Danny Gorrer admits that the mask he wore over his nose and mouth during offseason workouts felt odd at first. And Adrian Clayborn wasn't sure about sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber until his nutritionist mentioned some of the elite defensive ends who used them. Now, two key members of the Bucs defense are breathing easier in training camp, thanks in part to quirky offseason regimens — extra oxygen in one case, less oxygen in another — that have them in better shape for the upcoming season. "It's definitely strange at first," Gorrer said of his oxygen deprivation mask, which he discovered through his best friend since childhood, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. "It feels like you can't breathe normally, but it helps with your endurance. (Charles) told me that's how he did it last year when he was training, and I was like, 'Whatever he's doing, I'm going to do.' "
You wind up looking like Bane, the masked villain from the most recent Batman film. But the science behind the mask is that by limiting your oxygen, you work harder to breathe, which increases your lung capacity and the efficiency with which your blood cells carry oxygen. Just like a batter swinging in the on-deck circle with a weighted doughnut on the bat, it feels easier when you're back to normal during a game.
"It helps with your endurance," said Gorrer, 28, who is battling for a roster spot in a deep Bucs secondary entering his fifth NFL season. "I feel like I'm in shape."
The Elevation Training Mask — it also helps prepare you for activity at higher altitudes — has sold more than 300,000 units at about $80 each, said Casey Danford, president of the Michigan company.
That mask is far less of an investment than Clayborn made last month when he decided to buy his own portable hyperbaric chamber, which athletes have used for years to boost their oxygen levels that help aid in recovery from injuries.
"I just hop in at night, try to get at least three hours, but sometimes I end up sleeping the whole night," said Clayborn, 26, who first used a chamber this spring after being told by his nutritionist that pass-rushers such as Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis had used them.
Athletes training at Performance Compound in Tampa, about 4 miles from One Buc Place, can rent one of their two chambers — at $100 for a one-hour "hyper" session — and Synergy Sports Wellness owner Philip Hatrak said Monday that at least 20 Bucs players have given it a try.
Clayborn liked the therapeutic benefits of the oxygen enough that he bought his own. "It's an investment," he said, and when asked for a price tag, he said only, "too much." Costs vary, but units typically run between $15,000 and $20,000.
"It just pumps oxygen into your muscles, into your blood system. It helps you recover faster," Clayborn said. "You don't have that leftover-hangover feeling from the day before."
A former first-round draft pick, Clayborn is in the final year of his rookie contract, and the Bucs declined to pick up an expensive option for 2015, making this a huge year for his value in the open market as a free agent in the spring.
Coach Lovie Smith gave his players — especially on defense — a challenge to drop weight and add speed this offseason, and Clayborn believes his chamber helped him do that, dropping from 273 pounds in March to a slimmed-down 257 now in camp.
"I've lost 15 pounds, I've gained muscle mass, I've lost a ton of body fat. I just feel better," he said.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected]om and (813) 226-3346. Follow @gregauman.