Can Working Out in a Mask Actually Improve Your Performance?
The AskMen editorial team thoroughly researches & reviews the best gear, services and staples for life. AskMen may get paid if you click a link in this article and buy a product or service.
Product photos from retailer sites.
If 2020 were to be defined by a fashion accessory, it’d have to be the face mask. The coronavirus has impacted nearly everything in our lives, and the lives of those around the world, including how we work out and what we wear while we do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting your sweat on at a gym, running on local trails, or doing HIIT at the park, you’re likely sporting a face mask in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19 – and if you aren’t you should be. "Wearing a face mask is the simplest and easiest way to protect yourself and those around you during this global pandemic. This is now the ‘new normal’ and is required for most public spaces including gyms and exercise facilities," adds Dr. Christina M. Madison, PharmD, FCCP, AAHIVP, Boomer Naturals.
While you might be finding yourself short of breath more often than usual and suffering from some face sweats, as well, the good news is that wearing a mask while working out can actually be beneficial. And Madison confirms it is safe –assuming you don’t have an underlying cardiovascular or respiratory condition, in which case you should talk to your physician first. "A properly fitting, well-designed mask shouldn’t significantly impact your ability to exercise. Skiers, snowboarders, and pond-hockey enthusiasts have been wearing them during training and competition for years," adds Joel Totoro, R.D. and Sports Science Director at Thorne.
Here we caught up with a couple of our favorite health and fitness pros to get their insight on how masking up can increase your gains, amp up fat loss, and more.
1. Burn More Fat
While face masks may bother some because they feel restricting, it is also what makes them beneficial because they force you to increase your workout intensity. According to Raphael Konforti MS, CPT, Senior Director of Fitness, Youfit Health Clubs: “Working out with a mask inherently increases the intensity [of your exercise session] because your heart rate increases in response to a demand for more oxygen to create ATP or energy.” Working out harder in this case creates the residual effect that sees an increase in calories burned, helping you shed weight. Think of it like doing a really intense cardio session. The greater the effort, the greater the reward.
2. Improve Your Breathing Techniques
Maintaining proper breathing patterns is one of the key ways to improve your endurance when exercising. However, it turns out, many of us are not actually breathing correctly when we work out, and wearing a mask could help correct that. "Under normal circumstances, we rarely have to think about breathing; our bodies are on autopilot. Donning a mask while training makes us hyper-aware of our breathing and breathing technique, and surprisingly most of us are doing it wrong," says Totoro.
He shares that people often lift their shoulders and expand their rib cages when they should be expanding the diaphragm to allow fresh air into the belly "watch a baby breathe, that’s the ideal form." This incorrect, yet common, breathing pattern can cause "extra stress on the helper muscles of the upper body and can lead to posture issues, overuse injuries to the chest and back, as well as limiting the range of motion." Totoro adds that wearing your mask will allow you to pay more attention to your breathing and take time to ensure you are doing it correctly.
3. Train Like An Athlete
Masks are a requirement for safety these days but they have been used and studied for athletic performance for years. “Athletes have used masks to simulate training at altitudes, where there is less oxygen, because it makes the eventual training without a mask easier, thus raising performance without a mask,” says Konforti. What does this mean for you? Banging out a workout with a mask on will make you more likely to see increases in strength, speed, and endurance when you’re not wearing a mask in the future and push you to higher levels when you do. Why did you think Olympic athletes train in Colorado?
4. Sleep Better
It may be counter-intuitive, but training with a mask on and the subsequent lack of oxygen intake during said workout will enable you to improve your maximal oxygen uptake. According to Kendall Wood, CSCS, this is “the ability to move oxygen into the bloodstream, which will improve your sleep patterns.” Do you know what happens when you sleep better? You feel better, make healthier choices, and potentially train harder, too.
5. Recover Quicker
Training with a mask essentially forces you to raise your performance level, which is exactly what you want from a workout. Still, this will also come with the inevitable muscle burn that follows an intense exercise sesh. The good news? Wearing a mask will also help you recover from that burn quicker than if you trained without a mask. “By increasing the lactate threshold due to wearing the mask, your body will have the ability to get over the burn more rapidly,” shares Wood. This happens because of an increase in red blood cell production when you train with a mask or at an elevation.
Which Face Mask Is Best for a Workout?
There are a host of quality workout-ready face masks on the market that you can use for your training, but none of them are the flimsy ones you get at a pharmacy. "Not all consumer face masks (non-medical grade mask) are made equal. The material and fit are extremely important, especially if you are wearing a mask during exercise," says Madison.
When purchasing a workout mask, consider the type of material the mask is made of and how many layers it has. Most disposable masks will trap moisture, making them wet and less breathable. Reusable cloth masks tend to stay dry, allowing for easier breathing.
Here are our top picks for workout face masks, from brands you already wear in the gym.
Reebok Face Cover
This mask is a great option for workouts because it’s made with breathable fabric that is soft on your skin and comfortable on your face for long periods of time, no matter if you’re sweating or not. It’s also washable and can help prevent the spread of germs and viruses through droplet transmission.
Under Armour Sportsmask
If you need a mask for your workout and the rest of your day, this is the one for you. While designed for use in playing sports and other extraneous activities like working out, this mask will do the trick all day because it sits comfortably on the face and has an anti-microbial treatment on the inside layer, which means it’ll stay fresh.
Boomer Naturals Face Mask
Dr. Madison recommends this mask because of its three layers and built-in nano silver technology. "[This] face mask is highly effective with three layers of tightly-woven fabric enhanced with nano silver technology. It is extremely breathable, very comfortable to wear, is washable, multi-use up to 30 days, and comes in multiple sizes and colors," she says.
Hanes Signature Stretch-To-Fit Masks
This one is a standout because it has no seams to itch your face, it is reusable and washable with two layers of breathable, lightweight coverage you can wear in the gym. Bonus: It has Hanes’ Cool Comfort technology that will wick away moisture (you’ll thank them for that after cardio).
You Might Also Dig: