Do altitude masks really work and make you fitter?

Do altitude training masks work and are they worth buying? James Witts looks at the evidence

Altitude-simulating training devices have become popular over the past few years, the likes of the Elevation Mask and the Fitness Training Face purportedly condensing the benefits of an altitude tent into a relatively inexpensive handheld tool. Marketing teams have also shifted into overdrive, claiming their mask increases aerobic capacity, endurance performance and lung function. 

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Professor John Porcari of the University of Wisconsin tested these sales pitches by putting 24 athletes through a six-week high-intensity cycle training programme. Twelve trained with the Elevation Training Mask 2.0 clamped to their mouths; the remaining 12 followed the same plan but without any mask.

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Both groups exhibited significant improvements in VO2max and peak power output, though not significantly different over the other. Markers of altitude on physiology, like increase haematocrit and haemoglobin mass, also showed no variance. The researchers concluded that the altitude mask works more like a respiratory aid similar to a Powerbreathe than training up in the Alps. Porcari noted that further research is required to see if respiratory-device improvements, like reduced lung fatigue, actually translate into improved performance.

Heat training could offer same benefits as at altitude