As the world starts to make its way out of stay-at-home orders, increasingly more gyms are opening their doors so diligent gains-makers can get back to work. There’s a massive amount of information available from sources like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization about whether wearing a mask is right for you, so we’re going to leave that advice to the pros. Today, we’re assuming that you have chosen to wear a mask to the gym. Many gyms are requiring that their members wear some sort of face covering, so here are some helpful tips to know before you mask up!
What Is the Best Kind of Mask?
There has been an incredible amount of creativity when it comes to homemade masks. Some people are using bandanas, folded T-shirts, and even custom-sewn masks. The finer the fabric—that is, the smaller the gaps in the threading—the better the mask will be for capturing any moisture from your breath. You can also get this effect by folding fabric over itself multiple times. Masks made by folding fabric may also be useful for gym-goers because if you get too sweaty, you can quickly remove your mask, refold it, wash your hands, and get back to your workout feeling fresh.
For now, it seems that homemade masks are the best bet considering that true surgical masks are at a premium for those who need them most: frontline medical workers. Since doctors and nurses require these masks to provide care safely for people who are actively sick, do your part and leave the medical-grade masks for the professionals and home caretakers.
Reasons for Wearing a Mask
Based on our initial understanding of COVID-19, wearing a mask may potentially reduce the spread of any moisture exhaled from your mouth via breathing. If you are sneezing or coughing, it’s probably not the time to be going to the gym anyway. Since your breath is projected outward with less force thanks to the mask, there’s a decreased likelihood of spreading any pathogens outside of your small bubble. This is potentially a way to help protect those around you, should you be sick without knowing it. Everyone at the gym is going to be working hard and breathing heavy, so keeping all that breath from moving around may be helpful.
Reasons Against Wearing a Mask
We’re still learning more about COVID-19 every day. The unique nature of this virus means that plans will change, policies will evolve, and we’ll have to be flexible. One thing we have learned is that wearing a mask may not be an end-all solution. First, the moisture from your breath can move in particle sizes smaller than the weave of many fabrics. So you could still get sick and cause others to get sick while wearing a mask. Keeping a safe distance from others and being smart about social interaction are still important things to remember.
Second, human behavior is a funny thing. Experts studying people wearing masks found that they seemed to feel almost too safe. When wearing a mask, users would resume touching their face more often, neglect washing their hands as often, and more. Having a strong but false sense of security could be dangerous. It’s important that wearing a mask is only your first step in staying safe.
Finally—and this is for all you high-intensity exercisers out there—wearing a mask may decrease your ability to work out at your peak. Your muscles’ ability to function is directly tied to how much oxygen they can get to make energy. If you’re wearing a face covering, you’re decreasing the amount of air you can pull in with each breath and increasing the amount of work it takes to get each breath due to resistance. Without even knowing it, you may be simulating high-altitude training (but that’s a conversation for another day).
For now, life is going to be a bit different. Going to the gym with your face covered will feel odd, but don’t feel ashamed. We’re all in this together, and if by wearing a mask you have the chance to help others, we say it’s worth it. Just make sure to continue keeping your distance from others, clean your bench when you’re done lifting, and wash your hands regularly.