Recently a karate fighter asked for my opinion on a new training tool, a training mask that restricts breathing. He was tempted but skeptical because the manufacturer of that mask made some claims that were too good to be true. Had the manufacturer stuck to the facts, the fighter likely would have been sold on the concept right away. Well, if one knows enough to see through the hype, one can “take what’s useful. . . .”
I would like to know your opinion on this tool:
I wish to know whether it can be helpful or not by saving me workout time. At the moment I don’t really have a problem with stamina, and my resting heart rate is around 46. Nonetheless, I always look for ways of making my training more effective. I am skeptical, however, about some of the mask’s benefits, such as increasing lung capacity and mimicking the effects of high-altitude training.
The mask forces all respiratory muscles to work harder, so it can help strengthen them. Training with the mask can eventually increase your aerobic endurance, when competing or training without the mask, because with stronger respiratory muscles you should be able to breathe deeply easier and for a longer time than without such training.
To decide whether you need to train with the mask, ask yourself these two questions:
1. Do you run out of breath during practice or while fighting?
2. Do you do as much aerobic endurance training as you can without overtraining or as your time permits?
If the answers to both are yes, then it may be worth giving the mask a try. For setting resistance of the mask and duration of training bouts, follow the guidelines for resistance training that I give in my post “Resistance and Technique.” So, if your technique deteriorates at a given setting of the mask’s resistance, then lower it. If you can’t go on for a certain time without losing good form, then shorten the time.
As for the claims that the mask increases lung capacity and surface area and the elasticity of the alveoli, I don’t believe them. For these things it is enough to frequently take the fullest possible breaths, without any resistance to the air flow.
Claims such as the mask “mimics the effects of high-altitude training” are not correct, either. The effects of real altitude training are far more complex than those of restricted air flow. Low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitudes makes it difficult to get oxygen from the air in one’s lungs into one’s blood. The mask makes it difficult to get air into the lungs, but not to get oxygen from that air into the blood. This is a considerable difference. You may read up on altitude training from books on exercise physiology listed at The Athlete’s Bookshelf.