Woman wearing a mask while running

By now, most Marylanders are used to wearing a mask when they leave the house, but wearing a mask during exercise can be more taxing.

Learn more about how to stay safe when wearing an exercise mask, when you need to wear one and how it can affect your workout performance.

Should You Exercise in a Mask?

You should wear a mask while exercising when you are out in public and can't maintain a distance of at least six feet away from others. This is an important part of protecting yourself and others from coronavirus.

When running, it may be particularly difficult to be socially distant from others. If you are going to be dodging other people or going through crowds, then you should wear a running mask.

However, if you are in a place that has fewer people – such as a quiet neighborhood or local park at off-peak hours – then wearing a running mask probably isn't necessary. Just remember to keep your distance when you do encounter others, especially in areas where people tend to gather, such as crosswalks.

How a Mask Affects Your Performance

Wearing a mask while exercising can impede your overall performance. Even the most breathable masks decrease airflow, making it slightly harder to breathe. It is important to distinguish this effect from the myth that masks trap carbon dioxide (CO2) and make you sick. This is not true and is one of many mask myths.

Even if you are fit, you may get winded more easily. This is normal. Adjust your workout to your new fitness level and don't push yourself too far. Take breaks when you need to. Like many other types of fitness, your body will become accustomed to it over time.

Don't let this decrease in performance deter you from wearing an exercise mask. If you are concerned about performance and still need to exercise outside of your home, try to find a location that has relatively few people or avoid exercising during peak hours.

Even if you don't think that you'll encounter a lot of people, you should always be prepared and have a spare mask on hand when going out during the coronavirus pandemic.

Do You Have to Wear a Mask at the Gym?

In the state of Maryland, anyone over five years old is currently required by law to wear a mask at the gym.

This is the case for all public buildings. Masking is mandated at the gym because it is a shared indoor space and the layouts of many gyms make it difficult to maintain a distance of six feet from others.

Don't want to wear a mask but still want to stay fit? Exercising at home is a safe but effective alternative for maintaining your physical health during the pandemic.

Is It Safe to Exercise With a Mask On?

It is generally safe to exercise with a mask on, but there are steps you can take to ensure that you are masking effectively and not putting your health at risk.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you plan to exercise regularly in a place that requires you to wear a mask, such as a gym, consult your doctor.

This is especially important if you have a preexisting condition that affects your physical fitness or ability to breathe, such as a heart condition or COPD. Your doctor can make recommendations tailored to your specific condition and health history.

Choose the Right Exercise Mask

If you need to wear an exercise mask, it's important to select the right kind. There are many different types of masks, but some are better than others for exercising.

Search for the following qualities to find your perfect exercise mask:

  • Breathability: Masks should be made out of dense but breathable fabrics, such as 100 percent cotton. If it restricts your breathing when you're doing normal movements, such as walking, then it's not the ideal exercise mask.
  • Secure fit: Masks should fit firmly against your face – covering your nose and mouth – and not shift while you move. You shouldn't have to adjust your mask frequently or touch your face.
  • Washability: Your mask should be able to be cleaned after every use. Disposable masks aren't ideal exercise masks, as they can get easily soiled by sweat.

Many of these features are also important if you are searching for a mask to wear when it's hot.

Listen to Your Body

Wearing a mask while exercising puts a new type of strain on your body, so it's important to know when something is wrong. Be on the lookout for the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing

If you experience any of these symptoms, stop exercising. Find a safe place where you can take your mask off and catch your breath.

If you experience symptoms of a heart attack, don't delay care. There are many safety precautions in place at the University of Maryland Medical System facilities to protect against coronavirus.

Keep a Spare Mask

If you get sweaty during your workout, be sure to have an extra mask on hand to wear. Dampness reduces the mask's effectiveness. If you sweat excessively during your workout, you may even need to switch out masks in the middle of your exercise session.