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Do Training Masks Really Work?

In today’s episode, you’ll discover if training masks really work, and find out whether these trendy face-gadgets are waste of your money or a breakthrough device that will give you the lungs of a freak mutant.

By
Ben Greenfield,
October 24, 2016
Episode #308

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You’ve no doubt seen them: those sleek, tight-fitting masks worn by UFC fighters like Diego Sanchez, Tyrone Woodley and Carlos Condit, celebrity actors like Michael B. Jordan in the recent movie Creed and even extreme workout enthusiasts at your local gym who appear to be the exercising equivalent of the villain Bane from Batman’s “Dark Knight Rises.” Indeed, from the looks of NFL players, Ironman triathletes, BJJ champions, MMA fighters, boxers, Crossfitters and beyond, these masks, which come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes, seem to be taking the fitness world by storm.

But do training masks really work? In today’s article, you’ll discover the answer, and find out whether these trendy face-gadgets are waste of your money or a breakthrough device that will give you the lungs of a freak mutant.

The Difference Between Hypoxia, Resisted, and Restricted Breathing

Let’s start here: pick up a straw. Now, breathe in and out through the straw. That’s resisted breathing. Consider it to be something lke weight training for your lungs.

Now go for a swim or, if a swimsuit isn’t handy, imagine going for a swim. Experience what happens when you breathe every 5 or 7 strokes instead of every 1 or 2 strokes. That’s restricted breathing, which sends a clear message to your body that oxygen molecules are few and far between.

Finally, let’s say you go climb a mountain or crawl into an altitude tent (a type of tent that basically sucks some of the oxygen out of the air that you’re breathing). That’s hypoxic training, in which the air is truly thinner and you’re actually pulling less oxygen into your body.

Since it neither restricts how often you can breathe nor reduces the partial pressure of oxygen in the air that you actually are breathing, a training mask would only fall into that first category: resisted breathing. And the proposed mechanism of beneficial action for resisted breathing is that it may enhance your endurance or cardiovascular performance by strengthening your inspiratory and expiratory muscles, which would then increase something called your “ventilatory capacity” (basically, your lung size). 

But does the research actually back this up? Let’s take a look at the most recent studies.

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