How to Exercise with a Face Mask

Photo by Gina Hsu

We finally did it! After months of social distancing, staying home, washing our hands, and baking banana bread, the majority of Ontario has made it to stage three of reopening and can begin life’s new normal. One of the many amenities that can now be open for business  are gyms and fitness centers. There is a catch however, face masks must be worn inside public buildings at all times.

So how does one adjust to exercising with a face mask on? What are some of the precautions that should be taken? We have a few tips and pointers to ensure that your next workout is both safe and productive.

  • Invest in a breathable face mask

While PPE and medical face masks will keep others safe from the virus, they are not ideal for working out. For starters, you may feel a bit suffocated if you are not accustomed to wearing a face mask for a long period of time, never mind with the added factor of exercise. A medical face mask may also not be the ideal material to sweat in as it is not reusable, which means you will most definitely have to wear a new one each time you workout. Breathable face masks not only make it easier for you to breathe while exercising but can be reused many times. Just make sure you wash the mask and keep it clean after each use. The material of most breathable masks can also trap and lock moisture so that you are keeping others safe from your sweat, and you won’t need to exercise with a damp mask.

  • Lower your intensity

After months of home workouts using bodyweight and soup cans, your muscles need to be progressively retrained to get you back into lifting those heavyweights. At the same time, your body and lungs need to get accustomed to your exercising with a mask, now that oxygen is limited when breathing.  That being said, you may not be able to last as long on the treadmill as you usually would, or get your 8-12 reps in at the bench. Not only should you lower the weight that you lift, but you should also lower your sets and reps for your first couple of workouts to make breathing easier.

  • Take longer rest periods

Along with lowering your weights, sets, and reps, you should also increase your rest time. As a fellow powerlifter, I understand that this is not effective for hypertrophy or losing weight. However, exercising with a face mask is a bonus workout for your lungs and the cardiovascular system because it provides extra breathing resistance. It is important to pace yourself to make sure you are getting enough oxygen.

  • Be consistent

Just like trying out a new exercise, or increasing the weight you are using, it’s going to take time for your body to adjust to the new normal of exercising with a face mask  – unless you have been doing it for some time already. Although you may not have the endurance or the performance that you usually would, it is only until a matter of time before your body is ready and primed for the next level. After working out with a mask for a while, your lungs will not only become accustomed to breathing with a mask, but they will become stronger as your body becomes comfortable with the reduced flow of oxygen. After a couple of workouts, you can try increasing your sets while decreasing your rest time. As with learning and mastering any new skill, consistency is key.

  • Know your limits

Last but most importantly, listen to your body. Make sure you are not only exercising for today but exercising so you can do it again tomorrow. If you have an underlying cardiovascular or respiratory condition, exercising with a face mask is probably not the best thing for your health, based on the severity of your condition. If you have those conditions, you should not be in high-risk areas such as the gym in the first place. If you are experiencing light-headedness, numbness, tingling, dizziness, or extreme shortness of breath, you should sit down and take a break. You may or may not be able to do some workouts you would normally do such as HIIT cardio, supersets, or boxing. What is important is that you are true to yourself and do what you can do and you try your hardest without putting your health and physical well-being at risk.

Breathing is an important factor when it comes to exercise, and wearing a face mask is an obstacle to overcome. Although it may take some time for your body to become comfortable, it is for this reason that you are exercising in the first place- to keep your body happy and healthy. As motivation, keep in mind how badass you will look when exercising with a face mask going at your full intensity.


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