top of page

Everything You Need to Know Before Working Out in a Face Mask

Including whether you should be working out in one at all.

by Nathan Reilly Sep 23, 2020

Young man in face mask
Griffin Wooldridge

In May, a 26-year-old jogger’s lung collapsed in Wuhan, China, allegedly as a result of him wearing a face mask while exercising, the UK's Sun reported. Although his doctors said he was predisposed to pneumothorax, a condition in which air makes its way between the lungs and chest wall and presses on the lungs until they collapse, his incident still raises concern for those of us who want to follow coronavirus safety protocols and equally maintain mask safety.

Here, experts unearth just how safe rocking a face mask during a workout is, and the best ways to keep protected while exercising in one.

Face masks can compromise breathing.

Because face masks cover your mouth and nose, wearing one while exercising can hinder the amount of oxygen that enters your lungs, says Marilyn Moffat, P.T., D.P.T., Ph.D., a professor of physical therapy at New York University and author of Cardiovascular/Pulmonary Essentials. This can not only make it more difficult for you to breathe, but it can also decrease the amount of oxygen that spreads throughout your exercising muscles. When that happens, your body struggles to convert glucose into energy, a process that allows your muscles to perform contractions and enact basic movements.

Muscle contractions are also responsible for your ability to, say, jog for extended periods of time or increase in weight when you lift, making a consistent flow of oxygen essential to a successful workout. But whether wearing a mask means you’re going to experience a lack of oxygen is a bit more complex.

Here are some things to consider before working out in a face mask:

Workout Routine

Your oxygen uptake really depends on your routine, Andrea Fornarola, a certified fitness expert and head trainer at Elements Fitness Studio in East Hampton, New York, tells Intrigue. Cardio workouts, like high-intensity interval training, burpees, and long-distance running, increase the amount of oxygen your body needs to perform these activities. If the amount you’re able to inhale is compromised by a face mask, exercises that require more oxygen to execute are probably best to avoid, she says.

She also expresses caution for inversion exercises, like upside down yoga, which can decrease heart rate and increase blood pressure, and ultimately, make it more difficult for your heart to pump blood throughout your body.