Making working out with a mask work for you

We are all excited to be able to return to the gym and the opportunity to get our bodies feeling healthy again, we do know that the world isn't quite out of the deep end yet when it comes to the spread of Coronavirus. Face coverings are required to be worn while working out in Chicago, so what does this mean for you and your workout routine? Why do we need to wear them? What is the impact it will have on you while exercising? What are some new considerations to take into account when working out in a face mask? We're taking a look at the ins and outs of wearing a face mask while working out, and 5 tips to make working out with a mask work for you. Chicago Athletic Club's Fitness Director, Sarah Ruhl, has shared her feedback and suggestions on working out and wearing a mask too.

Woman doing yoga with facemaskThe benefits of exercise for the mind and body are well known. In addition to making your heart and muscles stronger, exercise can also provide stress relief and a sense of well-being, something we can all use a little more of right now. So for some, getting back to the gym is essential, but making sure that you and those around you are safe should be everyone's number one concern.

When it comes to wearing a mask to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, this has been recommended by the CDC because cloth face coverings stop respiratory droplets travelling through the air from one person to another. This is important because respiratory droplets are considered the main source of transmission for the virus. It is still believed that the virus can be spread by touching surfaces and then touching one's face (or vice-versa if one is already infected), which is why handwashing and routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces is still extrememly important, but this comes back to the concern of respiratory droplets having the main concentration of viral elements.

So, indoors in a gym where people may be around breathing heavily and working hard, wearing a mask will be instrumental in helping to keep you and everyone around you safer. In closed environments, and especially during more intense activities like dance and aerobics, people produce more respiratory droplets than during normal everyday activity, which means the face coverings will have more to catch for everyone's benefit. The truth is when it comes to wearing masks, however, it really requires participation from everyone to be truly effective. As Dr. Daniel J. Durand of Lifebridge Health told Underarmour: "I think of wearing face masks as a team sport, because it requires the participation of each team member to be successful."

woman-wearing-face-mask-3873196The main concerns surrounding wearing a mask while working out revolve around how the covering affects the person's ability to breath. Oxygen is essential for functionality of our muscles, our brain and our ability to control body temperature, so reducing airflow into the body during a workout is not something to be taken lightly. We need more oxygen while working out, and even a simple cloth covering can make it difficult to receive the adequate amount, which could lead to dizziness, lightheadedness and shortness of breath. Additionally, covering the nose and mouth can also mean it is more difficult for our body to release heat through respiration, something which can elevate our body temperature more quickly than normal during exercise.

But does this mean we should opt for no exercise instead of exercise with a facemask?

Absolutely not. "Most people can perform every and all exercises with a face mask on," says Grayson Wickham, a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist at Movement Vault, to CNET. Athletes have often included items like masks and other restrictive items to improve performance under more difficult physical performances. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, wearing a mask may "...simulate the physiological effect of altitude training, albeit on a smaller scale." Of course, not all exercises may be advisable, and each person's body will respond differently. You may need to adjust the intensity level of your workout for a while as your body adapts to the physical experience of exercise with a face mask, especially if you have underlying health concerns. Just like with any exercise, be smart. If your heart rate feels too high, if you get lightheaded, dizzy or nauseous, stop your workout immediately and take a break. Your body knows what you need, so listen too it.

Treadmill social distancing with facemaskTo recap, in addition to maintaining our social distance, face masks may be the new norm for our regular routines. But that doesn't mean that you can't have a great workout while staying safe. They protect you and those around you, and if used properly and with awareness won't be detrimental to getting exercise back in your life. Just remember the 5 basics below and you will be off to a good, healthy start.

5 tips for working out with a mask 

  1. Pick the right mask for your workout. Just think of the mask as part of your exercise uniform and select it as such. You want to make sure it fits securely around your face so that it won't slip off during activity. However, you also want to make sure its made of a breathable material so as not to overly-restrict airflow. Moisture-wicking fabrics are best, just like with your workout clothes, to prevent the mask clinging to your face and becoming less effective.
  2. Use it properly. It's only effective to you and everyone else if it is used correctly. The mask should fully cover your nose and mouth, and you should only use the ear loops when putting on or taking off the mask, never touching the front by your mouth. The Mayo Clinic offers excellent guidelines on how to properly wear and use cloth face masks. This infographic also sums it up nicely.
  3. Take it slow to start. Wearing a face mask while working out is just like starting any new exercise regimen, you have to pay attention to how your body feels. Everybody will react differently, so be aware. If you have underlying conditions or respiratory concerns, consult your physician first. If you begin to feel lightheaded, take a break. Stay hydrated. Don't push yourself too far too fast. Yes, you may need to begin with fewer reps or lighter weights, but ultimately our bodies are amazing things and incredibly adaptable, even to modified workout conditions like wearing face masks.
  4. Bring a backup. Wet face masks are less effective, and between the heavy breathing and mad sweating it's likely your mask will get more damp that if you were taking a stroll outside. So have a backup handy to replace yours if needed in the middle of your workout, and place your used mask immediately in your gym bag or dispose of it hygienically.
  5. Wash it after every workout. Goes without saying of course, but remember to throw it in with your laundry after every use, or hand wash with soap and water.

And don't forget these important workout reminders!

  1. Always consult a physician before beginning any new exercise regimen.  Your health and safety during workouts is the number one priority, always.
  2. Stay hydrated.  Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout to prevent dehydration and fatigue.
  3. Follow proper nutrition.  Proper nutrition not only provides your body with the energy it needs for a good workout, but is also essential in boosting and protecting your immune system.
  4. Wipe down all machines and equipment before and after use.  CAC has plenty of wipe stations placed throughout the clubs to ensure that there is ample supply for everyone to participate in this critical hygienic practice.
  5. Warm up and cool down.  Warming up your muscles before activity and stretching afterwards helps to prevent injury and keep your body safe and healthy.