If you watch pregame shows, you’ve probably seen professional athletes like LeBron James and Jay Ajayi wearing training masks. Maybe you’ve even caught people on the treadmill or squat rack at the gym looking like Bane from Batman while they run or lift, apparently hoping for the same kind of boost. The secret of truly elite athletes isn’t the amount of time spent working out, the intensity of the workout or the determination to push one’s body to its limits.
The secret is the power of respiratory muscle conditioning. Until the training mask there was not an effective way to improve pulmonary performance beyond running harder or doing more work sets. Yet even with increased work volume, one may not improve their stamina or endurance beyond a ﬁ xed point. This is why top level athletes and strength coaches from prestigious organisations such as the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball have started incorporating the training mask into their programs.
Cutting down on the amount of oxygen you take in, your lungs and heart have to work harder. The result is that your body must adapt how it uses its energy stores. Once you unmask for a race or competition, your body then uses oxygen more efﬁ ciently, leading to substantial increases in strength, endurance and speed. An athlete quoted that “Within 25 minutes of wearing the mask in my ﬁ rst session, my heart rate was close to its max. I felt like I was taxing my lungs even during my rest periods.” He also found it a little frustrating.
But after several workouts, he said, “learning to breathe better has had an impact on my training, from lifting heavier to running faster and farther. Most of all, it’s an exercise in mental endurance that translates beyond the gym ﬂ oor.” Well, maybe. If you really want to reap the beneﬁ ts of high altitude, such as increased red blood cell count, research suggests you’ll have to live a pretty sedentary lifestyle at high altitudes but you may have to train at lower altitudes to see maximum training adaptations. Because the air is thinner at high altitudes, your body responds by creating more red blood cells to boost oxygencarrying capabilities levels, even if you’re just sitting or sleeping. That’s not a problem when training at sea level, which has led to the popular phrase, ‘Live high, train low.’