Help me not pass out on the treadmill!
January 14, 2022 6:54 AM   Subscribe

What face mask works best while exercising? Especially while doing cardio.

I just started going to a gym, for the first time since before covid. I am of course wearing a mask the entire time. Its fine when I'm stretching and doing weight training etc. But! When I'm doing cardio (which is my main concentration), it's so difficult!

Running on a treadmill while wearing an N95....omg. After a few minutes, I start to hyperventilate and it's so bad, I have to stop the treadmill, go outside, dramatically rip my mask off, and take giant gulps of air until I calm down. It's impossible. I dont know what to do. I cannot keep or catch my breath while wearing those things.

To be clear, I am 100% supportive of wearing masks in any social setting. I'm just wondering if there are any brands/types of masks that are more conducive to exercise/cardio? I see some online stores sell "sport masks". Do they work or just a scam? And if they work to make it easier for me to breathe... does that come by sacrificing ability to filter out covid particles? I want to exercise but I also want to be safe!
posted by silverstatue to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'll be honest with you, I find an N95 to be unbearably uncomfortable during vigorous cardio. Maybe it's just my average-at-best fitness. My compromise is to go late at night, when as few people as possible are there, and wear a good-quality surgical mask. Masking is mandatory in my gym and people do try to keep their distance; also, vigorous cardio isn't going to exceed half an hour for me. I figure if that's the most exposed I am on a regular basis, it's worth the health benefits. My math might be different if I were or were living with someone very vulnerable, though.
posted by praemunire at 7:03 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Same, friend. I have had to downscale my indoor cardio for the time being to an elliptical or a rower, and save the real running for outdoors. Could you try a surgical mask with a cloth mask over it for better fit? Combined with praemunire's strategy of going at less-crowded times, ideally. (I had been doing the late-night gym thing and then my gym stopped keeping late hours.)

I am deeply skeptical of the "sport" masks being any better than a regular cloth mask but if other folks have the science to show they are, I'll be eagerly watching the thread.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:20 AM on January 14

I was wearing a n95 mask to work out at my gym before omicron hit and it closed for a bit. I did 50-60 minute high intensity interval training type classes with about 30 mins of cardio. I’ll eventually go back once the gym reopens and I’ll still be wearing masks even thought I’m fully boosted now.

It totally sucks wearing one, I’ll be honest. But it is bearable. After about a week or so, my body seemed to get used to it. My cardio still suffers compared to what I might experience exercising without a mask, but it was manageable. I also switched to a smaller type mask with a very pronounced sort of triangle shape that gives a fairly large breathing space at the front of my face. It still seals around the sides, but not having anything touching my mouth or nose made it feel a lot better. These are the ones I use (Canadian website, not sure where you are) but maybe something in this style if you aren’t already using one like this might help?
posted by Cyrie at 7:30 AM on January 14

I'm doing a lot of HIIT so I feel your pain. Using a mask cage thingy inside the mask is what helps me a lot - just giving myself as much room as possible in there with nothing physically touching my nostrils and mouth. And yes, I've definitely found cardio with the mask easier to deal with the more I do it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:52 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I have recently been using this pleated (furnace filter style) mask, a genuine N95 made in the U.S. by Moldex. They're a bit more expensive per unit but well worth it. The downside, as with all Moldex masks, is that the nose bridge is fixed (no wire) with only a little bit of padding, so if your nose is too narrow or wide, it simply won't fit properly. Thanks to AskMeFi for recommending, which is run by Grainger Scientific, a respected supply house.
posted by wnissen at 9:41 AM on January 14

I don't think there's any great solution - for science's sake I've been testing out various masks while running outside. They're all bad in their own way. The moisture from your breath and the sweat from your face build up inside the mask, making it feel very warm. In cotton masks, the fabric soaks through and becomes completely unbreathable. Having a rigid mask like an N95 slows down the process, but you're going to get a lot of moisture buildup both on your face and the mask regardless, and most have lousy breathability. A thin neck gaiter doesn't have most of these problems but it also doesn't do much filtering. An elastomeric mask impedes your vision and is heavy enough to give you a neck ache - and some gyms will complain about the "valves".

If you're going to continue trying this out, you have to make some changes. Reducing the ambient temperature helps a lot. Indoors, you can add more fans pointing at you. Also you need to reduce the intensity of your workout. I saw a heart rate increase of more than 10 beats per second, at the same perceived pace, which changes a "comfortable workout" into an "unmaintainable" one.
posted by meowzilla at 10:02 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I'd like to share my perspective without inviting a pile-on.

Maybe 2% of the people at my gym wear a mask while working out. It's required while you're walking around, which I don't count because it's meaningless theater. They had the same policy circa April 2020, when I found it completely reckless and wore a mask the whole time, to protect myself and others. (I went to the gym because incidence was low, I wore a great mask, and heavy deadlifts are life.)

These days I don't wear a mask at the gym because I can't see the point: I'm enthusiastically vaccinated+boosted, I feel no solidarity for the willingly un-vaccinated (who by definition feel no solidarity for me or society), it's easy to get vaccinated here, I'm not in a group with particular risks, and so my (average) risk tolerance leads me to conclude that I'm not in danger and people around me do not require my protection. I don't know how to say this last part except that I'm not right-wing or some sort of conspiracy nut, and maybe masks aren't as culture-war-coded here in Berlin.

Your risk tolerance is your risk tolerance and I don't know your health situation or the rules or social norms where you are, but that's my experience, maybe it helps you.
posted by daveliepmann at 11:10 AM on January 14

Response by poster: Hello, thank you everyone for your input thus far!

I'm in New York, so it is mandated that you wear a mask in the gym 100% of the time.

I'm thinking the cage apparatus BlahLaLa suggested might be my best bet, but I'll keep reading!
posted by silverstatue at 12:09 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Have you tried a KF94 or something shaped like that? I haven't tried cardio in them but I find them a lot easier to breathe in, in general.
posted by librarina at 1:21 PM on January 14

I asked a question like this (back when we had a different understanding of which masks worked and how), but based on the feedback I tried mask frames, and agree that they help A LOT.
posted by Paper rabies at 8:32 PM on January 14

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