Tips for Wearing a Face Mask During Exercise

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Are you worried about wearing a face mask while exercising? You are not alone. While we have had to accept the reality of wearing face masks during our daily lives, the concept of wearing a mask while exercising or playing sports is another thing altogether. Figuring out how to exercise, sweat, and breath hard while sucking air through fabric or filters can be daunting. Regardless, we will have to accept this reality if we want to exercise indoors or in more crowded outdoor spaces. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) currently requires face masks both indoors and outside, if social distancing cannot be maintained. This requirement includes gyms, crowded parks, trails, and basketball courts. However, there are a few things you can do to make wearing a face mask during exercise a little easier.

Types of Face Masks

Picking out the most appropriate face mask for your activity can be a challenge. Because there are so many different types of masks to choose from, it is important to understand the options. Medical grade face masks, such as N95 respirators and surgical masks, are not ideal for exercise. While N95 masks are great at protecting you and those around you, they are in short supply and should be reserved for healthcare professionals working with COVID-19 patients.

Likewise, surgical masks and other paper disposable masks are not great for exercising. Because paper masks lose their effectiveness as soon as they get wet (think sweating!), wear them once, and throw them away. Although face shields are becoming common, it is important to understand that they are primarily for eye protection. In fact, the CDC does not currently recommend the use of face shields as a replacement for face masks. Rather, they recommend face shields and masks be worn together as an additional level of protection. Cloth masks are the best choice for exercise because they are washable, reusable, and tend to be the most comfortable.

Selecting the Right Face Mask

Selecting the right cloth mask means finding one that is both comfortable and effective. The best masks have multiple fabric layers for increased protection. In addition, they need to be breathable so you get enough oxygen for exercise. Companies, like Under Armor, Columbia, and Adidas, have created sports oriented face masks designed specifically to wear while competing. Another popular option is the neck buff. A neck buff is a tube of fabric worn around the neck. Many people use them as face masks by pulling them up over the mouth and nose. Even though neck buffs are popular, a recent study indicated that they might actually be worse than not wearing a face mask at all. There is some evidence that the fabric of a neck buff may spread particles out in a larger pattern than normal, and they do nothing to restrict or block the spread. While convenient and comfortable, neck buffs are not likely to protect the user or other people.

How to Wear a Face Mask

Once you have selected your face mask, make sure you get the most out of it by wearing it properly. Here are some tips on how to wear a mask:

  • Make sure that the mask completely covers your mouth and nose.
  • Your mask should fit snugly, yet comfortably to your face.
  • If you have difficulty breathing in your mask before you begin exercising, you may need to select a different mask.
  • Wash your hands before and after putting on or removing your face mask.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth while putting on and removing your mask.
  • Do not touch your mask while you are wearing it.
  • Do you sweat a lot? Carry more than one mask and switch them out as needed.
  • Wash and dry your face mask after each use.
  • Put on and remove your face mask by the ear loops, rather than touching the front of the mask itself.

Exercising with a Face Mask

Exercising while wearing a face mask can be uncomfortable at first, and you may need some time to adjust. Therefore, ease into activity slowly when you are wearing a mask. You can accomplish this by planning shorter, less intense workouts the first few times you wear a mask. Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, having difficulty breathing, or having shortness of breath are all signs that you need to slow down. If that doesn’t help, you may need to stop your activity altogether until the symptoms resolve.

For health conditions that causes difficulty breathing, or if your doctor recommends that you not wear a mask, consider starting a home exercise program. In addition, there are many options for exercising outdoors without a mask rather than in a gym. Remember to always practice social distancing.

Now that you have selected a face mask, and are wearing it properly, get out there and start exercising!

Written by: Stuart Schmidt, MS, ATC, CSCS athletic trainer supervisor for The Center Foundation in Bend, OR. Learn more about Stuart HERE.