Fabric choice and fit are critical.

Face masks are part of our new normal, which means we need to wear them when we do most of our outdoor day-to-day activities. For many, those activities include exercising. We tend to breathe harder (both as we inhale and exhale) while working out, spraying out droplets as we run and hike—and that's where masks, which trap those potentially harmful droplets, come in. There's no doubt about it: Exercising with a covering over your mouth takes some getting used to—you shouldn't expect your workout to be the same the first few times you wear one—but, according to our experts, you will ultimately adjust. Ahead, how to make this transition period as seamless as possible.

woman stretching with mask on
Credit: Getty / Kemal Yildirim

Exercising with a mask is definitely more difficult.

Wearing a mask while working out can restrict some of your oxygen intake. Lauren Jenai, the co-founder of CrossFit and CEO of Manifest, explains that exercising demands an increased amount of oxygen—and when your body doesn't get enough to your muscles, lactic acid is formed. "The presence of lactic acid creates an anaerobic state as opposed to an aerobic state," she says. "Working in an anaerobic state is not sustainable and can only be maintained for short periods of time." A constant and sufficient amount of oxygen is necessary for stamina, endurance, and post-workout recovery.

Start by choosing the right mask.

If your mask is restricting your oxygen intake too much, you'll end up in an anaerobic state. To avoid this, choose one that isn't too restrictive; make sure your is composed of a thin, breathable fabric that can be washed after each use. Additionally, the mask you wear while exercising should be comfortable so that it does not distract from your routine. It should also fit snugly, so that it doesn't slip off and become a hazard.

Begin the adaptation phase.

Brett Larkin, founder of the YouTube channel Uplifted, says you can practice ahead of time to get through those first few masked workouts. She suggests starting by taking long, slow, deep breaths in and out of your nose. "Practice holding your breath in at the top of the inhale for a slow count of three (breath retention), and three counts out at the end of the exhale (breath suspension)," she says, adding that this will help you increase your lung capacity over time.

"If you find yourself exercising with a mask and feeling hot or claustrophobic, take a break," she says. And if that doesn't work, Larkin suggests taking a yogic breath called sitali pranayama; inhale through your mouth while forming your lips into an "O" shape and curling your tongue. Then exhale through your nose.

Talk to your doctor.

If you have pre-existing health conditions, like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis, and any other conditions that impact the heart or lungs, Jenai says you should consult your doctor before exercising with a mask. "Wearing the mask could cause shortness of breath, dizziness, or fainting especially during longer duration cardiovascular exercise," she says, adding that there is less cause for concern during shorter duration exercises, like weight training. "Modifying workouts to low to medium intensity and taking frequent breaks could mitigate any potential risks of exercise while wearing a mask for those who have concerns."

Comments (1)

Martha Stewart Member
May 23, 2020
Honestly, this is ludicrous! No one should have to wear a mask while exercising. Just stay the appropriate distance from others. Here in Southern California, we already have people passing out in grocery stores while wearing them.