Working Out in a Mask

Working Out in a Mask

With the recent changes in COVID safety requirements for gyms in MN, many folks will be working out in masks for the first time next week. At RECF, we’ve been requiring masks for any indoor PT or classes since July. We’re happy to share what we’ve learned with the rest of the MN fitness community so we can all get back to doing what we love without missing a beat! 

Wearing a mask while working out isn’t ideal, but it’s certainly doable, and not dangerous. 

Here’s a couple of tips for anyone working out in a mask!

  1. Bring two masks for your workout. One to wear in and out of the gym, and the other to wear during your workout. Your workout mask will get sweaty and wet, so you’ll want a dry one to put on when you’re done!
  2. Remember that you’re just going to have to take more rest than you’re used to. Think of it like working out at high altitude, or on a super hot & humid day. Especially during any intense, longer duration cardio, you’re going to need to slow down a bit, and likely reduce the load you’re using. We tell our members that the mask makes everything feel 10lbs heavier than usual!
  3. Once you find the right mask, have the right mindset, and assuming your gym owners adjust their programming to be a little more “mask friendly” (more on that below), working out in a mask is a relatively minor annoyance. It’s far better than not working out at all, or the gym having to stay totally closed! 

What kind of mask works best?

It’s absolutely worth it to upgrade from a homemade cloth mask, to a sport mask. You want something that allows fresh air in, but still does an adequate job filtering particles on the way out. Make sure it passes the “candle test,” or it’s not really doing anything. You’ll also want a mask that has a fairly solid structure to it, so it doesn’t pull back into your mouth when you’re breathing hard. 

 Here’s a few that our members like:

  1. Reebok
  2. Athletic Sport Mask (Etsy) 
  3. Under Armor

The disposable paper masks work pretty well for a single workout, but it gets a bit wasteful throwing them out after one use.  Some people swear by the plastic or silicone frames you can slide inside the mask to keep it away from the mouth, but you have to have the right mask that has enough fabric to still seal above the nose and under your mouth for it to work. 

Tips for Gym Owners

For starters, the way you frame up the mask requirement, and the attitude you carry about it will certainly affect how your members view it. It’s not a huge deal unless you make it one. 

Make sure you let your members know that they should expect workouts to feel a little tougher. Especially with an elevated heart rate, they made need to reduce the load or reps from what they usually do. They will likely need more rest than usual to achieve the same output, and that’s OK. 

We recommend adjusting your workout programming to be more “mask friendly” by taking some of these steps. Generally speaking, the overall intensity needs to be lower than usual. It will take less work to get the heart rate up and muscles fatigued, since oxygen intake will be slightly lower. 

Long story short: strength days & intervals are your friend right now, especially the first couple weeks as your folks are getting used to the changes. 

  • Do more strength & lifting days. Lifting in a mask is not a big deal at all. It takes a little longer to catch your breath between sets, but it’s barely noticeable after you do it a few times.
  • Add more intervals & rest times into your metcons/cardio days. Right at or before the point that the heart rate gets really high, build in a rest period to allow folks to catch their breath before it gets super intense. Long AMRAPs are not ideal in a mask. 
  • Train the anaerobic system. Throw in some very short duration, high power intervals with longer rest. For example, a 10-15 second all out sprint on a bike or rower, followed by a longer 2-3 minute rest is a great way to work on strength & power, without getting the heart rate or breathing rate super high.
  • You may have a few folks who really can’t handle it. We try to be understanding and have solutions for those folks. You never know what sort of history of trauma people are bringing with them. We have continued to offer Zoom classes and virtual personal training, for the folks who don’t feel comfortable in the gym, or don’t want to work out in a mask.

Working out in a mask doesn’t have to be more than a minor inconvenience! Folks who train like us are used to doing hard things all the time. This is just another bump in the road that ultimately will make us appreciate it even more, when we’re truly allowed to go back to normal.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions! We’re here to help! Email me at [email protected].



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