Altitude masks are said to bring your fitness to new heights.
We all have seen ‘altitude’ training masks in the gym and across the internet, and most of us experienced an immediate revulsion to them as a gimmicky piece of equipment. But some cost as many as $100, and this gimmick has a following. Such masks are downright fraudulent because they simply do not simulate a high latitude environment, and for anaerobic training, even if they did, it wouldn’t matter anyway.
Here’s how altitude increases cardiovascular fitness: At altitude, there is simply less air pressing downwards i.e. atmospheric pressure is reduced. This means that the partial pressure, of oxygen is reduced. This is what we mean when we say air is ‘thinner.’You’re breathing the same volume but less oxygen. Over time, the body adapts by increasing the body’s ability to use the reduced supply of oxygen by increasing myoglobin and hemoglobin concentrations, increasing capillary density, and increasing mitochondrial volume.
‘Altitude’ masks work by restricting air flow. This means that your respiratory system has to work harder to fill the lungs with air, howover, the amount of oxygen in the air hasn’t changed.
So the mask doesn’t properly improve cardio vascular fitness – all it can be said to do is improve the strength and endurance of your respiratory system i.e. trains you to breath harder.
This type of training has actually been found as an effective treatment for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but is unlikely to increase performance in the gym.
Altitude training itself does not have a direct metabolic effect on anaerobic training. The definition of ‘anaerobic’ is ‘without oxygen,’ so the energy system being taxed in most weight training sessions is not limited by altitude. However, no system of the body exists in isolation – most functions of the body are aerobic and will be affected by altitude, so one should expect to feel some overall physical difference.
Still, adapting to altitude takes weeks or even months, and the benefits fade within a similar amount of time. So training at altitude will rarely be helpful for muscle-building, and the bane masks don’t even simulate that. When bodybuilding judges begin taking MRI’s and scoring on the basis of diaphragm size, we can reopen debate.