If you’re someone who likes to run or bike, you’ve probably been searching for a mask that allows you to work out comfortably and safely in the midst of the pandemic.
That can be a tough find, because most fitness masks currently on the market aren’t designed to filter out particles, but rather to simulate low oxygen levels to help train for running at high altitudes and improve cardiorespiratory fitness. Now, Reebok is working on masks to address the current need for facial coverings that won’t interfere with performance—but it’s also thinking way into the future about how fitness masks will look decades from now.
Some experts believe that rising pollution levels, coupled with more frequent pandemics, could make masks part of our workouts long after the current crisis has passed.
“This is the new normal unfortunately,” says Don Albert, head of Reebok’s European innovation lab, known as the Creation Center. “In many parts of the world, particularly Asia, people regularly wear masks to exercise outside. The coronavirus is just increasing the need for masks.”
Albert and his team have sketched out three prototypes for masks that would protect athletes from dangerous particles in the atmosphere while also capturing information about the wearer’s oxygen levels and other vitals so they can increase their performance. For now, the team is still in the early stages of design, but these masks offer a glimpse into our dystopian future. “This was really an exercise in imagining what the future of fitness will look like,” says Albert. “What if we could create a mask that people don’t just have to wear, but actually want to wear?”
Here’s an exclusive first look at the renderings Reebok has created of three futuristic fitness masks.
The Sensorial Mask
This mask looks most akin to the kind we see around us now. But while most masks obscure the face, this one has a clear screen around the mouth. Reebok user research has found that people see sports as a social endeavor, and, as a result, they like being able to express their emotions and see others’ faces as well. This mask filters out particles but also allows the wearer to communicate with those around them. Albert envisions this mask being equipped with sensors that track the wearer’s heart rate and breathing rate, which would be captured in an app.
The Immersion Mask
This mask is the oddest-looking. It involves a clear shield that goes across the entire face and includes a hood and a respirator to offer complete coverage. You could imagine using this somewhere you might be exposed to hazardous chemicals but still wanted to get in a good run. It’s designed to offer the wearer a lot of protection from the elements, while also allowing them to breathe freely, thanks to the respirator.
The coverage on this mask also means that it has the potential to offer the most data, since it will have sensors throughout the face and head areas. Albert envisions this mask paired with an app to help the wearer improve their performance at whatever activity they’re doing. It could also adjust the conditions inside the mask, from the temperature to the oxygen levels.
Albert says it might feel hot in warm climates, so it would be better for temperature-controlled spaces where you might be worried about getting infected (again, these are extreme situations he’s considering). And while the mask looks strange to us, it might not appear so in a world where everybody is used to wearing masks all the time. “There are cultural norms around wearing masks,” says Albert. “In the future, as more people wear masks, it won’t look so strange to us.”
The Symbiosis Mask
Albert says this is the most ambitious of the masks. It involves a respirator embedded with organic matter—such as algae or moss—that would purify the air by taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen. In this case, the mask would also filter out dangerous particles, for instance, viruses. “We’ve already seen how algae is used to purify polluted air, so we think this could be a natural purification system on a mask,” Albert says.
While Reebok isn’t actively working to produce any of these masks, Albert believes these renderings might inform how the company thinks about masks going forward. After all, the current crisis has made it clear that sports brands are going to have to invest in fitness masks in the years to come. In the future Albert envisions, a mask might be a prerequisite to working out.