You may have noticed an increasing amount of professional athletes using odd masks when they’re working out or warming up — most notably former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. Those masks are oxygen deprivation masks, made by a handful of companies. The idea behind them is that they restrict the flow of oxygen to your lungs. In other words, it simulates training at altitude, a technique that many top endurance athletes use to their benefit. But truthfully, there are some shaky scientific claims out there regarding these types of masks. To separate the fluff from the facts, we reached out to Juan Delgado, a sports scientist and certified biomechanist who works at the NY Sports Science Lab.
Another current and popular practice is the “live high, train low” or “train high, live low” premise. It’s based on intermittent exposure to high-altitude, low-oxygen environments (train high) followed by low-altitude periods (live low) where the oxygen levels are high. This allows the body to stave off the detrimental effects of prolonged hypoxia, as well as promoting the formation of red blood cells, hemoglobin and erythropoietin. These are vital cells for the use and transportation of oxygen in our body, that will allow the athlete to perform better and more efficiently. In my opinion, hypoxic training using masks and other devices can indeed have a placebo-like effect for most athletes performing aerobic exercise (most sports), since athletes that utilize it are at a stage of higher-level training than the regular athlete and thus train harder, leading the way to better results in regards of performance.
However, the high-altitude theory can show more grounding since it’s a gradual adaptation practice. The best example being the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where high-level athletes train for two to three weeks at the time, changing their environment with hard training at a higher altitude to induce these adaptive changes, which are reflected when they come back to their original environment, resulting in a better performance, more endurance, more stamina.
Hyperbaric Chambers: When used properly, without overexposure to oxygen, these can help the muscles and tissue recover faster.
Pneumatic Intermittent Compression Massage Technology: This is a massage to limbs that promotes better circulation and lymphatic drainage. By promoting these two factors, the cells are relieved of any metabolites that can be causing pain and/or soreness, before and after a workout or competition. Moreover, better circulation as a result of this massage will promote the flow of oxygenated blood, help the tissue recover faster and endure harder over longer periods of stress (exercise, competition), thus improving performance and oxygen usage.
Anti-Gravity Treadmill: Designed by NASA, this device allows the athlete to run with a lower body weight load, reducing the impact and helping him or her continue with the cardiovascular exercise without the exhaustion and CO2 elevation that hyperventilating entices while running on a regular treadmill.
Isoinertial Training: By concentrating in both concentric (shortening of muscle fibers) and eccentric (lengthening of muscle fibers) contractions during exercise, the muscle will use more nutrients and will require a better, more efficient oxygen usage. This will translate into a leaner, stronger, more durable and definitely more efficient athlete.