Anyone who’s set out for a heart-pumping run, bike ride, or hike as of late knows how hard it is to perform with a face covering on—enter: the best masks to workout in. The right fabric, fit, and design make all the difference when breaking a sweat, not only in terms of function and comfort but the safety of yourself and others.
“Wearing a face mask is essential for the prevention of the spread of SARS-Cov-2. Finding ways to safely and comfortably wear a face mask while exercising is also important,” says Cordelia W. Carter, MD, FAAOS, FAOA, an Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the NYU School of Medicine, Director of Women’s Sports Medicine Center for NYU Langone Health, and the Team Physician for the US Ski and Snowboarding Association.
According to Dr. Carter, a secure-fitting mask from nose to chin is most important when working out. “Fit and breathability are key,” she explains. As for masks that move around and require continual adjustments, she says, “[they] undermine the goal of preventing the release and inhalation of respiratory droplets, which impairs their effectiveness in preventing viral spread.”
Material is another key factor, but Dr. Carter warns of synthetic or “hi-tech” performance fabrics, like spandex and lycra. “I tried running over the summer in a mask made from swimsuit material. It did fit well and didn’t lose its shape with washing, but it would get soaked with sweat, and I then couldn’t breathe through the added moisture.” Instead, masks made from cotton or other higher thread count fabrics like breathable polyester are the safest per the MD—they offer higher filtration efficiency to more effectively block the transmission of viral particles. Dr. Carter also recommends multi-layer masks over single-ply styles and says to avoid non-breathable materials like plastic, leather when exercising.
As for a major don’t? Masks with valves. Dr. Carter explains: “This feature undermines the purpose of the mask, which is to prevent the release of potentially virus-containing respiratory droplets into the air.”
If you’re wondering whether or not working out in a mask affects performance, Dr. Carter says there have been a few studies, but little data shows unfavorable effects. An MDPI study resulted in no difference in peak power, time to exhaustion, oxygen saturation, heart rate, or perceived exertion. “They concluded that ‘wearing a face mask during vigorous exercise had no discernable detrimental effect on blood or muscle oxygenation, and exercise performance in young, healthy participants,’” Dr. Carter explains. “Go ahead and mask up! I’d recommend a three-ply cotton mask that is well-fitted for working out, and I’d bring an extra one in case it gets wet.”
Keep scrolling to shop 25 of the best masks to workout in, taking Dr. Carter’s advice into account, plus rave-reviews from the shopping community.