I don’t know about you, but the first thing I thought of when my city mandated masks was, “Wait, do I have to wear this to the gym?” Maybe your city is mandating masks at the gym or maybe you are going on vacation where they are mandating masks (Healthy Living on Vacation), either way it is important to know how to exercise with a mask.
First, understanding why proper breathing during exercise is important. When we exercise, our breathing increases from about 5-6 L of oxygen per minute to 20-30 L of oxygen per minute. This is done by increasing breathing from the mouth as well as more rapid ventilation. We need this increased amount of oxygen for our heart to deliver to our working muscles so they can work effectively and safely. Also, when we exercise at higher intensities, our blood becomes more acidic. As a result, we need to blow off the extra carbon dioxide. As you can see, we need to breathe properly for a safe and effective workout.
Now, the steps to working out with a mask:
Just like with anything, you need to adapt. For example, every summer football players have to acclimate to the heat over a period of 10 or so days, so they don’t risk heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The same things goes for the mask. Take your time, start off slow, and let your body adjust.
I know, I’ve been there. I have been lightheaded in the grocery store because of the mask. If you start to feel out of breath while working out, take a break. It is okay to step to the side, away from everyone and pull down your mask for a second.
Yes, there is a certain way you should be breathing during exercise– during resistance training especially. You need to exhale during the concentric contraction (lifting) and inhale during the eccentric contraction (lowering). This will help prevent breath holding.
At the start of all of this, I was using a N95 my fiancé had at home. These masks are medical grade, so they are not as breathable as other options. Try to find a mask that has a filter, an exercise specific mask (like these from Reebok), or even just a cloth mask can be more breathable.
As always, I am not a medical professional. These are the tips I know from my experience in and my knowledge of exercise science. If you have a medical condition or have any concerns be sure to ask your primary care doctor what is best for you.
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I help women with chronic illness incorporate mindful movement and adopt new habits that work with their diagnosis and avoid new flares.