The Dangers of MMA Training Masks
For those of you who train Mixed Martial Arts, I am sure you have seen the rise of what many people refer to as "training masks." These masks resembles a gas mask and restrict breathing for whomever wears it. The assumption is that this mask is making their cardiovascular workout more difficult, therefore building endurance more effectively than training without the mask. Are they correct? No, they are not!
The masks, for the uninformed, are supposed to simulate a condition known as "hypoxia" which literally translates to "low oxygen." This is achieved in situations of training at altitude which has proven aerobic endurance benefits. However, these masks do NOT simulate hypoxia, they create hypercapnia. Hypercapnia is when there is too much carbon dioxide in the blood.
If you were wondering if hypercapnia is bad for you, lets take a look at some of the adverse affects of hypercapnia:
- Reduced neural activity,
- Increased cardiac output (your heart beats much faster),
- Elevated blood pressure,
- Possible loss of consciousness,
- Possible convulsions,
- In severe cases, death.
The mask creates a facilitated "hypoventilation" which means it restricts your breathing in general. By trapping a portion of the air you exhale as well as restricting the flow of new air, you slowly become more and more hypercapnic as you inhale your carbon dioxide. There is a misconception that it creates hypoxia, because the wearer isn't breathing the same amount of oxygen. However, it's not just oxygen, they are getting dangerous levels of carbon dioxide.. This causes a lot of strain on your lungs and heart.
Among other things, wearing this mask also drastically decreases your training intensity. It is equivalent to strapping duct tape over your mouth and going for a run. Sure, you feel super hardcore, but you're super hardcore moving at about 25% of the speed you could be. Poor performance in training means poor performance under the lights. You can't afford to train at less than half speed for the sake of looking like you're using a new "cutting edge" training method.
A general red flag is that these masks generally run for less than $100. Similar machines which actually do create hypoxia (such as the ones sold by the company Hypoxico) are used by professional athletes and Olympians and run a price tag of several thousand dollars. If I were trying to sell you a motorcycle for $100, wouldn't you assume something was wrong with it before you bought it?
In closing, I may sound irritated by this new line of product, because I am and I'm not afraid to voice my opinion. I pride myself in training youth who aspire to become involved in combat sports, and I do not want dangerous products like these making their way into their hands. If you currently train with a mask or you know guys at your gym who train with them, I urge you to do some research on the topic before ever strapping that mask back on your face. In the mean time...
Train hard, train smart, and train safe!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Camaron Elliott from San Diego on May 20, 2020:
Thank you for your article. Hypercapnia is a real medical condition which is also going to be more apparently with the Covid 19 requirements to wear masks. Many states are even giving tickets or jail time to people who do not comply with wearing a facial mask which limits oxygen and causes you to breathe in your own CO2 (Carbon Dioxide). This is very dangerous. A lot of people are not even aware of the health risks associated with this.
judy on November 14, 2017:
the product has not been approved by the FDA and dangerous!!!
Mike. W on May 12, 2017:
How can a device reduce o2 level if I still at the same altitude ? O2 level is only decreased at higher altitude not by restricting the airflow! Also did any of the users consult a doctor before and during the usage? Studies? By who? An independent medical facility or a by the munufactur payed facility?
Sebastian on June 09, 2015:
...I first started seeing these dumb things at the gym - and i quickly become convinced that:
A) creating such false resistance in something so critical as breathing can NOT be a good for you...ESPECIALLY for something so unrelated to endurance (it's main claim) as weightlifting!
B) nearly everyone wearing them, are doing it because they think it makes them look cool & mysterious...like a comic book villain. Unfortunately it just makes them look like a total wanker.
Joe Louis on May 19, 2015:
I personally think because I have used it that it makes you think and feel like I am ahead of the competition. I totally feel it can be very dangerous very dangerous! Not only does my lungs or cardiovascular system get worked out but my nervous system got worked out stressed very stressed!! When it came down to competition I thought I was gonna blow them out the water boy did it all catch up to me!! I did great but no I didn't do it smart I used the thing to dang much and needed double, triple the rest! Research elevation sickness on the net and see for yourself! Its been more than 2-3 years that my bones just pop like all the dang time ALL THE DANG TIME!! I believe in hard work but you have to know your own body and do things smart
Dave on April 28, 2015:
I used a similar device when I was training to go into special operations. (I'm not here to brag, I got kicked out of the military during basic). It served me very well. I never experienced any foggy headedness or convulsions or any of that. I trained both with and without it using a weighted pack on dirt road and cross country marches (sometimes barefoot). It made marching in formation calling cadence child's play. I'm sure some of them don't allow for very good CO2 release, but your diaphragm is a muscle, all this does is increase the resistance just like bungee training. Research for or against be damned, it worked for me.
steve on January 18, 2015:
does using the elevation mass 2.0 cause any stroke
david sky on June 20, 2014:
Do you have evidence for any of this? You realize studies have been done on similar devices and found beneficial adaptations in test subjects? What you're saying goes against what studies have shown, and you provide no proof.
Steve Hunter (author) from Parsippany, NJ on July 17, 2012:
Thanks Ardot! And yea, once it got on TV it ended up going viral. I do my best to keep my athletes (and other coach's athletes) away from them. Combat sports are dangerous enough; there's no need to add even more unnecessary danger!
Ardot from Canada on July 17, 2012:
Very informative! What a scam those "training masks" are! Nicely written hub with good intentions. Voted up.