Behind the mask: Marlins players take training to new heights

Henderson Alvarez uses the mask to work out.

JUPITER, Fla. — Athletes are always looking for the latest trend in sports technology to help them get a competitive edge.

A handful of Miami Marlins, like several others around Major League Baseball, have turned to the Elevation Training Mask this spring.

According to its website, the product "helps condition the lungs by creating pulmonary resistance and strengthening the diaphragm, making your workout seem like it’s being held high in the mountains."

It somewhat resembles Bane’s look from the final installment of the Batman trilogy, "The Dark Knight Rises."

"I feel strange to have it on and stuff like that, but I just use it to work out and to train," right-hander Henderson Alvarez said through a translator.

Early in camp, both Alvarez and right-handed reliever Preston Claiborne saw third baseman Martin Prado wearing a mask with an American flag design. After asking Prado about it, Claiborne did his own research and spoke to the trainers.

Claiborne, who is an asthmatic, hopes it will help him train his lungs in a better fashion. He began using it a week ago for 45-minute weight training sessions. He will soon progress to cardio.

"It exhausts you a little bit quicker," Claiborne said. "Like I said, being conscientious of how fast you move is paramount." 

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There are several levels and filters for the amount of air that can get through the resistance caps. Claiborne plans to keep it basic before ramping it up in a few weeks.

The mask is supposed to simulate higher elevations where the air is thinner and makes a person’s body work harder to process oxygen. That’s why the flagship training center for the U.S. Olympic Committee and Olympic Training Center programs are located in Colorado Springs. The city climbs to an altitude of 6,035 feet above sea level.

"Right now I’m just using it to try it out, to see how I feel," Alvarez said. "I don’t know what benefits I’m going to get from it yet. (It’s) a little bit tough to breathe with it, but the more you use it, the more comfortable you get with it."

The website claims results in increased lung capacity, anaerobic thresholds, oxygen efficiency, energy production, mental and physical stamina as well as mental focus.

Of course, it’s one thing to work out with the mask on and another to live in that environment for months at a time like guys with the Colorado Rockies. Perhaps by training with it, players will gain an edge in places of lower elevation — like Miami — by breathing more efficiently.

Should you visit Roger Dean Stadium early enough in the morning, you may catch right-hander David Phelps running around with the mask on. The need for oxygen forces him to take deeper and steadier breaths.

"I had heard about it," Phelps said. "I had one at home, tried it out in the offseason. Figured I’d give it a go here. I see (Prado) do it and he gets after it every day with it. The logic behind it makes sense. Whether or not it works… If you think it does, it does."

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