Worried about running with a mask on? Here’s what you need to know

If the warm weather has you itching to exercise outside, make sure you’re doing it safely.

Worried about running with a mask on? Here’s what you need to know
[Photo: Kemal Yildirim/Getty Images]

Getting exercise outdoors is one of the few pleasant escapes we’ve had while stuck at home. A long bike ride, a run on a nearby trail, or a brisk walk around your neighborhood can go a long way to making you feel happier and less anxious, provided you stay at least 6 feet away from others.


But as the weather gets nicer, there’s a good chance that outdoor spaces will become increasingly packed with people who have the same idea. It may be impossible to keep the required distance between you and others. The CDC recommends—and many states require—that people keep their faces covered with a cloth mask when they’re not able to practice social distancing. If you’re exploring options for wearing a mask during an outdoor workout, here are some things to keep in mind.

Start small

If wearing a mask on a quick trip to the grocery store feels uncomfortable, wearing one over your nose and mouth while exercising can be even more cumbersome. Give yourself time to get used to the mask and don’t push yourself too hard out of the gate. Runners say wearing a mask while working out is a strange experience and that even the best masks limit your airflow, making it harder to breathe. (Notably, this is not the same as hypoxic training, which prepares athletes for high altitudes by restricting the amount of oxygen in the air they breathe. Masks restrict the overall amount of air you’re able to take into your lungs.) Some experts recommend going on a trial run with a mask close to your home and stopping if you feel lightheaded.

Keep it clean

Working out with a mask can decrease its effectiveness. Doctors say masks are likely to increase the production of nasal mucus and drool, which can be unhygienic, since the moisture can create an environment for bacteria to thrive. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, say masks shouldn’t be worn when damp, partly because it makes it easier for microbes to penetrate the material. Be mindful of this if you’re running in a crowded area, and make sure to wash the mask after each use to keep it clean.

[Photo: Robi_J/iStock]

Be flexible

Depending on where you live, try to plan your workouts so that you encounter the least amount of people. If it’s a secluded trail or a quiet street, you can wear a covering around your neck and pull it up as you near others. If this isn’t possible and you don’t feel safe exercising outdoors in a mask, it might be better to try an at-home workout until conditions improve.

Make a DIY mask

If you decide to make your own mask, pick one that provides a good fit around your face and is made of breathable material. Since you’ll be in motion, you should make a mask with elastic bands so it stays on your face while you’re running. Don’t use a design that incorporates a pocket for a filter because this will likely impede your breathing even further.


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If you’re looking for a commercially available option, many runners and some doctors recommend using a “buff” or “gaiter.” This is a stretchy tube made from polyester and elastane that’s commonly used as a headband or scarf while hiking or exercising, but can also be used as a face covering. You’d wear it on your neck or forehead, then pull it over your mouth and nose when running in crowded places or passing people. The good thing about a buff is that it’s made from temperature-regulating fabrics that make the wearer feel cool. The downside is that it is not specifically designed to prevent droplets from leaving the wearer’s mouth and nose, so it tends to create gaps around the bridge of the nose.

Use a performance mask

Another option is to buy a mask that’s custom made for working out, although there aren’t many on the market right now. One brand, Zensah, has created a $16 mask that’s popular with runners because the straps are designed to stay on your face. The mask is made from a breathable material that is contoured to your face and the fabric is antimicrobial. It’s currently sold out, but the brand says it’s making more.

About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts