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Training Masks allow users to actively work on their respiratory muscle fitness. Originally designed to simulate training at altitude, the concept failed to deliver in multiple research trials. Training in hypoxic (low oxygen) environments increases red blood cell mass and improves oxygen transport, giving athletes a measurable performance boost when competing at sea level. The use of training masks, however, has no measurable effect on haemoglobin, hematocrit levels and oxygen transport in athletes. While they do not alter oxygen concentration, they add resistance to the respiratory muscles by limiting air supply and thus trigger an adaptive physiological response.
The muscles of respiration, from the diaphragm, the intercostals, to the assisting musculature, need to be trained like any other muscle to increase resistance to fatigue and maximize performance. Respiratory Muscle Training (RMT) is a specialized training method developed to condition the muscles of respiration specifically. RMT has been shown to markedly improve strength, speed, power and endurance in athletes.
Training masks allow athletes to strengthen their respiratory muscle fitness without having to be confined to stationary devices or special facilities. By restricting the user's breathing, these novel devices can improve cardiorespiratory fitness, which leads to better sport performance. This is especially relevant to elite athletes, where the pulmonary system may become a limiting factor.
The benefits of using a training mask are not reserved for the athletic elite, however. During a 6-week high intensity training program, moderately trained subjects using training masks, improved endurance capacity (VO2 max) and power output significantly. In addition to the findings that respiratory muscle loading improved performance across multiple metrics, the researchers speculated that the performance increases may have been attributed to the re-breathing of expired air. This in-turn may have further augmented positive results due to improved Co2 Tolerance.
There is conflicting research on the performance benefits seen with respiratory muscle training, challenging the assumption that an increase in inspiratory muscle fitness translates to better work capacity and athletic performance. A comprehensive review of the literature by Gigliotti et al. (2006) concludes that RMT does improve relevant performance markers in well-controlled and rigorously designed studies, but the mechanisms behind these improvements are not yet fully understood and require further research.
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