Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to exercise with a face mask on?

Generally, YES, it's safe for most people to exercise while wearing a face mask, says physical therapists and certified strength and conditioning specialists. 

Most people can perform every and all exercise with a face mask on.

You will, however, want to monitor how you're feeling while exercising and watch out for specific symptoms such as lightheadedness, dizziness, numbness or tingling and shortness of breath.

What happens when you exercise with a face mask on?

Compared with normal breathing, wearing any kind of protective mask decreases the flow of air into your lungs. Less oxygen in your lungs means less oxygen in your bloodstream and your working muscles, which is what makes training more difficult.

 Different masks have varying levels of airflow restriction, depending on the thickness of the material, and with less air, your body has less available oxygen to utilize during exercise to convert glucose [sugar] into energy.

 Anyone, even those who have a relatively high level of fitness, should expect to fatigue faster when exercising with a face mask, comparing this scenario to altitude training or wearing an oxygen deprivation mask to elicit greater respiratory fitness (elite athletes have been doing this for years... as it makes them stronger & fitter).

Over a short time, your body will certainly adapt by becoming more efficient at metabolizing oxygen.

If you start to feel dizzy, imbalanced, or overly fatigued, stop.  Be smart [and simply] don't overdo it.

What to expect while exercising with a face mask on

Due to the increase in breathing resistance, it's normal to get out of breath quicker than you typically would in your workout when not wearing the face mask.

You may not be able to perform at the same level that you would when not wearing the face mask and that you can expect a decrease in your workout performance while wearing a face mask.

Someone who has a higher fitness level may not feel the effects of a face mask as harshly as someone who is just starting to exercise but even very fit people will most likely not be able to perform at their typical level.

Pay attention to how your body responds to your workout while wearing a face mask, especially during higher-intensity exercises, such as heavy weightlifting, spinning, high-intensity interval workouts (HIIT) and cardio workouts. 

If you do feel lightheaded, dizzy or extremely short of breath, you should sit down and take a break.

If the symptoms don't go away relatively soon, you should pull you’re your mask away from your mouth which allows yourself to breathe more normally. If you do need to pull your mask away from your mouth, do so while maintaining at least 2m of distance between you and other people.

How to not feel restricted while exercising with a face mask on

In the beginning, it may be hard to get around feeling constricted while wearing the mask.

The good news is, your lungs and cardiovascular system are getting an extra workout while you are wearing your face mask because it is providing extra breathing resistance. 

A silver lining: The more you exercise with a face mask on, the more accustomed your body will become to the reduced flow of oxygen, and you should feel like a beast when you can finally work out without a face mask on. 

How to know if you're getting enough oxygen 

As long as you don't have an underlying respiratory or cardiovascular condition, and are listening to your body, you will most likely be getting enough oxygen while exercising with a face mask on.

The best thing is to simply listen to your body.

If you experience lightheadedness, dizziness, extreme shortness of breath or numbness and tingling, you need to stop exercising and take a break. 

Do not try ‘push through’ these sensations.

If you feel any of these symptoms, this is your body telling you that you are not getting enough oxygen into your lungs and to the rest of your body. 

So, to all you folks who'll be sprinting to your favourite workout equipment when gyms reopen (see you there!), yes, you can safely exercise with a face mask on, provided you heed your body's warning signs.

And because hitting the gym with a face mask on is likely to be a post-coronavirus new norm, you can at least take solace that your lungs will just be that much stronger when you can exercise freely again.

Should anyone NOT exercise with a face mask on?

People who have underlying cardiovascular or respiratory conditions should take caution when exercising with a face mask on.

The severity of their condition will dictate whether or not it's appropriate for them to exercise with a face mask on. If you are unsure always seek advice from your medical doctor first.

Examples of such conditions include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis and any other conditions that affect the heart or lungs. If you have a cardiovascular or respiratory condition, it's a good idea to ask your doctor about exercising with a face mask before attempting to do it.

Also, people who are new to exercising or haven't exercised in a long time should pay extra attention if exercising while wearing a face mask. Monitor the intensity of your workout and keep it on the low-to-moderate side to avoid symptoms like dizziness and fainting.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice.
Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.