Annabel investigates… Does wearing a face mask affect the way you exercise? 

Over the last two years, due to the increase in Covid-19, mask wearing has been mandated around the world. Masks were/are required to be worn in many public spaces, in workplaces, and during physical activity. The impact of wearing face masks during physical activity were not well researched, in addition the physiological impact of wearing cloth face masks during such activities also.


Today, Annabel and the Longevity Exercise Physiology teams at Drummoyne, EdgecliffMarrickvilleBella VistaRandwick, PymbleBalmain and Neutral Bay are going investigate the potential impacts and benefits that wearing a face mask can have on an individual participating in physical activity.



Since the start of Covid-19, there’s been debates over how safe it is to wear a mask while exercising. There have been many concerns surrounding the effect that wearing a face mask can have on performance in interfering with a person’s breathing. We know that gyms and other enclosed spaces are areas of high spread of Covid-19, and this is a large advantage as to why an individual should consider wearing a face mask when exercising in a public space such as a gym. This blog will examine a few studies that have investigated the effectiveness of face masks while exercising and the consequences of mask wearing, or if it can enhance an individual’s performance levels especially when completing high intensity exercise.


A research article authoring by Keely Shaw, specifically delved into the comparisons on certain outcomes between wearing disposable surgical face masks during exercise and wearing no face masks.

It concluded that there were no significant differences in any of the outcome measures including time to exhaustion, peak heart rate, Rating of Perceived Exertion levels (RPE), oxygen saturation, or peak power when comparing the two groups (Shaw et al. 2020).

When looking at the practical side to this evidence, wearing a face mask has more benefits when exercising in settings where individuals might be vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, such as enclosed gyms. Given that exercise should be encouraged for everyone during COVID-19 to reduce many of the risk factors (i.e., obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure) that are associated with the worst COVID-19 outcomes, masks should be considered when exercising.


Another study, in the European Respiratory Journal supported the aforementioned findings, identifying there are no adverse health effects associated with mask-wearing while exercising, and that exercise performance is only slightly hindered by wearing a face mask (Mapelli et al., 2021). Ventilation limitation was far from being reached, and this journal recognised that they are safe even during maximal exercise.


Conversely, an article from the British Journal of Sports Medicine which investigated the performance, and physiological and perceptual responses of individuals exercising while wearing a face mask. Contrary to the above articles, it suggested that participating in physical activity while wearing a face mask negatively impacts exercise performance. It concluded that cloth face masks reduced exercise time by 14% and maximal oxygen consumption by 29%. Compared with no mask, participants reported feeling increasingly short of breath and claustrophobic at higher exercise intensities while wearing a cloth face mask.


These results may be attributed to termination of exercise due to perceived discomfort associated with mask-wearing.


This can impact individuals’ levels of training so should therefore be modified during bouts of physical activity to compensate for clients wearing face masks (Driver et al., 2021).


To summarise, the above studies are variable in their conclusions, although sieving through the practical advice, when participating in moderate to vigorous physical activity, face masks are recommended to reduce the spread of Covid-19.


Due to the non-significant differences in performance between individuals wearing face masks and not wearing anything at all, we recommend wearing a face mask while exercising and modifying intensities and rest as required.


If you want to start an exercise program in a safe environment where our Exercise Physiologists are the leaders in return to exercise post Covid-19, call Longevity Exercise Physiology Edgecliff, Pymble, Marrickville, Randwick, Drummoyne, Balmain, Bella Vista, and Neutral Bay on 1300 964 002 to book in a session today!


Written by Annabel Bergman



Driver, S., Reynolds, M., Brown, K., Vingren, J., Hill, D., & Bennett, M. et al. (2021). Effects of wearing a cloth face mask on performance, physiological and perceptual responses during a graded treadmill running exercise test. British Journal Of Sports Medicine56(2), 107-113. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-103758

Mapelli, M., Salvioni, E., De Martino, F., Mattavelli, I., Gugliandolo, P., & Vignati, C. et al. (2021). “You can leave your mask on”: effects on cardiopulmonary parameters of different airway protective masks at rest and during maximal exercise. European Respiratory Journal, 58(3), 2004473. doi: 10.1183/13993003.04473-2020

Shaw, K., Butcher, S., Ko, J., Zello, G., & Chilibeck, P. (2020). Wearing of Cloth or Disposable Surgical Face Masks has no Effect on Vigorous Exercise Performance in Healthy Individuals. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health17(21), 8110. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17218110

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