What I can say is that the majority of the claims made by training mask have been proven to be false (i.e. increasing VO2 max, increasing anaerobic threshold, increase lung capacity). For one, breathing air in harder because of the restriction of air coming in, won’t simulate high altitudes. The oxygen content at sea level is still around 21%, no matter how much or little you breath in. Conversely, breathing in harder or faster at higher altitudes won’t increase the oxygen content of the air going into your lungs.
For one to truly acclimate to the air in higher altitudes, one has to actually live in that environment for many months. Putting on a mask for a short time (even if you do this frequently over several years) won’t give you those same benefits (due to the point being made about oxygen concentration). Thus, the mask can’t actually make your body produce more red blood cells or even increase the efficiency of the hemoglobin.
For one to actually increase VO2 max and anaerobic threshold, one has to be working at intensities that will cause these two things to happen. While one might be struggling to breath and their heart might work a bit faster while using one of these masks, it doesn’t mean that the working muscles are necessarily pushing at such intensities. A study of athletes performance from training with one of these devices versus without one (from the PowerLung website, which is another inspiratory muscle training device) shows that there was no significant difference in VO2 max, ventilation, tidal volume, or time. In fact, the group that didn’t use such a device showed an increase in anaerobic threshold than the group who did.
This is rightfully so because when one’s breathing is unrestricted, one has the capacity to perform much better than if their breathing was restricted. So again, using one of these devices may cause you to breath harder and cause your heart to pump faster, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your muscles are working at its peak, which is required when one wants to increase their VO2 max or anaerobic threshold.
However, the one claim that is true (proven from the studies of the people developing PowerLung) is the strengthening of the diaphragm muscle. For that matter, the intercostal muscles were subsequently strengthened as well. The research on inspiratory muscle training, which took a look at cyclists using the aerobars (which places them in a position that restricts breathing), found that across the board the cyclists had an easier time breathing and their perceived exertion was much lower after a couple of weeks of doing inspiratory muscle training with the PowerLung.
For those who don’t know what the PowerLung is, it’s a breathing device that has a variable control setting to force one to have to breath in harder during the inspiration of breath, but is unrestricted for expiration of breath. It’s similar in regards to the training mask, except the device is hand-held, and you are suppose to only use it for a couple of minutes each day as oppose to using it during training. The study showed that the cyclist’s inspiratory muscles underwent hypertrophy, thus making it stronger to be able to draw in more air with ease.
So, what does this mean for someone such as yourself getting into MMA? Well, from my experience with it (I just got one for cheap prior to Christmas) and I will say that the use of the mask over a couple of months have made it easier to work from really bad positions (such as the bottom of someone’s mount or when an opponent stacks you while they are in your guard). Much like the cyclists in the study, you might find yourself in a position where breathing is difficult and you end up exerting yourself a bit harder, only to tire out quicker than your opponent.
So, if you trained with one of these masks for a couple of months or so, you can expect your inspiratory muscles to get stronger and that will make it easier for you to breath if you are put in a bad position. It’ll also lower your perceived exertion and you won’t fatigue quite as fast. I would say try out this product if you want to fork out the money (I was lucky to get a discount on it from my dojo and paid way less than the market price). But just note that most of the claims that’s made by training mask isn’t true. When people ask you if the mask works, be sure to let them know what the mask actually does, instead of repeating what’s on their website.