Face Covering is Detrimental while Exercising

April 26, 2021

A new research shows that wearing a mask while exercising is harmful to your workout and to your health.

A recent research at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation, in Frisco (Texas), shows that wearing a mask while exercising is harmful to your workout and to your health. The paper – entitled, “Effects of wearing a cloth face mask on performance, physiological and perceptual responses during a graded treadmill running exercise test” – found that participants who wore a cloth mask while working out had a 14% drop in exercise time, a 29% drop in peak oxygen consumption and a reduced maximal heart rate.

Many studies involving the negative effects of mask-wearing while exercising assess surgical face masks, not cloth masks. In this new research, published in the “British Journal of Sports Medicine”, auhors objectives were to:
1) determine if wearing a cloth face mask significantly affected exercise performance and associated physiological responses, and
2) describe perceptual measures of effort and participants’ experiences while wearing a face mask during a maximal treadmill test.

Authors performed a “randomised controlled trial of healthy adults aged 18–29 years. Participants completed two maximal cardiopulmonary exercise tests (CPETs) on a treadmill – with and without a cloth face mask. Blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, exertion and shortness of breath were measured. … Participants engaged in 170±158 min/week of moderate and 206±205 min/week of vigorous physical activity. No participants reported smoking cigarettes, three participants reported smoking marijuana and five participants indicated a history of controlled asthma. Most participants reported that they had worn a face mask while exercising prior to enrolling in the study and/or that their exercise facility required them.”

“Cloth face masks led to a 14% reduction in exercise time and 29% decrease in maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), attributed to perceived discomfort associated with mask-wearing. Compared with no mask, participants reported feeling increasingly short of breath and claustrophobic at higher exercise intensities while wearing a cloth face mask. Coaches, trainers and athletes should consider modifying the frequency, intensity, time and type of exercise when wearing a cloth face mask.”

“Participants indicated that the cloth face mask was overall uncomfortable and strongly impacted breath resistance. The majority of the sample reported to ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that it was harder to give maximum effort during the trial in which they were wearing the cloth face mask. Responses in general indicated that participants felt that the test was more difficult in the cloth face mask, especially at increased intensity. Participants also mentioned feeling ‘claustrophobic’, ‘suffocated’ and ‘anxious’ while wearing the mask and taking ‘shorter, more shallow breaths with the face covering’.”

Authors conclude: “Our data suggest that wearing a cloth face covering negatively impacts exercise performance in healthy adults during a maximal treadmill test. As both physiological and perceptual factors were negatively impacted, coaches, trainers and athletes should be aware of the effect of cloth face coverings as the population continues to exercise safely during the global pandemic.”

Full Study “Effects of wearing a cloth face mask on performance, physiological and perceptual responses during a graded treadmill running exercise test