Personally, one of my favorite moments on The Ultimate Fighter came when I watched a group of hopeful fighters wearing elevation masks and scuba flippers while running backwards on a treadmill. It was so absurd that I couldn’t believe it just happened. While the scuba flippers were crazy, what was even crazier were the elevation masks.
Now, if you own one and actually bothered to read beyond the headline of this article then you are probably still headed towards the comments with your righteous indignation and your anecdotal evidence. But maybe, just maybe you ought to use actual scientific research as opposed to, “But my buddy said it worked,” “Anderson Silva uses it,” or my favorite, “There is scientific evidence to back it up!” If you find some research that supports it done by anyone besides the guy who sells the things, please, let me know.
So what is an elevation mask? It is meant to mimic an oxygen-poor environment; at least, that’s what it is sold as. Living at sea level, person can expect to be breathing air that is roughly 20.9% oxygen. The higher the altitude a person is at, the less oxygen there is in the air.
Less oxygen in the air forces a person’s body to adapt its blood-oxygen delivery system to become more efficient to get enough air to all of our muscles. Does an elevation mask force these adaptations on a person’s body? No. The mask cannot magically reduce the oxygen a person takes in. It just makes breathing harder.
20.9% oxygen + difficulty breathing = still breathing 20.9% oxygen.
Another problem that arises (were we to assume that the mask could actually filter oxygen out of the air) is that it takes a minimum of 18 days in a low oxygen environment to see any results. In order to get results, you’d need to wear a magical, oxygen-filtering mask for 18 days straight for them to do anything for you at all. However, if you are just wanting to buy expensive items to simulate altitude, you can
always buy an altitude tent and sleep in it at home. At least those have been shown to be effective.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “But when I wear it during a workout and it makes the workout harder and I feel like my lungs are getting better at breathing.” Sure. My lungs would also feel like they’re great at breathing if I nearly drowned and then was able breathe again. Yes it makes your workout harder; however, it’s very likely that it also makes your workout far less effective. You can’t ever get the core tightness you need to do heavy lifts, and you certainly aren’t helping your cardio by suffocating yourself. If you feel like you are helping your cardio via suffocation, you can always strap a pillow around your face while you exercise. It’s cheaper and frankly, you’ll look like less of a tool than what you would with the mask.