How To Workout With a Mask
On Friday the State of Connecticut mandated that all fitness centers must have participants wear a mask the entire time they are in the facility in order to help reduce the spread of COVID.
This blog will give you a better understanding of how to breathe with a mask on while working out, and give a few recommendations on what masks are working well for others.
First, Control Your Mindset.
Which group are you in?
"Oh man, this sucks, it is going to be so hard to breathe, how can they even expect us to workout! I'm going to lose all my progress or suffocate in the process!"
"This is not ideal, but at least the gym is still open and having classes. Breathing will be harder, but I will adjust, and I will become better at breathing, and therefore, a better athlete, when this is all said and done. It is temporary discomfort for long term progress!"
Mindset matters. Be positive.
Second, Control Your Breathing Technique.
During high intensity exercise, most athletes think about breathing last. It is just something that happens, a natural body function, not something that they are mindful of and are controlling. They are busy thinking about the exercise they are doing, how many reps they need to do, what's next, how much time is left, etc.
Experienced athletes focus on breathing FIRST. Everything about their breathing is controlled. Big deep breath in, big deep breath out. Then they focus on the movement, the reps, and the time.
Two tips here:
1) Try to breathe in for 2 seconds, and out for 2 seconds, as opposed to short fast tiny breaths. If you can do 3 in and 3 out, even better! This applies even during the most intense workouts with very high heart rates!
2) Breathe DOWN with your diaphragm. A good breathing technique has the belly being pushed out. A poor breathing technique has the chest pushed out.
If you want to practice breathing outside of working out in a mask, I recommend yoga or romwod. Both have instructed breathing during the stretches. For example, they would say: "Breathe in for 1, 2, 3, 4 ... and out for 4, 3, 2, 1." Proper breathing is very much a skill, especially when done in elevated heart rate conditions. I'm sure there are also a host of apps that can help you improve your breath.
Last tip - a simple drill you can do anytime is called box breathing. I learned it in Navy SEAL training to help lower my heart rate before doing an underwater drill. Breathe in for 5 seconds through your nose. Hold for 5 seconds. Breathe out for 5 seconds through your nose. Hold for 5 seconds. Then repeat. See how long you can maintain this pattern for. A good goal is 5 minutes! [You can also do this drill with 3 seconds, 4 seconds, etc to make it a little easier]
Lastly, Control Your Pace
Your breathing demand is a byproduct of your effort. The harder you work, the greater the demand for oxygen, the more your body wants you to breathe.
As you adjust to working out in a mask, one of the best practices is simply to slow your pace to reduce the oxygen demand. As you get used to the mask, you can start to speed up again.
While this may seem not ideal, I would refer you back to the first point of controlling your mindset and being positive. If you are going slower in order to keep your breathing under control, this gives you time to master the movements. Practice more technique. Find that mind-muscle connection you've been missing on your squats. Try to learn that kipping motion on your toes to bar. If there has ever been a time to slow down and practice, this is it!
What Are Some Good Mask Options?
As this is all new to so many, companies are just rolling out new versions of masks for working out. Many are sold out. Most have delays in shipping. The best I've heard about so far is the Under Armour mask, as it has a "peaked" shape which keeps the cloth away from the mouth and "gives room". This list is very preliminary, and I would expect a lot of progress to be made in workout masks in the next month or so. As we learn more, we'll post updates.