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You may have seen them worn by fellow runners in your neighbourhood. You know, the people who look like Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, training with a mask over their nose and lower jaw. What exactly are those masks? Well, they’re altitude training masks. But before you get all excited and bust out close to a hundred bucks to get hold of the latest training equipment, let’s analyse to see if they’re worth the money.
What is Altitude Training?
Altitude training has been known to help many athletes. For those who only spend a week or so at altitude, the main reason behind improvement this is the increased production of blood cells. This is because the kidneys release the hormone erythropoietin (EPO) at altitude, stimulating the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. The reduced concentration of oxygen and lower air pressure trains your body to be more efficient with respiration.
Difference in Impact
However, altitude training masks work by merely reducing the amount of airflow to your lungs. The pressure and oxygen concentration remains the same, which means it does not replicate the conditions of training at altitude. Training masks help train up your cardiovascular system, improving the strength and endurance of your respiratory system. But breathing harder does not improve running performance; you are only training your lungs and diaphragm. It is different from actual altitude training as altitude training teaches your muscles how to respire efficiently and use the energy from respiration, which will improve your running performance as you adjust to running on less oxygen.
So… Is It All Just a Hoax Out to Get My Money?
No. For certain athletes such as older runners, the cardiovascular training you get when you use the mask will allow you to train your lungs, without tiring out your body. This will allow you to train, but leaves you feeling less sore in the limbs afterwards. In this way, it increases endurance, but it will not help you go faster. However, you will still need to pair this with regular training without the mask, to maintain your speed and power. The idea of training under lower oxygen levels also has some potential in helping you train your pacing. Nonetheless, there are other more suitable equipment for this purpose rather than a mask that simply restricts airflow.
"But before you get all excited and bust out close to a hundred bucks to get hold of the latest training equipment, let’s analyse to see if they’re worth the money."
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