Fitness Mask | Elevation mask | Training Mask | Muscle Clinic By Ani Ray
Can altitude masks really elevate your fitness?
As an MH reader, you'll know of Anthony Joshua. You'll know of his 18 successive wins and his hard-hitting muscle. What you don't know, however, is the high-tech training that goes on behind closed doors that gets the champ to the top of his game. Skipping? Sure. Med-ball slams? Certainly. Altitude masks? You bet. But, does the latter hold the power to elevate your fitness, or is it all hot air? MH strapped-in.
Trendspotters will have noticed an increasing number of runners wearing futuristic-looking gas masks. Contrary to appearances, they’re not a hysterical reaction to the Zika virus scare, but the latest dispatch from the progressive end of the fitness scene. But what do they do? And more to the point, do they even work?
Well, they don’t simulate altitude. To recreate summit training, you would need to make the air thinner – i.e. the molecules further apart. Nor do ‘restricted airflow masks’ alter the chemical composition of air. For that you’d need a hypoxic chamber, which as a rule you cannot strap to your face.
(Related: MH trials altitude training)
Instead, they just starve you a little bit. Adjustable valves limit the amount of air you breathe, making the muscles around your lungs work harder. It might sound kinky, but experts subscribe to the premise. “The respiratory muscles are one of the most under-focused muscle groups in your body during athletic training,” says Mark Faghy, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist from Loughborough University. “But they’re also very “plastic” since they adapt well to stress just like any other skeletal muscle.”
In other words, stronger breathers make stronger all-round athletes. Ever the seekers of truth, we picked up a Training Mask 2.0 to find out whether the theory had legs.
Trend on trial: restricted airflow training
MH Lab rat: Ben Hobson
Stats: 6ft 2, 88kg
Fitness Level: High
Tools: Training Mask 2.0
Test station: Skinny Rebel, London
The test methods
My first challenge is simply buying a mask – demand is high – but then I’m introduced to Train Dirty, a London-based fitness collective that uses the masks in their Skinny Rebel sessions (yes, the names do grate). The theory is that, by restricting oxygen while training, the body adapts the way that it uses its energy stores and pushes its thresholds. In other words, it’s much, much harder.
(Related: double your strength in one breath)
Heart rate is a reliable indicator of effort and within 25 minutes of my first session, having done a few supersets of burpees and battle rope drills, I’ve reached 170bpm – close to my threshold of 182bpm. Even after a few sessions’ practice, I rarely drop below an average heart rate of 135bpm. That’s a good 20 beats higher than my average without the mask, mainly because it continues to tax the respiratory muscles when recovering between sets.
For men who are looking to shift kilos, this has a significant effect: over a 45-minute session I burn 500-600 calories as opposed to my usual 350-400.
Masked workouts also make you realise just how much you depend on a lungful of air to support your body. Filling your windbags is often a good stabilising tactic before a lift, but using a mask precludes this – pauses in breath are immediately felt and lead to fatigue.
(Related: the man that held his breath for 22 minutes)
Consequently, it enforces a fine balance between form and work rate. If you perfect your form while wearing the mask, then it’ll hold you in good stead.
Escape the weights room
Exercise your right to take your mask outside of the gym with these three power moves.
Spider-Man press up
- From a press up position, raise one foot off the floor and bring your knee up towards your elbow.
- Pause then return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- Squat down, keeping your back straight, until your thighs are parallel with the floor and your bum is about level with your knees.
- Explode upwards into a jump, and go straight into the next squat.
- Set up on the floor as though in a sprinter's block, with one foot positioned beneath your waist and one back, with your leg straight.
- Explosively swap feet positions. Repeat for the prescribed reps.
It took me a good three sessions to get used to how the mask affected my performance. What I imagined as a variation on a HIIT session was, in reality, something completely different – and frustrating at times.
Even so, learning to breathe better has impacted many areas of my training, from lifting heavier to running faster and further. Most of all, you’ll find the extra effort an exercise in mental endurance that translates beyond the gym floor.
Video: NEW ALTITUDE WORKOUT MASK
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