Tips for wearing a mask while exercising
Wearing a mask is one way to slow the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Yet many people see a mask as a potential barrier when attempting to exercise, particularly when away from home.
Whether you're already comfortable wearing a mask while exercising or hesitant about exercising with a mask on, these questions can help you decide the safest way to approach staying active.
Face masks are part of our new normal, which means we need to wear them when we do most of our outdoor day-to-day activities. For many, those activities include exercising. We tend to breathe harder (both as we inhale and exhale) while working out, spraying out droplets as we run and hike—and that's where masks, which trap those potentially harmful droplets, come in.
There's no doubt about it: Exercising with a covering over your mouth takes some getting used to—you shouldn't expect your workout to be the same the first few times you wear one—but, according to our experts, you will ultimately adjust. Ahead, how to make this transition period as seamless as possible.
Here are our tips and tricks for working out in a face mask:
Find a mask that is breathable and lightweight. Some athletic companies have already started to produce masks specifically for sports and working out. These masks will often be made from synthetic materials, like polyester and spandex, that are sweat-wicking and don’t contribute to any moisture build-up.
If your workout is high intensity or longer than 30 minutes, carry an extra mask with you. This will make it easy to switch out masks and decrease the discomforts that might arise from wearing a mask while you sweat.
Try out different mask styles until you find the one that is the most comfortable for you. You’ll want to find a mask that fits tightly but allows for comfortable breathing. Many masks are made with an interior structure that prevents them from collapsing in around your mouth and nose as you breathe. It may take some trial and error to find the best one for you.
Take it easy! Wearing a mask is different and it may take your body a few workout sessions to adjust. If you feel like you’re having trouble breathing or are lightheaded because of your mask, take a minute to catch your breath. Do this by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Depending on the activity, is there a preferred type of mask that I should wear?
Cloth masks or masks made of a moisture-wicking material, such as polyester, typically work well. Mask material should be no more than two layers thick or less. Unfortunately, surgical masks may break down, as they become wet from sweat and increased exhalation that occurs during exercise.
Aside from the mask breakdown, the use of surgical mask or N95 respirators mask has been found to be safe with minimal effects on major performance factors, such as heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation (SO2) during aerobic training.
Previous studies of wearing N95 respirators while active have shown that there can be changes in body temperature, increased breath resistance and some discomfort. While not dangerous or affecting overall performance, these responses should be considered when choosing the style of mask that is right for you and your needs. Learn more.
Also, you may want to consider having a spare mask on hand to replace a damp mask. A great way to maintain good hand hygiene when changing masks is to carry a travel-size container of hand sanitizer with you.
If you start to feel any of these symptoms while exercising, stop and take a break until they subside:
- Overall discomfort
- Significant shortness of breath
- Muscular weakness
If your symptoms continue or worsen, stop the activity. In serious cases, seek medical help.