Ever want to look cool like Bane from Batman (the film Dark Knight Rises) or watched the pregame warmups of professional athletes like LeBron James (NBA superstar) and Jay Ajayi (NFL running back). They all have one thing in common: they wear a training mask or Elevation Training Mask (ETM).
What does it do?
These devises are meant to increase the intensity of cardiovascular exercise by recreating conditions of exercising at high altitude. A scientifically established method of increasing athletes’ supply of oxygen-carrying haemoglobins (red blood cells) is through altitude training and ETM just saves busy normal people time and money from training in the Himalayas.
According to the CEO of Training Mask, Casey Danford, by limiting oxygen intake, this increases lung capacity, stretching the alveoli (tiny air sacs in lungs where exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen takes place) and forces your heart to work harder, so the body has to adapt to these ‘tougher conditions’, making you fitter. This is known as ‘restricted air training’ or ‘inspiratory muscle training’. After some training, the body should have learnt how to maximise oxygen intake to the body, thereby greatly improving the user’s strength, endurance and speed.
Many users claim that they definitely felt they had trained harder and some even reported they had experienced a significant increase in fitness.
But is this true though from a scientific stem point?
Scientific studies on ETM: the effects are exaggerated?
The effects proclaimed by the mask designers are perhaps overstated. According to two studies recently published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, these ETM might not be that beneficial. The first research whether wearing an ETM during high-intensity interval training, as measured by changes in participants' maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) have any effects. The investigators found that the differences in VO2 max increase between those wearing ETM and the control group (no masks) statistically small. However, all subjects—ETM or no ETM—who participated in this experiment saw their fitness level rise.
The second research, which points out that "the research on the effects of implementing this piece of equipment during training seems to be limited to the company’s website," also analysed the impact of ETMs on VO2 max. But the experiment is set up so that the "altitude" is increased throughout the study period in order to simulate gradual acclimation to higher elevations. Again, experimenters found unsubstantial differences in increased VO2 max.
So what now?
Although the research does conclude that there is a minimal increase in VO2 max, the dangers or side-effects of wearing the masks actually outweigh the benefits of the minuscule increase in aerobic fitness. According to Dr. Thomas Aldrich, an attending physician of Pulmonary Medicine at Montefiore Health System, states that
, the masks may have a negative impact on the body and user performance because ETM do not alter the oxygen content of air. This only serves to increase the difficulty of breathing and may even lead to dysfunctional breathing patterns.
It seems like jogging more intensively, a good old fashion cardiovascular activity would suffice.