MARTINSVILLE, N.J. – Jamaal Westerman is going all Darth Vader to get ready for the NFL season.
The free-agent linebacker, set to enter his sixth season in the league, is known for his conditioning and being a physical specimen. But now Westerman is set to take it to a whole other level by utilizing a high-elevation training mask in his workouts that limits oxygen intake during his workouts.
He found the mask online and was intrigued by the science of making it harder to breathe when he trains.
According to the makers of the Elevation Training Mask, the device is fitted over your face and “will help you regulate your breathing, increase lung stamina, lung capacity, oxygen efficiency and increase overall mental focus. Training Mask can help your overall performance in all sports and daily living.”
In short, the mask makes him work and breathe harder while doing an exercise, which helps conditioning.
“It's just a tool. I don't think there is one thing that is an end-all, be-all. It's just a tool to augment my workout regimen – like players using a parachute when they run or the sled or something like that,” Westerman told Shutdown Corner.
“It feels that it has been working. I like to use it not just with cardio but with the movement based stuff like lunges and box jumps. It's a tool to use. It trains your muscles, it is hard to inhale, harder to exhale.”
Jerry Hughes of the Buffalo Bills told Westerman about the device. After some research and seeing other players in the league utilizing it during their workouts, Westerman went out and purchased one for himself.
The mask and devices like it are part of a new trend in offseason conditioning for NFL players.
A former All-Big East selection at Rutgers, Westerman currently trains during the offseason at TEST Sports Clubs in central New Jersey along with current NFL players such as Cleveland Browns cornerback Royce Adams, Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Ropati Pitoitua, Minnesota Vikings guard Vlad Ducasse and former NFL linebacker Bart Scott, among others. Westerman has played with five NFL teams in his five seasons, including Indianapolis and Pittsburgh last year, and is currently looking to latch on with a team. He should be in good shape when the call comes.
A little over a month ago, he tried the mask for the first time and after some hazing from Scott - “You look like Hannibal Lecter” - he is starting to feel the effects.
The mask has six levels – it can be adjusted to restrict or expand how much oxygen comes in - and Westerman is at the midpoint level in terms of limiting the air flow.
“You do feel it. First time on, you feel like you can't breathe,” Westerman said.
“I feel like I'm focusing more on more breathing. I don't know how long it will take effect to see results – maybe in camp. But I feel like I'm running more efficiently, running better. I do feel like it is helping.”
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Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets for Metro New York and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KristianRDyer