training masks are used to simulate altitude training. According to the market, they boost athletes’ performance by recreating the effects of altitude. In addition, they supposedly improve lung capacity and oxygen supply to capillaries.

Altitude training consists of continuously exercising for two or three weeks with low oxygen concentrations. For what purpose? To improve performance in professional runners and endurance athletes. This increases red blood cells and hematocrit (ratio of red blood cells to total blood volume) count.

What are training masks?

So far, we’ve mentioned what training masks are for but not exactly what they are. Well, these masks are similar to face masks, as they cover the nose and mouth.

They’re made of neoprene, a material that’s easily adjustable, absorbs sweat, and can be washed.

They usually have velcro at the ends to adhere better, preventing oxygen from entering through different parts of the valves that were designed for it. These sections also keep out dust, water, or sand, depending on the terrain.

The benefits attributed to training masks

As we mentioned above, very little scientific literature proves the benefits of using hypoxic masks. However, we’ll now mention those that have been attributed to them.

Red blood cells.
These training implements supposedly increase red blood cell concentration in the blood.

Competition prep

Without a doubt, athletes must take the conditions of the place where they’ll have to compete into account. In fact, studies have assessed the physical and psychological impact of altitude training on elite athletes.

Hypoxia masks have the benefit of preparing an athlete to face competitions in environments with low oxygen concentrations.

Learn to breathe

We all know how to breathe, as it’s a vital function. But in the case of athletes, breathing is even more important. When it comes to practicing a sport, you need to learn how to do it effectively to avoid fatigue.

As the mask simulates a low oxygen environment, you learn to optimize and control the oxygen supply.

They boost performance

Studies on hypoxic training state that this is an effective method to improve aerobic performance in athletes. In fact, experts have proven that it significantly improves lactate levels, increasing power and perceived exertion.

Training masks are credited with this benefit because they simulate hypoxic training. It also increases red blood cells and produces erythropoietin (EPO), which provides the muscles with greater effort capacity.

Training masks improve the respiratory system

These masks supposedly have the benefit of boosting lung capacity by maximizing oxygen uptake. As there’s less oxygen available, the athlete needs to take deeper breaths, which makes the lungs expand to their full capacity.

These types of deep breaths also strengthen the diaphragm and other muscles that play a role in the breathing process. On the other hand, the pulmonary alveoli become more elastic and, therefore, improve their capacity to breathe in oxygen.

Muscle hypertrophy

Research has shown that hypoxic training, along with strength training, can lead to muscle hypertrophy. This is because morphological adaptations occur in the musculoskeletal tissue.

Do training masks really work?

Before starting to use training masks, you need to see a specialist to avoid possible complications. Now, do training masks work or not? The answer is yes… and no.

Experts have discussed the issue and reached the conclusion, with the help of the studies we mentioned above, that training with this mask for four to six weeks can improve respiratory muscles. However, using them doesn’t constitute a truly effective hypoxic training simulation method.

An athlete training with a training mask.
The benefits of these masks are unclear. Using them for one month could improve the respiratory muscles.

The risks

One of the biggest risks is the lack of knowledge about the amount of oxygen people need to stay healthy. You need to know how the valves work and regulate them very well, according to your capabilities as an athlete.

If you suffer any symptoms, such as sudden numbness and extreme fatigue, you need to seek medical attention, as they can be indicative of hypoxia.

On the other hand, there are some people who shouldn’t use these masks at all. They’re contraindicated for those who suffer from panic attacks and pregnant women. Also, those who’ve undergone organ transplants and who suffer from hypothyroidism and low blood pressure.

Do you have more questions about training masks?

If you still have any questions after reading this article, you can consult your personal trainer. Experts recommend against training with them without professional accompaniment.

It might interest you...
Bodyweight Training: What Is It and What Are Its Benefits?
Step To Health
Read it in Step To Health
Bodyweight Training: What Is It and What Are Its Benefits?

Bodyweight training routines have gained popularity. It's ideal for those who want to get in shape from anywhere. Learn more about it!

  • Ramos-Campo, D.J.; Martínez, F.; Esteban, P.; Rubio-Arias, J.A. y Jiménez, J.F. (2016). Entrenamiento en hipoxia intermitente y rendimiento ciclista en triatletas. Revista Internacional de Medicina y Ciencias de la Actividad Física y el Deporte vol. 16 (61) pp. 139-156. Disponible en: http://cdeporte.rediris.es/revista/revista61/artefectos677.htm
  • Diego Fernández-Lázaro. Joseba Díaz, Alberto Caballero, Alfredo Córdova. Entrenamiento de fuerza y resistencia en hipoxia: efecto en la hipertrofia muscular. Biomédica 2019;39:212-20. Doi: https://doi.org/10.7705/biomedica.v39i2.4084
  • Tarqui-Silva, Leonardo. Grado de impacto de la evaluación psicológica durante el entrenamiento en altura con atletas de élite. Revista Investigaciones Altoandina, Vol. 17, Nº. 2, 2015. Pág. 201-206. ISSN 2306-8582, ISSN-e 313-2957
  • Análisis de hematocrito. Mayo Clinic.
  • Los pulmones y el ejercicio. Hoja informativa de la European Lung Foundation (ELF).