Have you ever seen someone in the gym that looks a little bit like the Predator?
You know, wearing a breathing mask on their face? Curious about these masks and their use?
They are called “hypoxia masks.”
Hypoxia (also known as hypoxiation) is a condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. (Merriam-Webster, 2016)
A 2010 research study concluded that “hypoxia as a supplement to training is not consistently found to be advantageous for performance at sea level. Stronger evidence exists for benefits of hypoxic training on performance at altitude.”
In other words, if you’re going to compete or begin training in Denver (5,280 ft above sea level), hike in Tibet (14,000 ft above sea level), or compete on Mount Everest (29,035 ft above sea level) anytime soon, you might want to add hypoxia training to your fitness regimen. But before you do, PLEASE CONSULT A MEDICAL DOCTOR.
So, what’s the point of using a hypoxia mask if you are not a hard core athlete?
Another research study conducted back in 2007 concluded that “acute exposure of moderately trained subjects to normobaric hypoxia [i.e., a barometric pressure equivalent to pressure at sea level] during a short-term training program consisting of moderate- to high-intensity intermittent exercise has no enhanced effect on the degree of improvement in either aerobic or anaerobic performance.”
What does this mean? The average person who exercises to stay in shape and be healthy does not need to add hypoxia training to their workouts, because it doesn’t really have any benefits to your fitness performance. Why buy something that costs between $30-$100 if you simply don’t need it?
Another study (2001) concluded that when done correctly, intermittent hypoxia training has been shown to increases red blood cell count and aerobic capacity. Here, intermittent was defined as “5-7 minutes of steady or progressive hypoxia, interrupted by equal periods of recovery.”
So, wait. Who trains the trainer about how to effectively and safely conduct and supervise hypoxic training?
Close to nobody!
After conducting a preliminary web search, I only found a “Hypoxia and Hypoxic Training for High Performance” certification course conducted in Ireland.
Other than that, I found a few airlines that conduct employee training sessions about hypoxia altitude conditions for their flight staff–not the type of training we are talking about…
Your best bet is to read the user’s manual, consult your M.D., pray, and tell someone when you are using it (just in case you pass out from doing too much all at once).
One of the master trainers for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, Karl Sterling, provides some very helpful firsthand feedback about wearing and using a hypoxic training mask (HTM).
In a nutshell, here are the pros and cons of using HTMs.
- Add variation to your workouts
- Helps you focus on your breathing during exercise
- Become more efficient using oxygen and increase performance
- Look cool at the gym
- Cost ($30-$100)
- One more thing to carry in your gym bag
- Minimal experts available to teach you how to safely train with a hypoxic training mask
- Limited research
- Look creepy at the gym
Google scholar search results for “hypoxic training benefits.”
Hingerhofer-Szalkay H. (2010, Jan.). Intermittent hypoxic training risks versus benefits. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 108(2), 417. doi 10.1007/s00421-009-1274-4
Roberts, A. (n.d.) The truth about hypoxic training and oxygen reducing masks.
Walther, J. (2015). Can a hypoxic training mask improve performance? National Association of Sports Medicine.
Shi, B. Watanabe, T., Shin, S., Yabumoto, T., Takemura, M., & Matsuoka, T. (2014, Jan.) Effect of hypoxic training on inflammatory and metabolic risk factors: a crossover study in healthy subjects. doi 10.1002/phy2.198