Training Mask 2.0 Fact or ‘Fad’ for Critics
Johnny Serafano - Research team
Will ‘Trending Now’ Be ‘Trending Later’?
When we look at the fitness industry over the last 20 years all of us can share a good laugh about some of the training equipment and philosophies that have sprung up. Some have stayed with us, some have faded into the background, and others have been retired to the Serengeti plains in Africa to be with the other Gazelles. So what makes resistance breathing different than the rest of the herd? All we have to do is look at the nature of exercise, fitness, and sport to find the answer. One would be hard pressed to find any moderately taxing physical activity in which fatigue would not be a limiting factor.
Let’s use a housewife who wants to shed a few extra pounds using interval cardio training as an example. Also let us assume that she can complete 4 intervals totaling 12 minutes at high intensity before she has to terminate the workout due to exhaustion. If she can perform 6 intervals the next workout before she reaches exhaustion, she burns more calories, and in theory, if her diet is in check, will lose more weight as a result. But what is stopping her from completing more work? Strength is typically not the limiting factor in a cardio workout. The limiting factor is almost always stamina and fatigue. The same holds true for an NFL wide receiver to some extent. If his team is running a no huddle offence, and on the 9th consecutive play the receiver is asked to run a 50-yard fade route, fatigue is going to play a significant role in how fast he can execute his route to beat the defender. Both the housewife and professional athlete will be breathing very hard even though their tolerances and work capacities may differ.
The fact of the matter is respiratory training is an under emphasized area of fitness, yet it’s one of the crucial and most limiting factors to performance. Unfortunately, before the Training Mask became more ‘popular’, those in the weekend warrior category of fitness, as well as athletes, had a very limited supply of solutions available to address this issue (if they saw it as an issue at all). The Training Mask is one of the very few training aides available that can directly improve fatigue tolerance. This is what gives the Training Mask staying power versus other ‘fads’. An athlete can wear the mask while running on a treadmill, doing a cross training workout, or while performing core stabilization routines. Using the mask does not require the user to change their routine to some exotic new program. All it requires is that the user wear it during some of their workouts to improve an area of their fitness they would otherwise be ill equipped to emphasize. Fads typically create some ‘new’ way of training, that’s where the Training Mask is different. The Training Mask can evolve with the user as exercise philosophies shift, always there to help them improve fatigue tolerance so that they can fight through workouts more effectively.
How Does the Training Mask Improve Performance?
There has been some confusion among the brain trust in the fitness community as to how the Training Mask improves performance. It performs this function in a few key ways. Oxygen restriction, Improving Carbon Dioxide Tolerance, and directly strengthening the breathing musculature.
1. Oxygen Restriction
Using the Training Mask decreases the oxygen available to the body by limiting the volume of air that comes into the re-breather during ventilation. It is in this regard that it simulates training at sea level. The operative word here is ‘simulates’ not duplicates. Giving the user an option to simulate a training stimulus they would otherwise have to trek up a mountain to gain has distinct benefits. Restricting oxygen causes the body to make adaptations to adjust to the stimulus, especially if it is induced under load on a repeated basis. Resistance training creates the benefits of increased serum oxygen transport to respond to the reduced oxygen state experienced during workouts. Oxygen is the lifeblood to short burst (2-4 minute) and prolonged work capacity (8 minutes and up). Oxygen directly buffers lactic acid to allow us to work at higher intensities in addition to the role it plays in creating energy. When your legs are on fire during a long set of box jumps, it’s the availability of oxygen to the muscle that can ease the discomfort so you can work out at that intensity longer.
2. Carbon Dioxide Tolerance
In addition to the oxygen restriction effect the Training Mask creates while training, it also exposes the user to increased carbon dioxide content during each breathing cycle. This occurs because the air that is exhaled into the mask cannot fully exit the re-breather before the next breath. Carbon dioxide tolerance is an important regulator to fatigue threshold. When the respiratory center in the brain detects elevated Co2 in the blood, it sends alarm signals to the breathing musculature to work harder. In addition to that function, the respiratory center also creates that awful sensation which makes us want to stop working. Training in this state can have significant training benefits by allowing our bodies to endure elevated Co2 concentrations. Co2 tolerance is one component of the ‘wall’ (the others being lactic acid and hydrogen ion accumulation) that prevents us from continuing to work. The Training Mask gives the user a means of over-inducing Co2 elevated physiological conditions beyond what an athlete would normally experience through breathing without the mask.
3. Inspiratory Muscle Conditioning
Bad breathing habits are very hard to undo, especially while training. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing in static positions may strengthen the diaphragm, and re-train us to breathe properly while relaxed, but this rarely carries over into training as high stress levels can make us fall back into bad habits. Why is diaphragmatic involvement important during breathing? Because it is the ‘prime mover’ in our breathing musculature. There are other muscles involved in inspiration such as the intercostals and accessory muscles, but these muscles also share in core stabilization functions which make them prone to fatigue due to their multi-purpose role. The peripheral air resistance generated by the flux valves of the mask directly stresses the breathing musculature. This added load resets the motor program of the breathing muscles to favor a diaphragm driven contraction sequence instead of an accessory muscle dependent sequence. If we were to observe most people while they are breathing heavily, we would see upper chest expansion coupled with rapid breaths. This leads to decreased lung inflation and oxygen uptake, which ultimately decreases the individual’s capacity to reduce oxygen debt during exertion. Ideally we would like to see breaths originate in the abdomen during labored breathing, this would indicate that the individual is using their diaphragm more rigorously. Lastly, the mask increases the duration of inspiration during each breathing cycle. This allows the lungs more time to expand, as well as putting the diaphragm under load through its full muscular excursion. Repeated training with the mask during high intensity functional activities will give us the functional carryover from diaphragmatic training we would otherwise be unable to replicate by simply doing diaphragmatic breaths in resting positions. Training with the mask is a much more functional way of strengthening the inspiratory musculature which will directly improve performance.
The Take Home…
We can see that the Training Mask is a comprehensive approach to improving respiratory endurance. It also adds other elements such as improving Co2 tolerance, and respiratory muscle conditioning as well. Merging oxygen restriction with the other training benefits the mask provides the user, makes it stand alone as one of the best respiratory training implements on the market today. As long as people see fatigue as a challenge to their workouts, the Training Mask will have a place in everyone’s fitness routine both now, and in years to come.
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