Tips for Exercising with a Mask


Some steps must be taken during a pandemic to slow the spread of disease, however inconvenient they may be. It’s probably safe to assume we can all agree that we’d rather exercise without wearing a mask. They’re uncomfortable and can make it difficult to breath, but right now we’re required to wear them in the presence of others. Let’s take a good look at masks, what they do and don’t do for us, and how we can navigate together through this difficult time.

Masks used for exercise and altitude training

Did you know that athletes have used masks for exercise to train specifically with depleted oxygen? If you live at sea level, but plan to do a triathlon, marathon, or other athletic event at higher altitudes, masks like that shown above are used to train the body to work with less oxygen. This type of training is also called hypoxic training. Hypoxic training can include living in, exercising in or otherwise breathing oxygen reduced air for the purpose of improved athletic performance, or pre-acclimatization. In years past, individuals training in this way would travel to areas of higher altitude. Around 1995, technology was developed by Hypoxico Inc. that eliminated this hardship, so that training can occur anywhere. The technology produces normobaric hypoxic air (read: oxygen reduced), and can simulate altitudes of up to 21,000 ft.

Masks in exercise classes

Because of our current situation, masks are required for indoor exercise. This is challenging, but it is considered safe. We may need to adjust our intensity, particularly as we get used to wearing a mask for exercise. This is because the decreased airflow through the mask will make exercising more difficult. Try the talk test. Generally, a person performing a moderate-intensity aerobic activity can talk, but not sing, during the activity. A person performing vigorous-intensity activity cannot say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

Cloth masks made of tightly woven cotton or polyester, or those made of moisture wicking material typically work well. Paper masks may have a tendency to break down from the sweat and increased exhalation, so certainly throw out after one use. The material for masks in exercise should be no more that two layers thick, to avoid undue hardship for the general participant. N95 masks should not be used for exercise, as they have been found to increase levels of humidity, heat, breath resistance, and discomfort for the wearer. I’ve made cloth face shields for folks in my classes. They are designed to direct the breath down to the chest/floor, and you can get better airflow from underneath as well. A doctor attending one of my classes said “This is a great compromise, and very effective, when we are also spaced physically apart.” I typically use my cloth face shield for class, and then change into another clean mask after class. Remember not to touch the mask itself and remove and put on from the ear loops, washing your hands after changing masks.

Who should not use a mask while exercising?

It’s recommended that people with chronic diseases exercise alone at home, under supervision when required, without using a mask. Some of the most common illnesses include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, occupational lung diseases, like mesothelioma, and pulmonary hypertension. Here at the club, we do have special dispensation for folks that are allowed to be in public, but can’t wear a mask for exercise. If your doctor allows you to be in a club environment, but feels you need to have a mask-free session, we do have pods that are private, so that you can safely exercise without one.

Signs to look out for as you exercise with your mask

If you feel any of the following, be sure to stop and take a break. I tell my class participants to go to the hall, if needed. If you take a break, and these symptoms continue, or get worse, stop the activity altogether, and let your instructor or gym attendant know. Be sure to seek medical attention if symptoms become more serious.

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscular Weakness
  • Overall discomfort
  • Shortness of breath

If you need to tips on how to modify your exercises, consult any one of the Elite fitness staff. Personal training is also another fantastic route to go right now, as it will just be you and your trainer. Plus, you will get the added benefits of individualized attention and personalized exercises to meet your goals. Get started with a FREE fitness consultation!

Set up a Free Fitness Consultation

Melissa Abramovich Headshot

Written by Melissa Abramovich, ACE CPT, NASM CGT, AAHFRP Medical Exercise Specialist at Elite Sports Club-River Glen

Melissa Abramovich went into Personal Training and Group Exercise instruction after successfully losing 140 pounds through healthy diet and exercise. Her desire to help others drove her forward into a career helping others to make healthier choices. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and now also a Medical Exercise Specialist (AAHFRP), helping clients with a myriad of health issues at Elite Sports Clubs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree, and many group exercise related certifications as well.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *