Exercising with a face mask:

Generally, yes, it’s safe for most people to exercise while wearing a face mask, Grayson Wickham, a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist at Movement Vault, tells CNET. 

“Most people can perform every and all exercises with a face mask on,” Wickham says. “You will want to monitor how you’re feeling while exercising and watch out for specific symptoms such as lightheadedness, dizziness, numbness or tingling and shortness of breath.”

Compared with normal breathing, wearing any kind of protective mask decreases the flow of air into your lungs, Scott McAfee, physical therapist and orthopedic specialist at MovementX, tells CNET. Less oxygen in your lungs means less oxygen in your bloodstream and your working muscles, which is what makes training more difficult. 

“Different masks have varying levels of airflow restriction, depending on the thickness of the material,” McAfee says. “With less air, your body has less available oxygen to utilize during exercise to convert glucose [sugar] into energy.” 

McAfee says that anyone, even those who have a relatively high level of fitness, should expect to fatigue faster when exercising with a face mask, comparing this scenario to altitude training or wearing an oxygen deprivation mask to elicit greater respiratory fitness (this is something that elite athletes do). 

“Over a few weeks, your body will certainly adapt by becoming more efficient at metabolizing oxygen, but this takes time,” McAfee says. “If you start to feel dizzy, imbalanced, or overly fatigued, stop.  Be smart [and] don’t over do it.”

“Due to the increase in breathing resistance, it’s normal to get out of breath quicker than you typically would in your workout when not wearing the face mask,” Wickham says. “You may not be able to perform at the same level that you would when not wearing the face mask,” he says, adding that you can expect a decrease in your workout performance while wearing a face mask.

Someone who has a higher fitness level may not feel the effects of a face mask as harshly as someone who is just starting to exercise, Wickham says, but even very fit people will most likely not be able to perform at their typical level.

Pay attention to how your body responds to your workout while wearing a face mask, especially during higher-intensity exercises, such as heavy weightlifting, sprints, plyometrics, CrossFit-style workoutshigh-intensity interval training (HIIT) and cardio workouts

If you do feel lightheaded, dizzy or extremely short of breath, you should sit down and take a break. If the symptoms don’t go away relatively soon, you should take your mask off to allow yourself to breathe normally, Wickham says. If you do need to take your mask off, always follow your state’s public health rules and try to maintain at least six feet of distance between you and other people.

Listen to Dr. Michael Mol

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