April 19, 2021

Masking up while working out 

Author Jeff Palmer lifts weights in the IMA while wearing a mask.

The author lifting weights in the IMA while wearing a mask.

By Jeffrey Palmer, Rec fitness manager

Let’s just admit it up front: it’s hard wearing a mask during exercise sometimes. However, as a result of research on coronavirus transmission at fitness facilities conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Governor Inslee’s mask mandate, the IMA has adopted a policy that members are required to wear a face covering at all times in the IMA building, even when exercising.

I vividly remember my first time running a trail in a face mask. I was with a colleague; I had a standard face mask and she had a professional-looking sports-branded mask. Although I love running and regularly do competitive runs and trail runs, running in a mask was new for me.

I seemed to be sucking the mask into my face every 30 seconds during the run, and I felt restricted, claustrophobic, and like my breathing was impacted. Before this run, I assumed that all masks were created equal. Not true!  When I noticed how easily my colleague was managing the run, I decided to investigate various types of masks and possibly invest in a better quality one. I have been amazed at the difference the right mask can make!

Is it safe to wear a mask while exercising?

The CDC states that wearing a mask during exercise is safe, as masks don’t significantly restrict oxygen flow. However, wearing a mask may affect how exercise impacts our bodies, according to exercise scientists. Cedric Bryant, president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, states that for some people, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” (1) Huskies should keep this in mind and monitor their heart rate, especially during intense training or aerobic exercise. Consider adjusting your workout if that makes sense for you, and don’t push yourself too hard. Take breaks as needed.

The CDC recommends that individuals who have a respiratory disease (like asthma) or heart disease be evaluated by a doctor before attempting to exercise with a face mask. For the rest of us, here are some tips to keep in mind when choosing and using a face mask for exercising.

Finding a workout mask that works for you

There are many types of masks to consider, and each has its pros and cons. First, avoid disposable masks during exercise – they become wet and uncomfortable quickly. They also easily get sucked in while you’re breathing. Cloth masks made from breathable fabric may resist moisture better.

A gold face mask icon on a purple background.Moisture-wicking fabrics like polyester can work well for workout masks. A metal ridge at the nose helps keep the mask in the proper position, adding to the comfort level. Most people choose not to use a hard mask (like an N95) – they don’t allow for a lot of air exchange, although, on the other hand, they don’t suck in when you breathe. If you choose to wear a hard mask, you will need a great fit.

In fact, for any type of mask you choose, a proper fit is crucial. Put on the mask and make sure it’s comfortable and the right size for your face. Open and close your mouth several times with it on. Does it stay in place, or does it drop down below your nose or even your mouth? If it doesn’t stay in place, keep looking.

The mask should fit snugly but not feel restrictive. The texture of the fabric should not irritate your face or skin. Some athletic clothing companies, including Under Armour, Koral, Zensah, and others, make masks especially for use during exercise. You may need to try several brands and models to find the one that works best for you.

More tips for feeling your best while using your workout mask

  • Whichever type of mask you choose, plan a trial run. Don’t wear a new type of mask during an important competition!
  • A mask may make you feel warmer than usual when exercising. Make sure the rest of your clothing allows you to stay as cool as possible.
  • Carry extras of your preferred mask. Even breathable fabric masks may become wet and uncomfortable and need to be replaced.
  • Wash your mask after each use.
  • If you start feeling light-headed, dizzy, uncomfortable, or have difficulty breathing, stop what you’re doing. Remove your mask and take a few slow, deep breaths. Rest a bit.

Masks may not be the most fun thing in the world to wear, but they can help keep you and your fellow gym patrons safe. Whether you love the gym or are a dutiful exerciser, I can assure you that purchasing the right mask makes ALL the difference!

(1) Source: