When To Wear A Mask For Running Or Working Out

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Mask wearing is a new part of daily life for many, with masks joining the small list of personal items (keys, wallet, phone) people always check before leaving the house.

Protocols and regulations vary from area to area and may change. The general guidance is to wear masks in enclosed and indoor public areas or anywhere else contact with others (or their aerosolized saliva) within 6 feet can’t be avoided.

Beyond this, there may be some room for interpretation for specific use cases such as running and working out. These can be tricky to navigate, especially as attitudes evolve.

Definitely consult your own doctor, as well as your state and local guidelines for updated and specific information about mask-wearing and COVID-19 transmission. Our recommendations on the subject have more to do with running and workout etiquette than medical advice.
Should I wear a mask while exercising?

According to the CDC, “Masks should be used in public settings, but if you are unable to wear a mask because of difficulty breathing during high intensity activities, choose a location with greater ventilation and air exchange (for instance, outdoors versus indoors) and where you can keep at least 6 feet from others during the activity.”

The World Health Organization has added, “People should NOT wear masks when exercising, as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably. Sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms. The important preventive measure during exercise is to maintain physical distance of at least one meter [~3.3 feet] from others.”

Seems a little contradictory, doesn’t it?

What these organizations agree on is that the safest way to workout is outdoors while maintaining social distance from others. This would imply that avoiding an intrusion of personal space (or breathing recycled air) during runs and workouts may be more important than whether or not you wear a mask.

Outdoor exercise might not be an option in all areas, climates or conditions. In cases where indoor exercise facilities are open to the public, keep safety guidelines in mind. Enclosed, crowded and/or poorly ventilated areas are less safe.

Also, interestingly, the language used by the CDC and WHO with regard to the downsides of mask wearing also include modifier words such as “if” and “may,” as in “if you are unable to wear a mask because of difficulty breathing” and “masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably.”

This could indicate that not every person or every workout will experience breathing efficiency struggles while wearing a mask – or that temporary mask-wearing as a courtesy while momentarily sharing a sidewalk or hiking trail may not unduly impede respiratory safety.

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Running and workout mask-wearing safety versus etiquette

Now that the safety protocols involved in mask-wearing are a little clearer…

Always maintain social distance regardless of whether you wear a mask

Outdoor workouts are safer than workouts in shared enclosed spaces

As long as 1 and 2 are followed rigorously, mask-wearing as a safety protocol is optional, and may in fact cause discomfort

Masks should always be worn in any situation where a 6 foot distance can’t be maintained, and may be required indoors

Suggested guidelines on hand sanitizer and/or hand washing still apply

…we can proceed from safety to protocol (must do) to etiquette (nice to do).
As a rule of etiquette, avoid setting up an outdoor workout station within 6 feet of where others are likely to be. Whether you wear a mask or not, pedestrian or foot traffic through-ways such as public trails and sidewalks aren’t as courteous a place to workout as open fields or more isolated stations.

If you’re running, try to cross the street to avoid intruding on the personal space of other pedestrians and consider masking up whenever crossing paths with another person can’t be avoided.

Masks are said to do more to prevent transmission of coronavirus than ingestion of it, so wearing one in public is both responsible and courteous, even in places where it’s not required – people can only wear their own mask, after all.
How to mask if you must exercise indoors?

Even if allowed by your local regulations, working out in an enclosed space with others can be risky – and isn’t recommended. If for some reason you can’t workout outdoors or in the confines of your own home, keep the following in mind:

  • Always distance yourself from others
  • Consider modifying your workout duration to avoid prolonged exposure to recycled air
  • Try downgrading your workout intensity to allow for mask-wearing without breathing discomfort
  • In any situation where you’re working out while wearing a mask, use cloth masks rather than paper or medical mask options

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How to stay safe and respect others when exercising outdoors?

There are a number of ways to enjoy healthy outdoor exercise while keeping safe and being courteous as possible.

The key to navigating outdoor workouts in the ‘new normal’ is preparation. Here are a few tips that’ll help you feel confident and comfortable while working out outside.

  • Choose your route and stations wisely – Although your favorite running route might have the perfect terrain and picturesque views, if you’ve seen that it’s been jam-packed over the past few months, then it might be time to try a new one. A great way to map out a new route is to walk it first (with a mask handy!) to learn the terrain and find out if there are any hazards along the way. E.g. Are there traffic lights that you’ll need to stop and press? Is there a gate halfway through that others may have touched? Choosing lower-traffic locations will make it easier to socially distance without needing a mask.
  • Timing is key – The same goes here for the timing of your run. If possible, avoid rush hours, such as just before work, just after work, or during lunch. Even though you can cross the street or mask up briefly as a cross-paths courtesy while running, ideally you want your outdoor exercise to be crowd-free so try and avoid those peak times in the day.
  • Wear the correct gear – Preparation can be a huge help at easing your mind and keeping you safe. Opt for workout gear that has zip pockets so you can easily store a travel-sized hand sanitizer, tissues or even a spare mask if you need. That way you can enjoy your outdoor workout without worrying about needing to head home asap to wash your hands. (Which you should still do – but at least hand sanitizer gives you that temporary protection)
    Taking care of your body and mind through exercises such as running, yoga, pilates, cross training, or free weights has never been so important.

If you can do your favorite workouts in your own home, feel free to go for it without a mask. Outdoors is probably fine as long as you bring a courtesy mask and maintain social distance at all times. Indoor public workouts are a riskier option that some communities have nonetheless allowed – if you must partake, tread very carefully.

Think of it as green, yellow, red.

Good luck, stay safe, and happy running. It’s Time to Fly™.