How elevation training masks work

Updated January 11, 2021

Professional athletes often wear training masks during workouts, but do they really work?

Also known as altitude and elevation masks, these products are said to give your exercise regimen a boost. However, their effectiveness as training tools has yet to be proven.

Consult your doctor before taking up a new training regimen or using new equipment. For more information, visit UPMC Sports Medicine.

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Training Masks

If you’ve seen someone wearing a training mask, you probably wondered what it is — and why anyone would wear it. Training masks, also known as elevation masks or altitude masks, are worn by professional athletes and novices. These masks, which cover your mouth and nose, cut down on the amount of oxygen you take in while exercising.

Using the mask when training forces your heart and lungs to work harder. When you remove the mask for a race or game, your body uses oxygen more efficiently. Fans of altitude masks claim that using them can improve speed, endurance, and strength.

Supposed Benefits of Elevation Training Masks

This concept is based on the fact that some athletes, especially distance runners, train at higher altitudes. Altitude training is believed to increase your body’s red blood cell count, allegedly giving you a temporary performance boost when you return to sea level.

What the Science Says About Elevation Training Masks

Do training masks really work, though? And are there any real benefits to using elevation training masks? So far, research results are mixed.

A study published in the Journal of Sports Science Medicine looked at the effects of altitude training masks on 24 athletes. Researchers found that these 12 athletes experienced improvements in respiration (breathing) compared to those who didn’t use training masks.

Other studies, however, haven’t found any benefits from wearing training masks. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that wearing an elevation training mask while lifting weights was associated with decreased alertness and a lower ability to focus on the task.

At best, training masks might help you breathe more efficiently, but it’s still unclear if or how that might improve athletic performance.

Risks of Altitude Masks

Keep in mind that wearing an altitude mask might cause you to hyperventilate or even faint, due to its restrictive breathing. People who have high blood pressure or other cardiovascular problems should avoid using training masks.

Consult your doctor before taking up a new training regimen or using new equipment. For more information, visit UPMC Sports Medicine.

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.