Training Mask Melvin Guillard

MMA Altitude Training Device Review – Legit or Hype?

Heard of Altitude Training Simulation Devices?

Lately, I’ve gotten a number of questions about various devices that you put in your mouth or wear over your mouth and/or nose that purport to simulate altitude training my fighters, customers and subscribers.

You might’ve seen people using various devices on YouTube or other places.

When I get multiple questions about something, I know it’s time to roll up my sleeves, pull out my library card and do some down and dirty research.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, they basically restrict your breathing, which is supposed to simulate training at altitude.

Various claims are made about these devices, such as:

  • Increased lung capacity
  • Improvements to something called your Anaerobic Threshold
  • More energy
  • Improvements in physical and mental endurance and mental focus… and many more.

WARNING: we’re going to get a little technical here, so if you have absolutely no desire to talk science with me, then skip to the Conclusion at the bottom of this article for the answer to the question, “Will using these devices improve my performance?”

Otherwise, into the rabbit hole we go…

The first question you should be asking here is…


“What is Altitude Training and How
Might it be Beneficial for MMA?”

To understand the science behind altitude (elevation) training, you must understand the following definitions; otherwise you’ll be lost at sea without a paddle.

High Altitude Training

[features_box_azure_blue width=”75%” + border=”2px”]

Anaerobic/Lactate Threshold
The intensity of exercise at which your body begins to accumulate lactic acid*; at this point, energy production shifts from aerobic (unlimited energy) to anaerobic energy production (very limited)

*NOTE: this is not entirely correct but I’m not going to waste time here explaining what lactic acid is and what really causes fatigue, the main concept is still the same, so if you’re a science geek getting ready to call me out, don’t bother, it won’t help you, me or anyone else reading this

VO2 Max
The max amount of oxygen your body can make use of for fuel; often used in studies as a test for aerobic fitness, although it’s not often the best indicator of actual sport performance; often expressed as either 50 ml O2/kg bodyweight/min, or 5 L O2/min, either way, HIGHER is BETTER

Hypoxia
When the air you breathe contains less oxygen than normal

Air
The stuff you breathe did you really have to click this one? lol; composed of about 78% nitrogen (N2) and 21% oxygen (O2) at every altitude

Altitude
Refers to elevation above sea level where the air is less dense, and thus contains less oxygen because there are fewer particles in the air overall; % of oxygen remains the same as at sea level; two major variables are manipulated, where you train (High or Low) and where you train (High or Low), thus, the following combinations exist and have been thoroughly studied:

  • Train High Live High (THLH)
  • Train Low Live High (TLLH)
  • Train High Live Low (THLL)
  • Train Low Live Low (TLLL – what most of us do all the time)

Some popular altitudes:
Boulder, Colorado, USA: 1650 m
Whistler, British Columbia, Canada: 652 m
French Alps: 2500 m
If you want to see how exactly how dense air is at a certain altitude, check this link out:

http://www.altitude.org/air_pressure.php[/features_box_azure_blue]


Now that you’ve got the basics let’s talk altitude training…

Altitude training is based on the premise that when you’re at altitude, there’s less oxygen in the air, making exercise a lot harder. The higher you go, the less oxygen there is, the harder exercise is.

altitude training oxygen levels

Because of this, it’s theorized that altitude will force your body to adapt increase your red blood cell (RBC) count and thus improving aerobic performance, delaying onset of anaerobic energy production and improving recovery.

The bottom line is that…

More Red Blood Cells = More Oxygen (to feed your working muscles with)

This is important – remember it, you’ll need this knowledge later.

This is the theory, anyway, but lucky for us, it’s been rigorously tested by scientists from around the world.

Some cool sports science history – altitude training gained huge popularity after the Olympic Games in 1968 which were held in Mexico City1.

Mexico City is at an altitude of 2300 m, so for those athletes who weren’t prepared for this, it was a huge shock and the exercise physiologists were put to work to figure out how to use this to their advantage.

Now, as mentioned in the Altitude definition above, there are 3 main combinations of altitude training that have been studied: Live High Train High, Live Low Train High and Live High Train Low.

With respect to these devices, if it’s supposed to mimic training at altitude and you wear it during your workouts, this would be similar as Live Low Train High (LLTH), since during your workout, you’re ‘training’ at altitude and the rest of the time you’re at your normal altitude.

live low train high at altitude

So we’re going to focus on the studies that test LLTH and forget about the rest.

[For now, maybe if you’re really interested, I’ll discuss the others a future post. Let me know in the Comments if this is something you’d be interested in reading]

In a paper I found titled, “Is Hypoxia Training Good for Muscles and Exercise Performance?”  authors Michael Vogt and Hans Hoppeler from the University of Bern in Switzerland  state quite definitively:

“… A common feature of virtually all studies on “live low–train high” is that hypoxic exposure only during exercise sessions is not sufficient to induce changes in hematologic parameters. Hematocrit and hemoglobin concentrations usually remain unchanged with “live low–train high.”


“What does this mean for YOU as a Mixed Martial
Artist
Looking for Peak Performance?

So, do these devices actually increase red blood cell production and improve oxygen delivery to your working muscles as claimed?

When Vogt and Hoppeler talk about “hematocrit” and “hemoglobin”, they’re basically talking about RBCs. For your purposes, hematocrit = hemoglobin = RBCs. For each, more is better.

If you don’t know what RBCs, hematocrit or hemoglobin are, here are some definitions:

[features_box_azure_blue width=”75%” + border=”2px”]Red Blood Cells

Cells in your body that are responsible for transporting oxygen where required; the more red blood cells (RBCs) you have, the more oxygen you can transport to working muscles

Hematocrit

Refers to the % of total blood that is made up of RBCs; more is better (to a point, if your blood gets too ‘thick’ you could die but this will never happen through training, only drugs)

Hemoglobin

The specific component of a RBC that carries the oxygen.

Let’s do an analogy – it’s kind of like if you were carrying a backpack that had your boxing gloves in them, you are the RBC and yes, you’re carrying your boxing gloves, but to be more precise, your backpack is actually carrying your gloves…

Well, your backpack is like Hemoglobin. Get it?

If not, I don’t blame you, the analogy sucked. Leave me alone – it’s late.[/features_box_azure_blue]


So Vogt and Hoppeler state that LLTH (altitude training) does NOT improve red blood cell paramaters, which means that performance does not improve either. But let’s look at some hard data, just to make sure, OK?

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!

training mask research

How I looked and felt slaving through journal articles on my computer.


AND this is where we have today’s cliffhanger… :P

I put a lot of work into this article, as you can tell from this first half…

So if you want the Conclusion, I want to see 100 Comments letting me know that you want to see it, otherwise, into the vault it goes!

I’m 100% serious – if we don’t get at least 100 Comments, you won’t see Part II.

– Eric

P.S. I give you the straight goods about the various altitude simulation devices, so if you want to know if it will improve your performance or not plus some extra data I uncovered from an unlikely source, leave a Comment below:

 ————– PART II ————–

We quickly got 100+ Comments, so here’s Part II of the Altitude Training Simulation Devices.

216 Comments

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  • jetkie

    Reply Reply Sun, December 22, 2013

    was a fun readin, good job on the research~~~haha

  • chris

    Reply Reply Tue, November 26, 2013

    gimme the damned results.

  • Matt

    Reply Reply Sun, November 24, 2013

    Nice job bridging the gap between exercise physiology and your common gym goers. Results please.

  • Lisa Brown

    Reply Reply Fri, November 15, 2013

    Would love the results. My son’s speed team all bought one and I did not thinking I would wait to see the results from the other team members. They lasted one month and all of them have removed them from practice. My son made the World Team (youngest member 14y/o) for distance. He is interested in the mask but 80.00 is a lot if it doesn’t work. He’s working towards the next level of competition and if you say it is a valuable piece of training then I will purchase one but right now I’m waiting for your part 2 which I would love to know. Have we wasted time not using it or training without the mask is best.

  • Tony

    Reply Reply Wed, October 16, 2013

    It’s probably already been mentioned, but those masks CANNOT reduce the concentration or pressure of Oxygen (or any other gas/element). They only increase the work of breathing. Living at altitude your muscles don’t have to work harder, per se, but the efficiency of breathing is reduced so tidal volume and respiratory rate is increased to compensate. The BENEFIT of these restriction masks is to increase the strength of the breathing muscles, making them less liable to fatigue. If the breathing training is done correctly, the primary muscles of respiration (diaphragm, intercostals) are challenged, as well as the accessory muscles (SCM, scalenes, posterior serratus, etc.) and therein lies the benefit–a proven one in fact. What a lot of folks don’t realize is that the pattern of breathing (maintaining the ideal inspiratory versus expiratory ratios) as well as the muscular activation pattern (diaphragmatic versus upper chest) has tremendous influence on performance as well as core stability and even posture. Breathing training can even improve the thoracic and lumbar curvature angles of the spine as evidenced by a very neat Japanese study on national level swimmers.

    • Blake

      Reply Reply Sat, May 31, 2014

      great insight. Thx for the interesting, accurate comment

    • Kevin Cease

      Reply Reply Wed, July 30, 2014

      Does a mask help with this or can this be done without one?

  • Brandon

    Reply Reply Sun, October 6, 2013

    I don’t know many who use this mask. But the short duration leads me to believe it won’t provide nearly the full benefits of a live high train high regimen (not even full benefit of live low train high).

    That being said it does seem that wearing the mask would still provide SOME worthwhile benefit. If only boosing your heart rate during high intensity training, and building better breathing technique. It is resistance training nonetheless, why wouldn’t it provide notable improvement?

  • Brandon

    Reply Reply Tue, September 24, 2013

    I was stationed in Colorado Springs, CO for 11 years. At 6,008 feet at city elevation i found it to be an arduous task to just walk up the stairs at first. Having grown up on the coast of North Carolina the elevation was quite a shock the first year. I frequently trained and ran between 8-10,000 feet elevation while living there. After returning home to NC I was looking for that edge again with training and longed for the labors of high altitude training. I purchased an Elevation Training Mask 2.0 and found no difference other than restricted breathing. Us old guys who remember choke sprints and our mouths taped up with a single straw sticking out can relate. Its no different. Save your money and go the extra mile. Hope this helps!

    • Eric

      Reply Reply Wed, September 25, 2013

      Thanks for the real-world feedback Brandon!

  • Justin

    Reply Reply Tue, August 13, 2013

    This mask greatly increases lung capacity and endurance but that is about it. The two things I mentioned are reason enough to get it you ask me. After one day of using it for a hour I was breathing much better on my long distance runs.

  • d

    Reply Reply Tue, August 13, 2013

    ?

  • Jusitn

    Reply Reply Tue, August 6, 2013

    I want to see it.

  • me

    Reply Reply Sun, July 21, 2013

    “Altitude training is based on the premise that when you’re at altitude, there’s less oxygen in the air, making exercise a lot harder. The higher you go, the less oxygen there is …”

    The air at altitude does NOT contain less O2. The pressure is reduced therefore the pressure of the O2 is reduced. It’s basic physics and physiology. Those devices are a waste of money; save your cash and wrap a wet handkerchief around your face; it’s the same effect.

    • Dan

      Reply Reply Sat, May 31, 2014

      Dumb attempt at sounding smart. Per volume of air, there are fewer O2 molecules at altitude than at sea level. The percentage remains the same, but for all practical intents and purposes, the amount of O2 is less.

  • Bryant Daniels

    Reply Reply Fri, July 19, 2013

    Not many, if any, of these comments have pointed to the primary questioning concern: If one is using the ‘altitude training mask’ for about an hour of strenuous cardio a day, then what is the body doing in regards to increasing red blood cell count and oxygen efficiency the other 23 hours in a day?

    Having lived in Bogota, Colombia for 7 years, which at its lowest level is around 8500 feet of altitude (1.5 miles high), the body is exposed to a [constant] process of oxygen deprivation 24 hours a day. Therefore, the so-called ‘altitude training mask’ does not in any way ‘simulate’ high altitude training in this aspect. Nevertheless, there ay be some benefit in helping to strengthen lung capacity and breathing control, but not to increase red blood cell count as that of what is experience at actual high altitude. This may explain why there is no scientific literature on this device.

  • An athelete's Mother

    Reply Reply Mon, July 8, 2013

    Not cool. Not cool at all. Part II you meanie. You are very fresh!

  • Rudi

    Reply Reply Thu, June 27, 2013

    And for Triathletes who has to hold and endure a longer period of anaerobic performance? I see Pete Jacobs are ushering one, and believe me I especially don’t go after something since a pro athlete is sponsored by it. They obviously enforced to markted the product with just “awe” or “brilliant” comments about it. Olympic and half Iroanman distances does force you to be in the anaerobic zone due to the speed of the race. And lastly, if I stay at lower sea level but then racing at higher altitude, won’t that devises contribute to better lung function and performance?

    Thanks for your efford and research.

  • Ramiro Quevedo

    Reply Reply Fri, June 7, 2013

    I live and train MMA in La Paz, Bolivia, South America, very hard.

    La Paz is 3600 meters above sea level. Yes 3600 metros mis amigos.

    And we run sometimes in La Cumbre to 5000 meters. No joke.

    Any suggestions?

    Thanks.

  • young

    Reply Reply Sun, June 2, 2013

    does the altitude training device really work to give you more endurance?…..im a mma fighter b4 i buy 1 im asking for help

  • Drewsicle3210

    Reply Reply Wed, April 3, 2013

    Let’s see it.

  • Cam

    Reply Reply Wed, April 3, 2013

    Eric, can I come work for you? I’m a personal trainer with a special interest in training fighters physically. Not skills. I’m ex military and well educated in a&p and exercise science. I have come up with my own killer routines. Ps I have never trained a fighter, would love the chance tho, cause they are nuggets and can take it. :-)

    • Eric

      Reply Reply Tue, April 9, 2013

      Hey Cam I’m in Toronto and I’m not really looking for any employees right now, but thanks for asking. :)

  • Matthew Christian

    Reply Reply Thu, March 28, 2013

    I live in Albuquerque at about 5,300 feet elevation. One of the guys at my gym started wearing the altitude training device when he does speed and muscle density training. He says the mask has helped him maintain stamina. I’m curious about a high-altitude training device when one is already at a higher altitude. Also, the guy is Navajo, and they’re evolved for this altitude, so I’m wondering if the mask would be harder on a white guy who’s lived at sea level most his life.

    • Cam

      Reply Reply Wed, April 3, 2013

      Research has been done, it’s been validated, it increases O2 efficiency effectively. No good for strength training. Good for cardio. I used similar devices in the army, works wonders, now I have on of these, same thing. It’s good.

    • Cam

      Reply Reply Wed, April 3, 2013

      Research has been done, it’s been validated, it increases O2 efficiency effectively. No good for strength training. Good for cardio. I used similar devices in the army, works wonders, now I have on of these, same thing. It’s good. Y won’t this post!!

    • Eric

      Reply Reply Tue, April 9, 2013

      Biggest thing is that this altitude training device doesn’t simulate altitude at all.

      It’s basically an airflow restricting device.

      • Bryant Daniels

        Reply Reply Fri, July 19, 2013

        Eric, thus far, I haven’t been able to find any actual scientific literature on this device, so it appears that you are correct in that it only appears to be ‘an airflow restricting device’ as opposed to something that can increase red blood cell count, as well as maintain that red blood cell count 24 hours a day. I perceive that your inference of this device is correct.

  • Brandon

    Reply Reply Tue, March 19, 2013

    Why would you want to increase your RBC production. Increasing RBC production makes your blood thicker, making your heart work harder to pump it through your body. Thickening your blood also increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, etc.

    • Jason

      Reply Reply Wed, October 16, 2013

      Your blood may become thinker with an increased RBC count, however, contrary to popular belief a high RBC is in no way,shape, or form a risk factor for myocardial infarction, stroke, etc. MI, and strokes are caused by clots, which are caused by inflammatory factors, such as plaque build-up, LDL particle infiltration, etc. These inflammatory factors are guided to the endothelial blood vessels to attempt to repair lesions(damage) to the cell walls.

      A high RBC count will in fact allow the heart less “work” . RBCs carry oxygen, High amount of RBCs in blood = More O2 being carried to the body’s tissues, Therefore the heart being more efficient since it is able to carry more O2, the heart is able to contract fewer times in order to give tissues the approriate amount of O2.

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