Young athletic masked man lifting weights in a gym.

How to adapt your workout while wearing a mask

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If you’re used to blasting away on the treadmill at a 5.0 speed and at least that much of an incline, you might need to re-think your workout when you return to the gym.

With gyms and fitness centers reopening, it’s important to wear masks when physical distancing of six feet cannot be maintained.

Advice from an expert

Johnna Steller, a respiratory therapist with OSF HealthCare, said people who plan to exercise at an indoor facility need to realize they should be masked to protect others. That said, she warns even those who are extremely fit need to realize they will have to alter their intensity.

“When your muscles burn they create lactic acid and the lactic acid turns into Co2 so that Co2 is going to increase more if you’re doing a higher level of intensity of exercise,” Stellar explains.

Taking in more Co2 can have some bad side effects.

“You could get light-headed. You could get dizzy. You could even become confused if it’s for a long period of time,” she said.

Education needed

Steller said gyms and fitness centers need to educate clients not to overreact when they’re having difficulty breathing.

“They could just want to pull the mask down and not recognize the fact they shouldn’t be doing that. Instead, they should be slowing down, stopping, catching their breath, and then going on,” she said.

Adjust your workout

Athletic young masked woman riding an exercise bike in gym.

The best advice from Steller – begin at a lower level than what you’re used to and then increase exertion. As you continue, always keep an eye on your heart rate.

Many people who are regulars at their gym take pride in their fitness levels so Steller said the staff will need to remind them it’s OK to workout at a lower-level of intensity.

“They need to be reminded that this doesn’t mean they’re weaker. It doesn’t mean their fitness level is less,” she said. “It just means that it’s different and as far as burning calories, usually when you are breathing heavier and your heart rate is going up – which will happen while with the mask – you’re probably going to burn more calories.”

Consult your doctor

Individuals with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions should make sure to monitor their heart rate while exercising with a mask. Stellar said individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), asthma, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis and any other lung condition should consult (via virtual visit or in person) with a medical professional for personal instructions.

Additional tips

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has some additional tips for exercising with a mask:

  • Make sure your mask is big enough to cover your nose and face for proper protection.
  • The mask should feel comfortable and snug around your cheeks and nose. Try not to fidget with the mask while you are working out.
  • If the mask restricts your breathing prior to exercise, it will not be good to wear during exercise.
  • The advantage of a cloth mask is that it can be washed. Exercise enthusiasts who exercise regularly are encouraged to have a few masks so there is a clean, dry mask ready for each workout. Any laundry detergent will be fine for washing cloth face masks.
  • If you tend to sweat a lot during your workout, perhaps bring a second mask with you and replace when it becomes damp. It is best to replace a damp mask (from workout sweat or outdoor humidity).

About Author: Colleen Reynolds

Colleen Reynolds is a Media Relations Coordinator and joined OSF HealthCare in July of 2018.
She spent many years as an award-winning reporter for WJBC and WGLT Radio in Bloomington-Normal and remains active in supporting journalism as vice president of the Foundation for the Illinois News Broadcasters Association.
Colleen lives in Bloomington, IL, and is also an active member of the McLean County League of Women Voters where she manages the organization’s Facebook page and works to coordinate educational and voter outreach programming.

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Categories: COVID-19, Diet & Exercise