A professional athlete spends 97.92% of his waking hours trying to best the competition: training, eating, resting, watching videos, downing supplements, listening to motivational talks, blasting death metal, even masturbating and sex—all manipulated to eek out the slightest advantage.
For this week’s Gaining the Edge review, I finagled a few Training Masks® and rolled with the damn things at the Art of Jiu Jitsu, in Costa Mesa, California, and the experience damn near killed me.
Fact is, there’s nothing better than training for a fight at altitude. Just ask Manny Pacquiao, who trains in Baguio City, Philippines, because it’s 5,100 feet above sea level. Or Tito Ortiz, who purchased Oscar De La Hoya’s training camp in Big Bear, California, and clocks in at 6,700 feet. Or Greg Jackson, whose gym in New Mexico sits at 5,300 feet.
What these fighters know is that the higher you climb, the less oxygen you suck from each breath, and hard training at high altitude prepares you like nothing else for competition at lower altitudes.
Here’s the gist: high altitude training induces a state of hypoxia, which is to say, as oxygen in the blood decreases, carbon dioxide increases. This is bad. Oxygen equal life. The body wants more. And this state, called ‘respiratory acidosis,’ spurs the body to create more red blood cells, to compensate and deliver more o2. Keep training in this deprived state, and come fight night—which, if it’s in Las Vegas, is a mere 2,000 feet above sea level— you feel like Superman amongst mortals.
Or at least that’s why they built the United States Olympic Training Center, in Colorado Springs (6,100 feet above sea level).
I went with the Spiderman exterior
Per the included brochures, you can lift weights wearing a Training Mask. You can run bleachers at the high school. Jog around the neighborhood. Hit the heavy bag.
I chose to train jiu jitsu because I figured, if you can roll in a mask, there’s really no limit.
Fit and form: Forget Superman, strapping on the mask I felt like Bane—and not in a bad way. As far as slipping it on, they’ve really made the thing idiot-proof. You just place the cup over your face (yes, as several teammates pointed out, the interior thingamajig resembles a groin-protection cup—which makes you ponder the original prototype…) Anyhow, this cup sits inside an oversized neoprene strap, that you velcro behind your neck, and voilá.
There are three air holes on the mask: two govern inhalation, the other, exhalation. You change out the white inhalation discs, which contain from one to four slots allowing less or more air, depending on how much you want to suffer.
It’s that simple.
Benefit: when they go for a foot-lock, just cover the holes
Rolling with the mask was cake. Or rather, other than gasping for breath after just a few minutes, it wasn’t the physical discomfort that had me signaling for a break, it was wanting to change the discs to the least restrictive setting.
Gui Mendes, 4x jiu jitsu world champion, rolled with the mask, and gave it a thumbs up. “I am always looking for ways to push myself. Although it was harder, I just focused on my breathing and kept it under control.”
Which is another benefit to training under any kind of stress—increased mental discipline.
My most-familiar jiu jitsu stance
After jiu jitsu practice, I strapped up and ran to the beach. Hissing like Darth Vader with every stride, I realized people were gawking from cars and bikes. A few snapped pics. If I didn’t get in shape, at least I’d end up as a good water cooler story. Oh man, I saw this dude running down the street yesterday, must’ve robbed a bank or something ‘cause…
Finally reaching the boardwalk, once again I was bent over and gasping. Ripping the thing off while people shot weird looks.
I don’t know whether the Training Mask simulates altitude training. There’s some online debate. But it did force my lungs to work overtime, and running back it felt like I had wings. Which, if you ask me, is the real point of any competition training—so when you walk into the cage, or onto the mat, those few minutes are easier than you ever imagined.
Check it out.
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