Safe to wear a mask while exercising?




We are in a very uncertain situation with COVID19 still lingering around. Thousands of experts have spoken about the severe ramifications of the virus and discussed options on how to stop it for good. At this point I want to make one thing very clear. I am not a doctor or scientist so my opinion on the matter “WEARING A MASK WHILE WORKING OUT” comes from a training background and perspective only.

I currently live in an apartment complex in Miami which has a pool / gym area for residents. For quite a while now it has been mandatory to wear a mask at the gym which not only affected me but also my training partner in terms of performance. Both of us wear cloth masks which reduce the ability to breathe comfortably. We are not wearing air restricting masks that prohibit air flow on purpose.

Nevertheless the mask makes it harder to breathe which limits the amount of air you can get into your lungs. By decreasing the consumed volume of air you breathe and by re inhaling air that’s richer in carbon dioxide it can reduce your performance by up to 20%. This is something I have experienced first hand after a taxing leg workout which left me on the ground breathless after only 40 minutes.

Before you stop reading, I know that surgeons wear masks on a daily basis to not only protect themselves but also protect their patients while performing life saving surgeries. The difference between a surgeon and someone at the gym is that the surgeon doesn’t perform heavy deadlifts or squats with 300 lbs for 8 reps while gasping for air.

According to multiple doctors and scientists wearing a mask is not detrimental to your health but may challenge your body in a new way. Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council of Exercise said: “In my personal experience, heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask. You should anticipate that it will be about eight to ten beats higher per minute.”


According to WHO “World Health Organisation”: “People should NOT wear masks when exercising, as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably. Sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms. The important preventive measure during exercise is to maintain physical distance of at least one meter from others.”


After reading this short paragraph on the website of WHO I was shocked that they recommend NOT (in all caps) to wear a mask when exercising. The message I take away from this is if you want to go for a run outside where you won’t interact with people (social distancing) a mask is counter productive since it could create a breeding factory for microorganisms right on your face. When being at a gym where social distancing is more complicated a mask is advisable to protect yourself and others from spreading the virus.

So what can we do to stay safe but also get the best out of each workout while wearing a mask?

My recommendation is this

  • Increase rest periods in between sets to make sure your body has enough time to recover.
  • Avoid long indoor cardio sessions / focus on outdoor HIIT
  • Focus on your breathing / each repetitions
  • If needed reduce the volume of your training by 1 set per exercise

Our bodies will accommodate over time to the new challenge and after each workout you’ll feel better and stronger. If you ever feel lightheaded at any part of your workout please stop and take a short break. Go outside to get some fresh air before jumping into the next exercise.

Stay safe, wear a mask when surrounded by people and listen to your body.

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