As athletes are always looking for a leg up on the competition, hypoxic training is something many look into. Hypoxic training, or training in the absence of proper levels of oxygen, has been used for decades to help athletes improve performance. With the advent and increased popularity of “altitude masks”, more and more trainees are trying derive these benefits for themselves. But is it worth it?
Altitude Training vs Altitude Training Masks
When most consider hypoxic training, they generally think of altitude training masks. The problem with this is that these masks don’t accurately mimic proper hypoxic conditions. Actual hypoxic training occurs when you’re breathing normally, but are getting less oxygen. This is what happens when you’re at altitude (either actual or simulated) – you’re breathing normally, but taking in less dense air. As a result, you take in less oxygen.
Conversely, the masks you see on the market go the opposite direction in that they don’t prevent you from taking in less air (and oxygen) from a normal breath. They instead make you have to work harder to take in an otherwise normal breath. One study published at Wheeling Jesuit University did infer that repeated training with constricted breathing could lead to stronger lungs and increased lung capacity. However, while this could be good, it’s not hypoxic training.
How to Take Advantage of Hypoxic Training
Hypoxic training can be advantageous for athletes because it’s been known to increase the production of red blood cells and boost stamina. When that athlete then gets into a more oxygen-rich environment, their performance almost immediately increases. The most common application of this is the US Olympic Center, located at altitude high in the Rocky Mountains. It’s also why you often see pro fighters hold training camps at Big Bear in the mountains of California.
Since moving (or even traveling) to the mountains might not viable options for you, possible alternatives could be to spend time in hyperbaric chambers or low-oxygen tents. These are both structures that after you get in, are (mostly) air tight and use some sort of vacuum process to either lower air pressure or pull oxygen out of the air. These would both simulate being at altitude and can cause your body to respond accordingly.
Advantages of Hypoxic Training
One study done at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences tested two groups. One group did hypoxic training, the other not, and both performed 16 resistance training workouts over the course of 8 weeks. The hypoxic group attained results similar to what athletes who live in the mountains seem to attain. Specifically, they were able to produce more blood cells and better able to restore oxygen supply to muscle tissues during exercise.
This is significant because many have theorized that mountain-based training camps are effective because athletes are in an altitude, hypoxic environment 24 hours per day for weeks straight – not just while they’re working out. However, this study seems to suggest that even spending just your training time in a hypoxic environment can still produce results.
Should You Try to Emulate Hypoxic Conditions?
Unfortunately, short of moving to the mountains, simulating hypoxic conditions aren’t exactly easy. However, if you do have the chance to either spend some time hypoxic training or in a hypoxic environment for recovery purposes, you may derive performance benefit from it. Just remember that while training masks are the most common option, and that while they can provide some benefit, those benefits aren’t hypoxic in nature.