OK so we got 100+ Comments on Part I of the MMA Altitude Training Device Review, which tells me you guys have seen the ads and heard the hype and really want to know…
Are Altitude Training Devices Worth It?
To recap, this is where we left off last time:
“There are no studies on MMA specifically, so I had to search LONG and HARD to find something that would at least come close.
This took me FOREVER, because most of these altitude studies are done on endurance sport athlete such as runners, cyclists and cross-country skiers.
But lo and behold, I stumbled upon one, a moment before my eyes were about to explode from reading these cryptic journal articles all day. Scientists reading this – why can’t you write in normal English!”
The title of this next study is, “Effects of intermittent hypoxic training on aerobic and anaerobic performance.”
The subjects included 16 moderately trained team sports players, born and living at sea level, with an average age of 20 years old and weight of 175 lbs.
The average VO2 max (marker of aerobic fitness) was 52.35 ml/kg/min, making the subjects a pretty good comparison to a typical MMA population with above average aerobic fitness, which should include YOU since you’re a regular on my blog.
If not, what the heck are you doing with all the info I’ve made available, both free and premium?
The subjects were divided into 2 groups: control (normal exercise at sea level) and hypoxic training (HT).
Just think of HT as the altitude training group (aka Live Low Train High).
Here’s the cool part, the exercise program they put these 2 groups through is an interval training program, specifically aerobic power intervals, for those who are familiar with the term from my MMA Ripped 8-Week Training Camp or my Optimal Interval Training report.
Here’s the program the subjects followed, 3 times a week for 4 weeks on a stationary bike:
- 10 reps of 1 minute above the Anaerobic Threshold (80% Wmax) alternated with 2 minutes below AnT (50% Wmax*)
- Training intensity was increased by 5% after 6 workouts, then another 5% after 9 workouts
This is a decent interval training protocol as it includes a sane amount of repetitions, proper intensity recommendations and progression.
And, drum roll please, here are the results that I’ve put together for you in simple to read chart format:
|VO2 max||+ 7.2%||+ 8%|
|Wmax||+ 15.5%||+ 17.8%|
|Onset Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA)||+ 11.1%||+ 11.9%|
|Peak Power||+ 2.1%||+ 8.5%|
|Hemoglobin||15.4 –> 15.3||14.3 –> 14.5|
|Hematocrit||44.9 –> 44.8||43.9 –> 44.0|
“What exactly do these results mean Eric?”
Basically, that when hypoxic training (training at altitude) was compared to normal training, subjects on a 4 week interval training program showed NO DIFFERENCES IN RESULTS.
That means there were NO CHANGES in:
- Aerobic fitness (VO2 max)
- Anaerobic power (Wmax)
- Anaerobic lactic power (OBLA)
- The ability of your body to transport oxygen (hemoblogin and hematocrit)…
… between training at altitude vs. training normally at sea level.
Things are NOT looking good for Altitude Training Devices!
Now, you might have noticed the difference between the 2 groups with respect to peak power, especially since I highlighted them in yellow. :)
While these #’s show that normal training resulted in greater increases in peak power, these results are tricky and are actually NOT significant.
This is mainly because the normal training group started at 729 watts vs. 872 watts of peak power, making it a lot easier for them to increase because they started at a lower level.
It’s like the guy who just starts Bench Pressing can go from 100 lbs to 200 lbs a heck of a lot quicker than the guy who has trained for years and can Bench 300 lbs and is trying to hit 400 lbs.
The bottom line is that this study, which used interval training that resembles the training an MMA guy would do, showed NO DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ALTITUDE AND NORMAL TRAINING.
Over a 4 Week Interval Training Program, Altitude Training
Showed No Benefit Over Normal Training at Sea Level
Sorry, but based on the pure science of altitude training, seeing as it doesn’t work at all, that would make altitude training devices pointless to begin with!
The studies I’ve cited have shown that High Altitude Training (Train High) is pretty much worthless with respect to aerobic AND anaerobic fitness.
Altitude training does not result in increased red blood cell count or improved oxygen transport, thus does not improve aerobic or anaerobic fitness at all and neither will Altitude Training Devices!
Now, let’s move on to some of the other claims these devices make:
- Increased lung capacity
- Improvements to something called your Anaerobic Threshold
- More energy
- Improvements in physical and mental endurance and mental focus… and many more.
More pretty big claims from these Altitude Training Devices I’d say!
From the study I just described, #2, 3, 4 and the “Physical stamina” portion of #5 are all out the window.
But here’s something interesting I found about #1, “Increases in Lung capacity as your lungs have to work 9 times harder to get the oxygen in.”
When using the Altitude Training Devices, yes,
your lungs do have to work harder.
But that begs me to ask,
“Do stronger lungs or increased lung capacity
result in improved performance?”
This is all that really matters and I’ve got an answer for you that comes from a highly unlikely source…
The PowerLung is another device that trains your lungs via constricted breathing.
They’ve put some studies on their website here.
The one that we’re interested in as athletes is the very last one (coincidence?) found here:
The study tested a control group vs. a group that used the PowerLung five days per week for five weeks 5 sets of 25 breaths.
Let’s look at the results: using the PowerLung improved lung capacity and lung strength by measuring how much air was blown out after a maximal inhalation and how much air could be blown out in 1 second and 3 seconds.
So maybe there’s something to this constricted breathing after all?
Well, maybe not…
Here at the performance results from this study, straight from the PowerLung website:
“No significant differences for VO2 max, ventilation (VE), tidal volume (VT), or total time.
The control group demonstrated an increase in Anaerobic / Lactate Threshold (LT), a decrease in HRmax and a decrease in RERmax.”
So in terms of performance, there were no changes, except the group that didn’t use the PowerLung improved their Anaerobic Threshold!
What this means for the MMA Altitude Training Devices is that although it may improve lung strength and lung capacity, this has no bearing on aerobic fitness (VO2 max) or anaerobic fitness (AnT).
Finally, with respect to the mental aspect of having your breathing impaired, I suggest you simply train with a partner who mounts you and keeps trying to cover your airways as you try to escape…
Or, you could do this…
If you read all of this and Part 1, you’re either really interested in being in top shape for MMA (good for you!), you love to spend some money on new gadgets but do your due diligence first, or you’re just killing time, hopefully time at work that you’re getting paid for. :)
Either way, congrats for having the patience to stick with it. In today’s ADD-riddled society, this kind of patience is rare.
Now, I just want to recap everything and summarize everything for those who skipped the science stuff or those who are still a little confused.
Takeaway #1 – Training at altitude doesn’t seem to improve performance, especially with respect to the physical demands of MMA
Takeaway #2 – The claims of improved performance using Altitude Training Devices are based on more claims that altitude training improves performance, which are false and false, respectively
Takeaway #3 – Training with restricted breathing devices may improve lung strength and lung capacity, however, these improvements don’t result in any increases in aerobic or anaerobic fitness (unless your lungs are your limiting factor, which may be the case if you have COPD or some other lung disease)
These are my conclusions, based on this study and others I’ve read.
Are these conclusions definitive?
Unfortunately, in science, no, they’re not. They never are. For every variable, you’ll find some studies that find a benefit, some studies that don’t, and a bunch that show no difference.
But here’s what I’m going to do – use my BRAIN.
When you restrict breathing (Altitude Training Devices)
or oxygen (altitude), you can’t work as hard.
This is a fact.
It may feellike you’re working hard as heck, but in fact, the intensity will be much lower than what you could do without one of these devices or at sea level.
If you can’t work at a certain intensity level, you can’t push certain systems to the point where they can adapt.
Remember that old core training principle of adaptation.
So, because you can’t work at an intensity that will cause beneficial adaptations, you won’t get adaptations.
For submaximal endurance sports (ie marathon running, long distance cycling, etc), the case is very different, but for a mixed sport like MMA, where there’s a whole lot of high intensity going on, I think that altitude training devices are a waste of time, and will go the way of the Ab Belt and Shake Weight.
Oh well. At least those on the inside, like anyone who is subscribed to my newsletter gets the real TRUTH. Too bad for the rest of the shee-ple.
If you were going to buy any altitude training devices, I suggest you spend your money somewhere wiser, like some good quality organic food, or maybe a periodized strength and conditioning program that’s PROVEN to work.
Thanks for sticking with me. Boy my fingers sure are tired!
The last thing I’d like to ask of you:
Please do me a favour and Share this with your friends via the Facebook buttons below or just go old school and email them the link to this article.
I put a lot of work into this article series, so if you appreciate it, show me by spreading the good word my friend; spread the good word.
Eric “MMA’s Myth Buster” Wong
P.S. In case you were wondering, this post is serious and NOT tongue-in-cheek and no, I do not make any money if you purchase an Altitude Training Device, Ab Belt, or Shake Weight. :)
MMA Altitude Training Device Review FAQ
Here are some questions I know will be asked, if you have any more, let me know in the Comments section and I’ll answer them for you.
Q: How exactly does altitude training stimulate red blood cells?
A: Come on, weren’t you reading – it doesn’t! But living at altitude does (Live High). This is because the amount of oxygen in the air is less than at sea level, which is different than just not being able to breathe in enough air.
Here’s basically how it works: with normal breaths at altitude, your body doesn’t get much oxygen so it thinks, “I need more O2 or I’m gonna DIE! What should I do?”
Then this hormone EPO through the body’s infinite wisdom increases, which then stimulates the production of red blood cells.
But this takes time, like constant daily exposure over weeks, not over the hour or two of training that you might do in a day.
Q: So is wearing Altitude Training Devices actually like being at altitude?
This is a fundamental question that I realize I didn’t address in the main articles so I’ll talk about it here.
In short – NO.
At altitude, you aren’t getting as much oxygen because each liter of air has less oxygen in it (due to lower atmospheric pressure at altitude).
When you’re wearing one of these devices, each liter of air has the same amount of oxygen, you’re just getting less air overall.
You don’t get any altitude benefits because when you inhale, you’re getting less air than normal, but the % of oxygen stays the same.
When the normal amount of oxygen comes in with this breath, there is nothing different for your brain to adapt to, unlike at altitude, when you take in a normal breath, there is far less oxygen, so your brain goes, “Holy crap, what’s going on – I’d better do something about this or I’m gonna die.”
Q: If I wear Altitude Training Devices to bed, will it help stimulate increased red blood cells?
A: Nope, not at all, because when at rest, your body is getting the same amount of air and oxygen it always does, so it will not need to adapt to anything, just maybe a little stronger breathing at rest, which would be wasteful and unwanted. But if your wife asks you to wear an altitude training device to bed that’s another story ;)