How to Hack Face Masks for Cardio Workouts

Mar 22, 2021

People at all levels of athletics, from professional athletes to amateur, and even the average Joe gym-goer are always looking to find new devices and techniques to get a little more out of their workouts. Since many of us have to wear masks to work out now, it’s worth figuring out how to make the mask work for us.

Lean Into the Extra Strain

Many people find that wearing a face mask for working out leads to restricted, labored breathing. That can mean more stress on the body and may affect your results. However, this doesn’t have to affect your cardio gains.

Treat the mask as a tool, rather than a hindrance. It’s like doing a regular sprint versus a parachute sprint. Both are effective ways to improve, but they take different approaches, and training both can make you a more well-rounded athlete.

If your breathing is more restricted you may not be able to run quite as far or as fast as you normally do. Of course, a Covid mask isn’t as restrictive as an elevation mask (but it also doesn’t look as silly). 

Still, the added strain can help you reach target heart rate levels and physical strains sooner. That means, even if you’re going a little slower and for less time, you may actually be increasing the total time that you’re at optimum training heart rates. It’s not unlike using time under tension (TUT) training for weightlifting. In TUT, you lift less weight but you spend more time under strain helping with rapid muscle development.

Change How You Track Progress

Because doing cardio with a face mask isn’t quite the same experience, you may need to change how you track it. Some common ways to track progress include time, distance, and/or speed. Any of these are effective in normal conditions. But, if the gym mask is increasing strain they can be disheartening and misleading numbers to look at.

Instead, consider paying more attention to your heart rate. You still want to stick to normal time frames (typically 15-30 minutes, 10-20 minutes for beginners) to get the cardio benefits. However, during this time track ignore speed and distance in favor of heart rate. 

Morgoth666, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Generally, you want to stay around 70% for cardio training. A heart rate estimated can be found by using your age group in the above chart. If you prefer HIIT training, aim for 80-95% during the high-intensity interval and 40-50% during the recovery interval.

Smartwatches, treadmills, and heart rate devices can provide you with pretty accurate heart rate reads. This can allow you to monitor your progress in the context of your heart rate. As a result, you have a more accurate representation of how far you pushed yourself and can do a better job of staying in optimal cardio zones. Even after you no longer need a mask for the gym, this is a great way to continue tracking progress.

Find A More Comfortable Face Mask

Most runners will find that the effects of wearing a face mask to work out aren’t too extreme. It can be a shock the first few times but quickly normalizes. Most people adapt relatively quickly and the impact on their performance decreases within the first few weeks. 

As well, contrary to popular myth a recent study found that mask-wearing during exercise does not increase carbon dioxide uptake/hypercapnic hypoxia risk. There is no need to seek out a mask that is especially restrictive as the overall difference is minimal. Instead, you want to find something that offers protection while still being a comfortable, breathable mask.

One of the best ways to achieve this is using a face mask insert. The insert is reusable and fits inside of your favorites masks. This changes the shape, allowing it to fit more comfortably on your face, while also improving air circulation. As a result, you get all the protection of your normal mask without humid, recycled air, and fabric sucking into your mouth during heavy breathing. The PowerAir breathable mask insert is adjustable to fit your unique facial features, ensuring comfort and safety.

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