As some indoor gyms and fitness spaces reopen, the topic of wearing protective face masks during exercise continues to get folks perspiring. If I want to go back to the gym, many of which now require face coverings, how can I find one that doesn’t leave me extra-sweaty, or inhibit my breathing? And if I want to exercise outdoors, what sort of mask should I look for when braving the cold?
“For the purpose of protecting others in case you are a carrier, wearing masks in public should be followed based on public health need, whether you are exercising or not,” says Suzanne Lukovics, physical therapy director at Austin, Texas-based Georgetown Living Home Health. While mask mandates vary from state to state, the risks of transmission during exercise just aren’t known yet, she says — so, like much of the public, Lukovics relies on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health organizations.
“There is some talk about droplets suspended in air for a period of time, but we have to remember that exposure to Covid-19 seems highly tied to ‘viral load’ as well,” she says. “So things like being exposed to air droplets with Covid-19 would be less problematic if you were, say, jogging past a place where droplets were, versus working out hard for 45 minutes next to a person who may be carrying Covid-19 and is talking loudly, coughing or breathing hard during their workout next to you.”
For the record, Lukovics says she would wear a mask while jogging 3 miles outdoors, with a running buddy. And masks may indeed affect one’s ease of breathing, the physical therapist says. “With all exercise, your body’s demand for oxygen increases to support your muscles.”
But how that affects a person’s breathing pace is relative. “An elderly person who has never exercised will be winded with very little activity, even without a mask,” she says. “Anyone who wears a mask during exercise, regardless of intensity, will likely feel more breathless than they did without a face covering — even if it’s a lightweight, disposable mask.”
However, Lukovics emphasizes, it’s worth it. “Our amazing bodies will accommodate over time and we will seem less breathless with each encounter of using a mask while exercising,” she says. “If we have the choice to prevent the spread, and ‘endure’ a bit of a harder workout for our lungs, we should do it for the greater long-term good.”
Plus, wearing a mask, regardless of its protective efficacy, Lukovics says, “can provide a visual cue to others that ‘I care about you, and am willing to withstand some discomfort’ during this unprecedented time. And when we are finally able to safely exercise maskless again, our workouts will seem easier for a change!”
If you’re looking for the most breathable mask, Lukovics says, “Cotton is preferable, mainly for absorbing moisture/sweat.” She says multiple layers may be more protective, but will also impact breathability.
To address those challenges, several fitness brands have launched protective face masks specifically for whatever workout and fitness game you’ve got going on, and we rounded up a few of our favorites. Don’t forget that if you’re sweating regularly in your mask, it’s important to properly wash it after every use.
Everyday Non Medical Masks, 5-Pack (starting at $14.99, originally $30; athleta.gap.com)
These editor-approved masks are a certified favorite at Athleta, with more than 4,700 reviews and a 4.5-star rating. Reviewers love the quality of these masks, as well as the bendable nose piece and adjustable ear loops.
Uniqlo Airism Face Mask, 3-Pack ($14.90; uniqlo.com)
Created with a high-performance, three-tier structure, these masks come with a built-in filter and are made with the company’s signature Airism fabric, which wicks away moisture. The third layer of this mask even blocks UV rays.
Adidas Face Covers M/L, 3-Pack ($20; adidas.com)
Comfortable, washable and reusable for everyday action, these come in three-packs of small or medium/large.
Hanes Wicking Cotton Masks 10-Pack ($15, originally $25; hanes.com)
Hanes’ masks are made with three layers and moisture-wicking fabric — and, in partnership with Invisible People, the brand is donating 1 million masks to help protect homeless people across America, particularly in states with recent outbreaks.
Face Covers M/L 3-Pack ($20; reebok.com)
These are dual-layered, soft and breathable, from one of our favorite active brands.
Onzie Mindful Masks, Assorted 2 Pack ($24; onzie.com)
This yoga brand has utilized Full Flex Spandex technology for a stretchy, comfort-fitting, quick-dry exterior, with a high performance inner lining and straps.
AEO Reusable Pleated Training Masks 5-Pack ($19.95; ae.com)
American Eagle’s masks are fitted with an adjustable nose wire and elastic ear loops so you can maintain a tight fit while you’re working out.
All4partytime Summer Face Mask for Jogging ($19.95; etsy.com)
Made with 100% certified organic cotton, this popular California shop’s masks are billed as superior for the outdoor workout.
Under Armour Sportsmask ($30; underarmour.com)
This mask from Under Armour features a water-repellent exterior as well as an anti-microbial treatment on the inside to ensure you can work out all day long.