How Do High Altitude Training Masks Work?

Photo: Training Mask

When you want to develop muscles to be more than photogenic, you have to worship cardio like a religion. Possessing amazing endurance, which is a direct result of cardio, is like having a superpower. With incredible endurance comes great responsibility, as you’ll outlast your opponents and crush them once their fuel tanks runs empty. Yes, cardio workouts can be absolutely grueling, but they will transcend your skills above and beyond your expectations no matter what sport you’re playing. What plenty of athletes are experimenting with to push their cardio to uncharted heights is the high-altitude training mask.

It’s not uncommon for professional and Olympic athletes to train in high-altitude areas to increase their cardio and V02 max, which is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise to push yourself further into championship mode. However, finding the time and money to train at your nearest mountain top is out of the picture for most people, which is why high-altitude training masks are so attractive. But, how do high altitude training masks work? We’re here to break that mystery down so you can decide on whether or not the Bane-styled face-hugger is meant for you.


Safety First

You’re the person who knows your athletic level the best, so you have to make the call on whether body can handle training with an elevation mask. We highly suggest you consult your doctor first before investing in one so you can have all your bases covered. And if you get the green light from your physician, you can both come up with a plan of attack together to ensure the best results.

If you do start tackling workouts with a respiratory training tool, make sure you at least do so with a partner (who isn’t wearing one) as a precautionary measure. You can take turns putting on your personal elevation mask to make sure you don’t overexert yourselves. Remember, you may look like a beast with the mask on, but it won’t look too hot if you pass out. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can find out how this crazy contraption works.

High Altitude Training Vs. The Mask

The Break Down

There’s a difference between actually going up a mountain and training like Rocky Balboa (or real boxers) and strapping on an elevation mask at the gym to do some circuit training. In theory, the respiratory mask is supposed to simulate putting in work while you’re up in the Alps. We’ll take a look at the real deal and the Bane-styled trainer so you can take note of the differences and similarities.


Athletes will often stay in the mountains for several days to weeks so they can train in “thinner air.” In higher elevation, both the atmospheric and partial pressure of oxygen is reduced, making it a challenge to breathe when you’re exercising. Whatever workout you do, from going hard on the heavy bag to putting in miles, the reduced oxygen in your body will lead to fatigue much faster than when you’re at sea level. However, over a period of time, your body will adapt to the environment and create more red blood cells, increasing the capacity of oxygen you carry. This translates to improved aerobic performance when you’re at sea level. So, when you’re at the last will-testing round of your match or need to hold the line for the final play, you’ll have enough left in the tank to shut down your opponent.


Elevation training masks cannot fully simulate real-life training in higher altitudes because they are unable to change the partial pressure of oxygen going into your body. A respiratory training mask will only restrict the inflow of oxygen, which does have its benefits when you’re doing cardio. By wearing an elevation mask, the oxygen restriction will force your core and diaphragm to work harder and increase respiration, which is known as inspiratory muscle training. So, the mask will enhance the endurance of your respiratory system, but it can’t quite simulate truly being in higher elevation at a peak region of Mother Nature’s terrain.

How The Mask Works

Air Intake Control

Put on the workout muzzle and you’ll minimize the amount of air you inhale, as it covers both your mouth and nose completely. In no time, you’ll start looking like a comic book villain ready to demolish anything in your path about five minutes into your exercise. Ideally, the oxygen restriction will increase the capacity of your fuel tank, enabling you to go more rounds without tiring as much as your opponent, giving you an advantage in the game.

By using a high-altitude training mask, you’ll be increasing your threshold potential, and in turn, improving your performance and stamina.No matter which model you select, the mask works to control the air you intake through the use of vents and valves or a similar device, such as a dial. You’ll be able to adjust the level of resistance by reconfiguring the vents or dial based on your level of experience training with the mask on. You’ll want to gradually decrease the airflow intake so your body can get used to the challenging levels that will take your lungs to the next echelon. Just like you load more weight on the bar to lift at the gym, you can increase the intensity on your respiratory muscles by adjusting the airflow level. By using a high-altitude training mask, you’ll be increasing your threshold potential, and in turn, improving your performance and stamina.

While the respiratory mask can’t simulate actually being up in the Alps, it does provide you with an athletic edge. In particular, an elevation mask is capable of increasing your respiratory compensation threshold (RCT). An average person is influenced to breathe based on the levels of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. When your RCT is met, your body is influenced to slow down due to high lactate levels. At this point, your body will go into fatigue mode and you’ll be taking heavy breaths as if oxygen was your favorite gourmet meal and you haven’t eaten for days. With the proper use of an elevation mask, you can increase your threshold and perform at a high intensity for longer before you reach the dreaded point of exhaustion. In a perfect world, the airflow resistance device will turn you into a cardio machine.


Mask On Or Off?

Back in the good old days, some bold UFC fighters would actually train with gas masks strapped on their faces. However, the problem with training with a gas mask on is their high potential to literally suffocate you, which is a little too hardcore for most people, especially if you’re not training to be the heavyweight champ of the world. Some even say the creation of the high-altitude training mask was inspired by insane fighters training while wearing gas masks. Thankfully, the invention of the high-elevation training muzzle gave fighters a much safer alternative.

So, should you train with a high altitude training muzzle? Well, it depends on what you’re training for and how you’ll be using it. Although high-altitude training masks were made for endurance exercises, many people are starting to use them more for anaerobic exercises in short durations, as long high-intensity workouts with the mask on may be too harsh on your body. However, that doesn’t mean people still don’t do high-intensity exercises with the muzzle on, as results vary based on your degree of athleticism. It all depends on your level of fitness, health, and the opinion of your primary physician. Professional athletes still don the air flow-restricting apparatus while doing high-intensity drills to gain a mental edge. Here are a few pros and cons of using an airflow restriction device to consider:


  • Trains your lungs to breathe more efficiently
  • Gain a psychological edge due to the difficulty of the training
  • Potentially enhance your respiratory muscles
  • Solid chance to increase your respiratory compensation threshold


  • Does not simulate training at high elevation. Not enough studies completed supporting the positive effects
  • Could be counterproductive if you’re goal is to lose fat, as it may diminish your training volume
  • May reduce metabolic efficiency in elite athletes

Some will think about just going old school and taking the long windy drive up a craggy mountain for mitt work and sparring, but there are some damaging side effects to training in actual high elevation. One primary concern is that your red blood cells will produce thicker blood, slowing down the flow and making it difficult for your heart to pump blood throughout your body. In addition, you won’t be able to exercise with the same intensity you do at sea level. So, trying out a high-altitude mask isn’t a bad look.

To increase cardio, the elevation mask can be useful, but it isn’t the holy grail to increasing your endurance.There haven’t been enough tests to confidently state that an elevation mask can truly make a positive difference in your training. A few positive studies are floating around, such as one from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, which showed an increase in VO2 max and power output for a test group wearing the mask, but there are also studies with mixed reviews. Ultimately, your fitness level and what you’re training for will determine whether a high-altitude training mask will give you the edge you need. To increase cardio, the elevation mask can be useful, but it isn’t the holy grail to increasing your endurance. If you happen to invest in one, remember to use it in conjunction with other training methods and fitness gadgets out there. At the very least, you will gain a mental edge when you strap the bad boy on your face and realize just how hard it is to do a simple drill with the contraption on for the first time, providing you with a novel challenge.

Photo: Dimok

Training Face

Mean Mugging

If you’re  training for a marathon, your next fight, or the football season, you may want to consider investing in a high-altitude training mask. As stated earlier, you want to check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to use one, based on your fitness level and health. We’ve gathered a few of the best elevation masks for you to consider to get things started in the right direction.

Dimok Training Mask

Don’t let the price take fool you, as the Dimok Training Mask will definitely get the job done if you’re looking for an airflow altering device. The mask offers a whopping 16 resistance levels to regulate oxygen intake to help you build your respiratory muscles. For your convenience, switching levels is a breeze, as you won’t have to take the mask off to increase the level of intensity. When you’re all done with your calorie-burning workout, the device is also easy to disassemble and wash. And the Dimok Training Mask comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee for peace of mind.

Purchase: $22

Phantom Athletics Training Mask

The Phantom Athletics Training Mask features four inhaling resistance levels, which you can easily adjust during your workout without having to take off the mask via the Phantom Regulation System. This durable mask is made with premium medical silicone, a moisture-wicking high-tech sleeve, and an anatomical slip-resistant nylon cover so all you have to do is focus on crushing your goals to break into the next level. The allergenic and hygienic adjustable mask comes in three sizes, covering a weight range from 155 lbs to 220 lbs. Not to mention, the mask will definitely give you that sinister Scorpion look when you put it on.

Purchase: $69

Training Mask 3.0

Arguably the most popular brand on this list, the Training Mask’s 3.0 is the third iteration of the company’s airflow resistance devices. This conditioning device is powered by the innovative NXT FORC3 air flow platform, which was built specifically to apply varied levels of load on the respiratory muscles. The lightweight mask has a dial-able air flow mechanism so you can control the intensity based on your goals. Hold off on the dreaded feeling of training fatigue longer by exercising with the Training Mask 3.0. The American-made Training Mask 3.0 is made with reinforced overloaded composite rubber and a quad-layer ‘CryoActive’ performance sleeve.

Purchase: $80

18 Best Fitness Books

Now that you’ve read up on how an altitude training mask works and its potential benefits, it’s time to expand your fitness knowledge further. Check out our picks for the best fitness books on the market to boost your gains.