man working out with mask safely

Exercising with a Mask: Tips for Your Next Gym Visit

The science is in: Experts say it is safe to wear a mask while exercising

But while you might have heard good things about the N95 mask, surgical masks aren’t the best option for workouts. They’re effective at filtering out germs, but not always conducive to heavy breathing

Because of that, anyone curious about how to exercise in a mask should look into lightweight alternatives to surgical masks. Cloth options that fit closely to the face are ideal. They are more breathable than more traditional masks, making it easier to bear the heavy breathing that can accompany an intense workout. And since they can be laundered and machine dried without issues, cloth masks are the best option for workouts.

But is a lightweight mask as effective as other alternatives? A breathable mask is better than no mask at all, says Dr. Purvi Parikh, a professor at the Department of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. 

“Surgical masks and cloth coverings can reduce viral transmission by 70% if everyone wears them and wears them correctly over [their] nose and mouth,” Dr. Parikh recently explained to reporters.

There are a ton of different styles of cloth masks available. No matter which you choose, give your mask a try at home before wearing it to work out. Your goal is to find a great fit that allows you to exercise with a mask that fits properly and doesn’t irritate your skin. Once you land on a design that works for you, be sure to launder it after each use. Working out in dirty masks can cause serious skin issues. John Hopkins Medicine recommends having at least two masks, as it is important to clean your mask after every wearing. We also recommend having a workout mask versus a regular mask, similar to how you don’t work out in your regular clothes.

There’s no shortage of great options of workout masks coming to market. Under Armour has a new line of sportsmasks designed for athletes. “We specifically designed this mask for athletes and for all of us who want to exercise and train while also keeping ourselves, and those around us, safe,” said Patrik Frisk, CEO of Under Armour.

Featuring a moldable nose bridge to secure it in place, the mask contains three layers of moisture-wicking fabric that’s both breathable and anti-microbial. 

Here are a few more tips for exercising with a mask:

Consult a Doctor About Underlying Conditions

Working out in a mask is perfectly safe – for most people. In fact, it’s part of our collective responsibility to keep our community safe and prevent further spread of COVID-19. For those with underlying conditions, however, safely working out can be a bit tricky. If you suffer from cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, it’s best to talk with your doctor before hitting the gym. The safest way for you to work out may look different from others!

Listen to Your Body

After months in quarantine, you’re probably eager to get back into the gym. While it’s tempting to jump right into your old routine, take it slow at first. Your body isn’t used to exercising with a mask yet, making it crucial that you listen to your body as you work out. 

Start working out with a mask with lower intensity exercises like yoga and pilates before you jump into heavier cardio workouts. If you’re experiencing any lightheadedness, dizziness, or shortness of breath, stop and take a break. 

Experts recommend prioritizing comfort in your search for the perfect mask. 

“I think the important components of an effective face mask are, number one, can you breathe? Is it comfortable for you to wear?” Paula Cannon, a USC professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, recently told the Los Angeles Times. 

“Because if you can’t breathe easily, or it gets wet and it’s uncomfortable, you’re going to be fiddling with it, and you’re going to be doing the very thing we want the mask to stop you from doing, which is touching your face. So have something that’s comfortable.”

Adjust Your Expectations

There’s always an adjustment period after returning to the gym after time away. Mask or no mask, your body will need time to get used to exercising again. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not immediately performing to your usual standards. In addition to working out with a mask and being away from the gym for a time, your mind and body have been under a lot of stress over COVID-19. It’s okay if you need some time to ease back into your old routine.

“Our amazing bodies will accommodate over time and we will seem less breathless with each encounter of using a mask while exercising,” Suzanne Lukovics recently told CNN. She’s a physical therapy director at Austin, Texas-based Georgetown Living Home Health. 

“If we have the choice to prevent the spread, and ‘endure’ a bit of a harder workout for our lungs, we should do it for the greater long-term good.”

You might have once used your heart rate to monitor your progress, but that metric may not be as useful as it once was. With a mask on, breathing becomes more difficult, which impacts our heart rate in turn. Instead of scrutinizing your heart rate, try the talk test to measure your intensity. During low-intensity workouts, you should be able to speak easily. During moderate or high-intensity workouts, your speech may become more labored. Try the talk test any time you’re concerned about how to exercise in a mask – you’ll find it reassuring!

Take Plenty of Breaks

There’s a certain efficiency associated with the gym. For many, the goal is to get in and out as quickly as possible. While there’s no harm in a fast workout, safely working out in a mask often means taking breaks. Rather than powering through hard routines, try working out as mindfully as possible. Check-in with yourself: are you feeling tired? Light-headed? You may need a break! While this mindful approach to exercise is always recommended, it becomes even more vital when exercising with a mask. Embrace the break. You may find yourself able to go for longer than when you’re skipping rest periods.

Experts say that wearing a mask while you work out will undoubtedly change the way you perform, but it does not necessarily cause for alarm. 

“If they wear masks correctly, it’s true that the work of breathing is a little harder,” says Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious disease at Vanderbilt Medical School and director of the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases. “But that just means that the mask is acting as a filter,” Schaffner explained. “If you have to breathe in and out of a filter, it takes a little more work.”

Kirsten Koehler, an aerosol scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health echoed Schaffner’s assertions. “Scientific studies are showing that there’s no real important changes in C02 levels or oxygen levels even from wearing surgical masks. And fabric masks have better permeation for gases,” she told TODAY. “It’s not something that I’m concerned about at all. Probably more likely is that people are hot when wearing a mask and so people may be [are] just feeling overheated.”

Your Health, Your Way

Keep the big picture in mind when exercising with a mask. Though the experience can seem frustrating for some, masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep you and everyone around you safer. There may even be a silver lining to your masked workouts: training with a mask on can feel like you’re exercising at altitude, strengthening your lungs and overall health.

Eager for more advice on exercising safely at the gym? Explore our blog archives now! You can also sign up for a FREE seven day trial at your nearest EōS Fitness gym, where trainers and employees are happy to give you personalized recommendations for your next workout. 

At EōS Fitness, we strive to give you the very latest and most accurate information about COVID-19 possible. As the pandemic continues to unfold, though, details and recommendations may change. We recommend turning to the CDC, WHO, and your local health department for the latest advice. 

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