Training masks represent a new generation of performance solutions that allow users to actively work on their respiratory muscle fitness. Originally designed to simulate altitude training, the concept has not been presented in several research trials. Training in hypoxic (low oxygen) environments increases red blood cell mass and improves oxygen transport, giving athletes measurable improvement in performance when competing at sea level. The use of training masks, however, has no measurable effect on hemoglobin, hematocrit levels and oxygen transport in athletes. Although they do not alter the oxygen concentration, they add resistance to the respiratory muscles by limiting the air supply and trigger an adaptive physiological response. The muscles of the breathing, the diaphragm, the intercostals, the assistant musculature, must be trained like any other muscle to increase the resistance to fatigue and maximize the performance. Respiratory Strength Training (RMT) is a specialized training method developed specifically to condition the muscles of breathing. RMT has been shown to dramatically improve strength, speed, power and endurance in athletes. Training masks allow athletes to enhance their physical fitness of the respiratory muscles without having to confine themselves to fixed devices or special facilities. By limiting the user’s breathing, these new devices can improve cardiorespiratory fitness, leading to better sports performance.
This is particularly relevant for elite athletes, where the pulmonary system can become a limiting factor. The benefits of using a training mask are not, however, reserved for the sports elite. During a 6-week intensive training program, moderately trained subjects using training masks, improved endurance capability (VO2 max) and significant power output. In addition to findings that loading the respiratory muscles improves performance through multiple measurements, the researchers speculated that performance increases may have been attributed to breathing in the exhaled breath. This return may have further increased the positive results due to improved CO2 tolerance. There is contradictory research on the performance benefits observed with respiratory muscle training, challenging the hypothesis that an increase in the fitness of the inspiratory muscles results in better work capacity and better athletic performance. A comprehensive review of the literature by Gigliotti et al. (2006) concludes that RMT improves the relevant performance markers in well-controlled and rigorously designed studies, but the mechanisms behind these improvements are not yet fully understood and require further investigation.