Workout face masks DON'T affect performance, study suggests

Apparently, you can workout hard AND wear a face mask without passing out

workout face mask performance
(Image credit: Under Armour)

Face masks for exercising are a source of heated debate. Some people will say they are perfectly fine for workouts, others will claim they block air flow when fresh oxygen is needed the most (during exercising). Some will go as far as suggesting that face masks specifically designed for sports, such as the UA SPORTSMASK and the Asics Runners Face Cover, are detrimental to your performance because it blocks the free-flow of oxygen, needed for peak muscle performance. A new research says otherwise.

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A study published on 3 November 2020 from the University of Saskatchewan is here to clear things up, at least a little bit. As reported by ScienceDaily, the study found that "exercise performance and blood and muscle oxygen levels are not affected for healthy individuals wearing a face mask during strenuous workouts."

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UA SPORTSMASK | Buy it for £26 at Under Armour
The UA SPORTSMASK took the market the fitness industry by storm and has been one of the most popular face mask among fit people ever since. It is light, breathable, moisture-wicking and comes in many sizes to make sure it fits on your face properly. And now that it's actually in stock, you don't have to wait around for months to get one.

Asics Runners Face Cover

(Image credit: ASICS)

This is good news for anyone wanting to exercise in gyms and/or would like to attend group classes both indoors and outdoors. Indoor classes might not be available in many countries at the moment but it's highly likely that when they will be, face coverings will be recommended as well as having to adhere to social distancing measures, of course.

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Better still, the study didn't even measure the performance of people wearing highly breathable sports face masks. The 14-people strong testing group sported a three-layer cloth face mask, as recommended by Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer. These are less suited for exercising than the aforementioned performance masks, which are more likely to cause even less discomfort during workouts.

UA SPORTSMASK

(Image credit: Under Armour)

The study involved 14 'physically active and healthy' men and women, "controlled for the effects of diet, previous physical activity, and sleep during the 24 hours prior to the test", according to ScienceDaily.

A;; 14 of the participants warmed-up on a stationary bike then the researchers gradually cranked up the resistance all the while requiring participants to maintain a certain pedal rate. Once they could not sustain the pedal rate the test was over.

"Usually a participant reaches exhaustion on this test in six to 12 minutes depending on their fitness level," said Chilibeck, a professor in the USask College of Kinesiology, who was a co-author of the study.

Asics Runners Face Cover

(Image credit: ASICS)

To make sure the results were statistically significant, participants did the test three times each, "once wearing a surgical face mask, once wearing a cloth face mask and once with no face mask." The research team looked at blood- and muscle oxygen levels throughout the test using non-invasive measurement tools to see if there were any difference in these.

The researchers concluded by saying "our findings are of importance because they indicate that people can wear face masks during intense exercise with no detrimental effects on performance and minimal impact on blood and muscle oxygenation."

Next time you hit the gym or go to a class, make sure you wear your mask.

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Get Fit for 2021!

This is part of T3's Fit for 2021 programme, which will be running throughout January. We aim to bring you tips on diet, lifestyle and exercise that will help you shape up for what is certain to be a difficult year. One thing we can guarantee: it WILL be better than last year. And hopefully we'll help you get the most out of it. 

Matt Kollat
Matt Kollat

Matt is a fitness fanatic (a.k.a. fitness and nutrition writer) who's been rambling on about all things health and fitness for over two years now here at T3. His achievements include a short-lived fitness podcast called Fit Mentality Podcast and being a judge on the Fit&Well Awards 2021. In his free time, he works out at home, runs, cycles and loves a good ol' walk around the city. He writes about general fitness stuff, fitness tech, workouts, workout gear/equipment, nutrition and much, much more.