Katie Frank , MS, LAT, ATC We’re all under the impression that if you want to jump higher, you’re going to have to challenge yourself and jump bigger heights. If you want to run faster, you’re going to have to move your legs quicker and run more. And naturally if you want to swim faster or more efficiently, you should dare to swim lengths and speeds that are out of your comfort zone. Athletics have come a long way as far as performance. Training methods are based on research, trial and error have given us wisdom, and technology is at its peak. How much bigger, faster, or stronger than our competition can we become? The 1968 Olympic Games were held in Mexico City, Mexico (where grill master George Foreman won a Gold Medal in boxing’s Heavyweight division). Never had The Games been held at such a high altitude, 2240m. Naturally, this got wheels turning and sports physiologists began their research to see how the thinner air would affect and did affect the athletes. It turns out aerobic work capacity, the kind that lasts a longer time, is enhanced when athletes return to low altitude (400m) from training at higher 18
altitude (2300m). And believe it or not the throwers, jumpers, and sprinters set records at the ’68 Olympics. The endurance athletes did not. It turns out it’s significantly more difficult for your body to perform at higher altitudes. Why? Air molecules become more dispersed and breathable air is literally thinner. However, your body is a great compensator. It actually adapts and creates more hemoglobin in your blood to transport oxygen to your cells. No wonder it makes exercising at sea level a lot easier, it’s as if your engine got a temporary tune-up. Logically if there is a way to capture the effects of training above sea level, it must be a good idea. And it sure is, just not in the same way mentioned above. Sports Illustrated recently highlighted a few top-level athletes who swear by the elevation training mask (ETM). It has been known to “boost your wind” and rightfully so. Yet in order to get true altitude training, you have to spend at least 12 hours a day for at least 3 weeks at an altitude of 2100-2500m. The live high, train low method is literal. Wearing the mask for workouts
only is called respiratory muscle training (RMT) which is basically a boot camp for your organs and muscles associated with breathing. The device conditions the lungs and strengthens the diaphragm with valve systems to force athletes to inhale fuller, deeper breaths. As their bodies adapt, the entire body system learns to use oxygen more efficiently. If we truly wanted to mimic high altitude, the mask must have a mechanism to decrease partial pressure of oxygen. This can cause a dangerously low blood oxygen level if done only while working up a sweat. It’s meant to be done over time. The general consensus? The mask (no matter the manufacturer, it functions the same) is a neat way to improve your endurance. It’s also more convenient than taking your workouts to the nearest mountain range. It may look scary, but the benefits are even scarier to the competition. If you want to work on exercising or training for longer periods of time, step out of your comfort zone and strap on an elevation training mask.
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