The beauty of the human body is that it adapts to new challenges. So over time, the additional intensity won’t be as noticeable. “Exercising regularly can take a few weeks, but at some point you will feel more comfortable exercising with a mask,” says Dr. Sulapas.
Still, it’s important to listen to your body: if you feel lightheaded, dizzy, or excessively tired, take a break and remove your mask from others, says Bryant.
Certain pre-existing conditions can make training in a mask potentially dangerous. People with respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should consult their doctor before exercising with a mask, says Dr. Sulapas. The same goes for anyone with a cardiovascular disease like heart disease or angina, says Bryant. In these situations, if your doctor has advised you not to wear a mask while exercising, Bryant recommends staying at home or in an outdoor environment that has adequate ventilation so you can maintain a reasonable social distance.
There are a few simple adjustments you can make to get a great workout out of a mask.
First, start by shifting your thinking from performance-related goals – like, “I will drive an average of 9 minutes for 3 miles” – to process-related goals where only something is the goal (like “I will be moving for 30 minutes”) says Bryant.
“You want to think about establishing a regular habit instead of focusing so much on intensity or performance,” he says. If you focus on the process, you can build a solid foundation without the pressure to perform at a certain level.
2. Choose the correct mask.
Bryant suggests finding a face mask that is breathable and won’t get wet and damp if you sweat and breathe heavily during exercise. (You can also bring an extra mask to swap the wet one. You can bring a hand sanitizer to clean your hands before changing.) “Many fitness brands are now developing face masks that are a little more comfortable for athletes,” he says Athleta, Beyond Yoga and Under Armor. You may also want a gaiter mask that is easy to pull down when you are not around and can take a short break (see our mask recommendations for running in the Free.)
3. Start slowly and gradually build up intensity.
Bryant suggests focusing on low to medium intensity workouts initially, where you can still speak fairly comfortably. This is especially true if you haven’t been exercising regularly for a while, but also for those who are used to working out a mask without higher intensity. (This goes for your warm up, too – you definitely want to start any workout easily.)
As you become more accustomed to the mask and feel ready for a greater cardiovascular challenge, add in short intervals where you press harder. “Do a quick lap of vigorous work and then give yourself time to recover,” says Bryant. In time, you will be ready to step up the intensity of these intervals a little more each time. These intervals can also be slower or less intense than you are used to – and that is completely normal.
4. Keep track of your heart rate.
If you typically use an activity tracker during exercise, you may have an idea of what your “normal” heart rate is for certain activities. If so, you can use this to know when to call back.
A heart rate that is a few beats per minute faster than usual can be a sign of lowering the intensity, shortening the duration of your overall workout, or increasing the rest of your intervals, says Richards.
5. When it comes to cardio, focus on endurance and speed.
You probably won’t be able to run at the pace you would if you weren’t wearing a mask, says Bryant. And that’s fine. But instead of focusing on reaching a specific time goal, now may be a good time to focus on improving your endurance – running at a constant moderate pace for a set amount of time.