With all the hype around simulated altitude training, I decided to write an article about it. We've seen the new Elevation Training Mask by Sean Sherk and Kyle Noke wearing the exact same gas mask to walk out in his bout at UFC 127. Bas Rutten is also coming out with his own device similar to the Power Lung called the "O2 Trainer", and apparently it still helps him with his asthma attacks.
I hope you guys like it though. I'd really wanna get my hands on one of the masks but they cost around $120 here in the UK, so won't be pulling the trigger on it yet.
Gas Mask Training for MMA
We’ve all seen it before, or at least heard about it. MMA fighters running around with a gas mask or some other contraption while going about their routine, may it be doing their weightlifting sessions, or actual fight training such as hitting the pads and such. Really though, what is it for? It looks cool and everything but what is MMA gas mask training all about anyway?
Altitude training has been used by athletes not only in MMA, but almost every other competitive sport in the world. . It is no surprise that Greg Jackson’s gym is strategically located in Albaquerque, New Mexico which is 5,312 feet above sea level. Oscar De La Hoya for example, has both a house AND a gym located in Big Bear, California which is located 6,752 feet above sea level, and he’s definitely not the only one that trains there. Even Shane Mosley will be preparing for his fight against Manny Pacquiao at Big Bear, and Pacman will coincidentally also be training for him in Baguio City, Philippines, home to Eduardo Folayang and the Lakay Wushu MMA team, which is about 5,100 feet above sea level.
What’s the deal with altitude training and how is it relevant to gas mask training for MMA?
Simply put, the concentration level of oxygen in these high altitude areas are lower than areas where fights actually happen. For example, the Fight Capital of the World, Las Vegas, is only 2,000 feet above sea level. While training at altitude, athletes are subject to a state of hypoxia, an oxygen deprived state so when they finally do come back to relatively normal states, their VO2 max level is higher, giving them a competitive edge against their opponents.
This is why altitude training is more often than not, a deemed “requirement” for MMA fighters who compete at the highest level. Put 2 identically skilled fighters who have done the same amount of work, put one in Big Bear and one to stay in Vegas. Who do you think has the advantage in terms of cardio and endurance? Sadly, most of us fighters don’t have the time and money to be able to move our whole training camp to Big Bear or Albaquerque. Which brings us to the next part of the article, gas mask training!
Gas Mask Training for MMA
For old time’s sake, here’s a photo of Wanderlei Silva with his own variation of high altitude training simulation. He’s got his nose covered up with tape and a snorkel to breathe in. What a gangster.
How is altitude training relevant to wearing a gas mask while you hit the pads or do your roadwork? It’s directly correlated. You see, there are all these products in the market such as the Elevation Training Mask (produced by Sean Sherk) and the O2 Trainer (produced by Bas Rutten) mimic the hypoxia that altitude training offers.
By limiting the amount of oxygen intake, rather than by directly being in altitude, MMA training gas masks make use of valves and filters to do so. This in turn then has the same effect on the athlete in terms of the benefits of being in altitude.
Ultimate Fighter alumni, Kyle Noke, who just won his in Sydney, Australia for UFC 127 trains under Greg Jackson in Albaquerque, New Mexico was even wearing his Elevation Training Mask for up until he stepped into the Octagon. For many people, this would be the first time they would see something like this. When asked to explain the contraption by Ariel Helwani, he says:
“It [the gas mask] is a conditioning thing, a high elevation thing. We come from Albaquerque, one of the highest cities you can train in. We’re just trying to keep that high altitude training going.”
In Dr. Frank Wyatt’s excerpt of his article “To breathe or not to breathe?” with regards to a gas mask type device for MMA, he states:
“The purpose of this breathing device is to restrict the intake of air (i.e., inspired ventilation) and thus lead to reduced oxygen intake. With reduced oxygen intake one works harder for any given workload. This is the same premise one faces when exposed to high altitudes. The pressure of oxygen at higher altitudes is reduced, leading to a reduced intake of oxygen.”
According to research done by the Rice University of Houston, altitude training has the following long term effects:
increased concentration of red blood cells
decreased maximum cardiac output with a decreased maximum heart rate, doing the same amount of work
a chemical change within red blood cells that makes them more efficient at unloading oxygen to the tissues
Below is one of the very first professionally done videos for gas mask training. I remember the first time seeing it and having my jaw drop due to the intensity of their training.
Not only does gas mask training improve red blood cell physiology and increase oxygen intake capacity, but it also works to strengthen the body’s breathing apparatus. Again, to quote Dr. Wyatt in his study:
I worked my ventilation muscles (i.e., diaphragm, intercostals) considerably. This is a real positive in training as research has shown that ventilation muscle fatigue during endurance events leads to decreased performance.
Coincidentally, gas mask training also produces another phenomena in the body and it has something to do with carbon dioxide, or CO2. When breathing in that enclosed space within the mask, you will also tend to re-breath CO2. This phenomena is called hypercapnea. Hypercapnea results to the muscle tissues in the body to enter an oxygen deprived state, increasing fatigue.
Imagine doing deadlifts with the mask on, and without the mask on. Which one would condition your body better for the competition itself?
Don’t be fooled by Wikipedia. The minor hypercapnea that the gas masks produce isn’t bad thing. In fact, this phenomena also promotes the opening of breathing passages. This is referred to as broncho-dilation. By enhancing this broncho-dilation, one can increase the bulk flow of air into and out of the lungs. Lastly, through the re-breathing of CO2 one may actually stimulate the ventilation response to allow for enhanced movement of air into and out of the lungs. Carbon dioxide has been reported as a stimulant to ventilation so when increases are noted in the blood, ventilation is increased.
Last but not least, we have a word from Sean Sherk, one of the creators of the Elevation Training Mask.
“The gas mask not only simulates high altitude training and limits oxygen flow, it also causes a claustrophobic effect. Forcing me to perform and train in these conditions lets my body require less oxygen while exerting myself and teaches me to relax while in claustrophobic, intense situations. Coupled with dedicated MMA technique training, using the mask everyday gets my body acclimated to needing less oxygen, giving me a physical and mental edge to defend chokes and remain fresh and focused in the championship rounds.”