Ditch the Altitude Mask, it Doesn’t Work

Personally, one of my favorite moments on The Ultimate Fighter came when I watched a group of hopeful fighters wearing elevation masks and scuba flippers while running backwards on a treadmill. It was so absurd that I couldn’t believe it just happened. While the scuba flippers were crazy, what was even crazier were the elevation masks.

Now, if you own one and actually bothered to read beyond mask 2the headline of this article then you are probably still headed towards the comments with your righteous indignation and your anecdotal evidence. But maybe, just maybe you ought to use actual scientific research as opposed to, “But my buddy said it worked,” “Anderson Silva uses it,” or my favorite, “There is scientific evidence to back it up!” If you find some research that supports it done by anyone besides the guy who sells the things, please, let me know.

So what is an elevation mask? It is meant to mimic an oxygen-poor environment; at least, that’s what it is sold as. Living at sea level, person can expect to be breathing air that is roughly 20.9% oxygen. The higher the altitude a person is at, the less oxygen there is in the air.

Less oxygen in the air forces a person’s body to adapt its blood-oxygen delivery system to become more efficient to get enough air to all of our muscles. Does an elevation mask force these adaptations on a person’s body? No. The mask cannot magically reduce the oxygen a person takes in. It just makes breathing harder.

20.9% oxygen + difficulty breathing = still breathing 20.9% oxygen.

Another problem that arises (were we to assume that the mask could actually filter oxygen out of the air) is that it takes a minimum of 18 days in a low oxygen environment to see any results. In order to get results, you’d need to wear a magical, oxygen-filtering mask for 18 days straight for them to do anything for you at all. However, if you are just wanting to buy expensive items to simulate altitude, you can
always buy an altitude tent and sleep in it at home. At least mask 1those have been shown to be effective.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “But when I wear it during a workout and it makes the workout harder and I feel like my lungs are getting better at breathing.” Sure. My lungs would also feel like they’re great at breathing if I nearly drowned and then was able breathe again. Yes it makes your workout harder; however, it’s very likely that it also makes your workout far less effective. You can’t ever get the core tightness you need to do heavy lifts, and you certainly aren’t helping your cardio by suffocating yourself. If you feel like you are helping your cardio via suffocation, you can always strap a pillow around your face while you exercise. It’s cheaper and frankly, you’ll look like less of a tool than what you would with the mask.


  1. A problem was definitely how it was marketed. A little mask cannot and will not change atmospheric % of O2. It seems that many gripes athletes have with this product is how far removed it is from what it was advertised to do. Also their subjective opinion on how they think it makes someone look (a tool).

    Interestingly enough, this topic came up with some of my training partners. The same issue was brought up, it doesn’t mimic an elevated atmosphere with its appropriate gas levels. True. No question about it.

    What I am about to say is not from a research based article, rather posing a theory based off fundamental anatomy and physiology. When an individual ceases to received fresh oxygen, the body slowly uses the residual O2 left floating around in the blood. (why you can hold your breath for a certain period of time… I know the acidosis of blood is what causes you want to breathe, rather than not enough O2, but for the sake of clarity lets keep it at not enough O2). If you were to place your body in a constant O2 deficit state while forcing it to exercise (training mask), THEORETICALLY the cells would be more apt at utilizing the residual O2, which would then in turn increase anaerobic threshold. Simply put, ATP is energy, ATP byproduct is CO2, body needs O2 to make ATP. A decreased airflow both ways theoretically could make the red blood cells more efficient in utilizing residual O2 in the lungs and blood stream. So when normal flow is restored (no mask), there would be less stress on RBC at high work levels.

    From a straight musculoskeletal perspective, a training mask would force your diaphragm to work harder. Your diaphragm is a muscle so you technically strengthening the muscle.

    I had no problems with your article until the last paragraph. Up to that point you composed a mostly objective, well written article highlighting the common faults with the elevation mask. Jiujitsutimes, I believe is one of the more well established resources for the sport. An opinion is what differentiates an article from an academic journal, but your last paragraph is based off ‘your righteous indignation and your anecdotal evidence’ which you assume will flood your comments section. That style of writing is what may mislead many readers into using the ‘I read it on jiujitsutimes.com so it must be true’ defense.

    SO, does the elevation mask mimic elevation training, NO. Does it have other physiological benefits, yes.

    My credentials. ACE certified personal trainer, US Army Medic, EMT-B certified, Wrestler, student of Jiujitsu.

  2. My use of the mask has helped me at least feel less taxed when in a high intensity drill. I feel like my body can handle it a little better. I definitely don’t think is reduces oxygen. What it does do is increasingly make your ability to breath that much harder so that when you train without it, you feel like it’s less of an effort.

  3. Altitude has no effect on the percentage of oxygen in relation to other gasses. Altitude reduces the density and availability of ALL gasses almost equally. I don’t own or use one but it’s not impossible for this mask to do the same thing. Breathing at altitude is essentially partial suffocation. Also, to suggest one needs to stress the cardiovascular system for 18 days continuously before seeing any benefit is just ridiculous. That being said, they do look ridiculous.


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