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Ask Carter P: High altitude training masks

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Carter P., I've seen some people wearing high altitude training masks at the gym. Will this give me an edge over my competition or is it a marketing gimmick?

I, too, have seen many mini Darth Vaders running around the gym wearing these masks.

First, let's consider how this device works. It provides resistance to your breathing thereby restricting how much oxygen you can inhale, but your body naturally compensates for this by breathing harder. In effect, the result of using this device is a strengthening of your breathing muscles. Furthermore, the latest studies have shown that the breathing masks do not provide enough breathing resistance to translate to improved athletic performance in healthy individuals.

Secondly, let's examine the claims of high altitude simulation. Heavy breathing is a common symptom of working out at high altitude but that by itself does not simulate high altitude. The increased breathing rate you experience at higher altitude is in response to less oxygen being absorbed into your blood stream rather than your breathing muscles not being strong enough. To actually simulate high altitude, the atmospheric pressure would have to decrease, something these masks cannot provide.

Lastly, peer-reviewed research is the best resource for unbiased information. There are currently no peer-reviewed studies that show resisted breathing devices will improve aerobic performance at high altitudes. Furthermore, training masks are not part of any recommended treatment plan from any of the established altitude acclimatization protocols. Bottom line: the science doesn't support these products or their claims.

(Ask Carter P. will be available to dispel myths and answer questions you may have about health and human performance. Ask Carter P. will use a "Dear Abby" write-in your question format that will be answered by the 21st Medical Group staff. The article is in honor of the namesake of the Peterson physiological training facility, named in honor of Col. Carter P. Luna, an F-4D pilot and a physiologist. If you have questions you would like answered through Ask Carter P., send them to or call 556-4185.)

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