Altitude training masks (or elevation masks) replicate the low-oxygen conditions of training at high altitudes.
Essentially, they make less oxygen available for you to inhale, and your body responds by becoming more efficient in it’s use of oxygen – therefore increasing your aerobic fitness levels when you train in more oxygen rich environments (I have a more detailed explanation below the mask reviews if you want to read further)
These masks are quite complex products, so I’ve put together my list of favourites along with some information on what you should be looking for when making a purchase.
Friorange Altitude training mask
The Friorange Altitude Training mask design allows for three different levels of airflow, allowing you to adjust the workout difficulty. This happens via a simple valve setting on the mask. Additionally, the strap is fully adjustable so you can change it as your face size changes – which it will during weight loss. Finally the mask itself is made from a non-toxic silicone body, which also helps with the comfort of the mask and allows it to be washed easily.
- Comfortable and easy to adjust
- Made from a non-toxic silicone
- 3 levels of airflow adjustment
FDBRO Workout Fitness training Mask
The FDBRO Fitness Training mask is a highly adjustable training mask designed to offer a wide variety in terms of breathing resistance during workouts. It’s a simple construction but offers six different workout intensity levels, meaning that it is suitable for anyone from beginner to more advanced. It’s fully washable and is made from EVA straps and comes with its own EVA carry case. Fits very comfortably.
- 6 Different levels
- Fully washable
- Comes with its own carry case
AIRTHLETIC Altitude Training Mask
The AIRTHLETIC Altitude Training Mask is a simpler design that some of the others but this works in its favour – the simpler it is, the less there is to go wrong. There is a mask that restricts the airflow and that is held in place by a band that wraps around the head, making it more secure overall. The strap is adjustable via Velcro at the back and the airflow is adjustable to replicate altitude from 900 to 5500 metres. Fully washable.
- Airflow adjustable from 900 to 5500m
- Simple but effective design
- One size fits all – adjustable via Velcro at the back
What are the benefits of training with an altitude training mask?
An altitude training mask is designed to simulate the low oxygen conditions of training at altitude, by restricting the flow of oxygen to your lungs. There are a number of reasons for this wanting to simulate altitude training that I’ll run you through in this section…
Simulate training at altitude (without having to travel)
Travelling is an expensive (and difficult) thing to do if you want to exercise at altitude. Most altitude training centres are difficult to get to and are very expensive. You also need to spend a lot time there if you want to benefit properly. This makes it unrealistic for most people other than professional athletes. By wearing an altitude training mask you can replicate the difficulty of training at high altitude every time you exercise by wearing a mask.
Increase lung capacity
The thinking is that by making the breathing more difficult you will be forcing your lungs to work harder, improving the strength of the intercostal muscles that facilitate breathing and improving your overall lung capacity. All of these improvements will benefit you with all kinds of exercise, not just endurance training.
Increase haemoglobin levels
One of the benefits of altitude training is an improvement in haemoglobin levels. Haemoglobin is the molecule in your blood that is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs, to muscles and other places it is needed. When there is less oxygen available in your lungs (which happens when training in high-altitude low-oxygen environments) your body produces more haemoglobin. When you return to normal altitude oxygen-rich environments, your body still has those high haemoglobin levels, meaning it will be more efficient in carrying oxygen around the body.
Reduce training time
Wearing an altitude mask makes your workout harder and increases the intensity. When the intensity is higher you feel the training effects quicker, so you don’t need to train as long.
Increase aerobic performance
Aerobic exercise is also known as cardiovascular exercise. By wearing an altitude mask you are making your cardiovascular system more efficient, which will in turn improve your aerobic performance and make you better at endurance training.
Increase anaerobic performance
Anaerobic exercise is ‘without oxygen’, so that’s the higher intensity exercise we do. Combat sports, football, rugby, sprints etc. are all anaerobic. Training with an altitude mask will simulate the high intensity, out of breath feeling you get from these sports so your body will adapt to the feeling.
Simulate Competition Feeling
If you are a competitive athlete who will experience acute shortness of breath in competition – perhaps you are a combat sports fighter or a sprinter, training with an altitude mask can simulate the shortness of breath you’ll feel during competition. That makes you more used to the feeling and therefore more comfortable and relaxed when it happens in your sport.
Reduce Injury Risk
The altitude training mask increases your intensity, which means it reduces your training load. When you don’t need to train as much your injury risk reduces significantly, meaning you’re likely to be fresher and more recovered when it comes to competition. Less training also means you’re less likely to be tired and under-recovered.
What to look for when choosing an altitude training mask
There are a few different altitude training masks on the market, each with their own features and fit. The type of mask you buy will depend on a number of factors, so I’ll run you through the main things to consider before you purchase your altitude training mask…
Typically speaking a mask will either have levels or a ‘simulation’. Levels are adjusted by a valve and will change the amount of air that it allows into the breathing chamber. The simulation masks have a valve that allows an amount of air, designed to replicate breathing at particular altitudes. These can be useful if you’re training for an event at altitude. For most users, a simple valve system works just fine.
The comfort of the mask depends largely on the fitting of it – some of them are secured with Velcro, some wrap around the back of the head with holes for the ears. Generally speaking, the softer the materials and the more secure the fitting, the more comfortable the mask. If the mask is in-built to the strap it usually stays very secure.
If you’re a bigger user, the strap can cause the material to dig into the skin behind the ears which can make it uncomfortable. Also if you’re running, it can cause friction behind the ears as it bounces during your run. If you want to run in your mask, I’d go for a Velcro strap that stays clear of the ears. If you’re using the mask for pad and bag work, cycling or weight training then you’re fine with a behind the ears strap.
A thicker strap that wraps around the head is always more comfortable, so pay attention to strap thickness.
It’s easier if we think of these masks in two parts – the strap and the valve section. This is because they come apart so they can be cleaned easily. When the valve section is made from a silicon-based material it’s generally better because it’s a softer material that secures itself to the face well. EVA is also good, but of course it’s worth reading what others think of the fitting.
The straps either secure behind the ears or with Velcro around the back. If you can pick a mask with a good quality elastic it’s helpful and check the materials they’re made from. Most are nylon, silicone and EVA. These are all machine washable and breathable, so they won’t end up smelling!
Altitude Training Mask Conclusion
If you’re looking for an altitude training mask, pay attention to the advice given here in this article and you won’t go wrong. Just give what you’re after enough thought and you’ll make a great choice and take your training to another level!