Running with a Mask

Effect on health and performance during the Covid-19 lockdown

Jun 3, 2020 · 4 min read
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We need to accept that we are living in a world where the new normal is to wear a face mask in public. Not to mention many governments worldwide have made this mandatory. Inspired by my partner, I have started my relationship with running during the Covid-19 virus lockdown period and have personally faced this dilemma every time I start a run.

In retrospect, a few months before, the idea of running or exercising with a mask would be frowned upon, but alas, things are what they are now. C’est la vie. That’s life, and we need to make the most of this crisis now.

Should you wear a mask while running?

The above question is what probes the minds of quite many runners nowadays. The answer depends on two aspects primarily:

1. What the local government policies dictate.

2. Chances of running into other people while running.

According to the World Health Organization, it is advisable to wear a clothed face mask each time you step outside to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Wearing a mask is particularly useful in a situation when it is not easy to maintain social distancing measures like in grocery stores and markets. But it is essential to keep in mind that wearing the mask is no substitute to social distancing- make sure to always keep 6 feet distance between yourself and others around you while running.

By and large, the mask becomes necessary if you are running in an urban or crowded setting. However, running in a place where chances of finding another person are next to none, say the countryside, for example, a mask may not be so necessary, as long as you are alert and keep your eyes open for others passing by.

Unfortunately, if you are like me, running inside a city, the mask is quite necessary. This paper published in Nature journal proves scientific evidence that face masks prevent transmission of the coronavirus and influenza from symptomatic individuals.

Running with a mask on

It takes some getting used to.

The struggle here, unlike many things in life, is more in the body than in mind. Honestly, it’s not rocket science. The covering on the face results in a limitation to the intake of air, resulting in the lungs to work harder to get in the oxygen and dispel the carbon dioxide. That being said, we can train the body and specifically our breathing to get used to the mask.

One major drawback of running with a mask is that the area covering the nose and mouth will become damp, less by sweat but more because of the water vapours dispelled out by the air from our lungs. As a result, makes masks less effective. One easy way to counteract this is by nasal breathing. As a general rule, exhaling through the nose creates fewer water vapours in comparison to mouth respiration.

Another advantage of nasal breathing is that our nasal passage offers a natural built-in filtration system. Also, it gives more time to the lungs to take in the oxygen from the air inhaled in.

This article gives a detailed account of the benefits of nasal breathing.

Face mask and hypoxic training myth

Contrary to popular belief, wearing a usual face mask does NOT count as Hypoxic training.

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Elevation Training Mask, Image Credit:,_Air_Forces_Central_force_protection_liaison_officer,_wears_an_elevation_training_mask_to_improve_his_cardio_and_ability_to_endure_higher_altitudes.jpg

Elevation training masks (ETMs) claim to create a hypoxic environment by restricting the oxygen levels in the air that athletes inhale. It is done using adjustable valves in the ETMs. Over some time, the athlete can train themselves to workout with lower oxygen saturation levels and therefore increase their oxygen uptake efficiency (VO2 max).

ETMs are different from the usual face masks or surgical masks. These masks do not change the oxygen saturation levels in the air intake.

That being said, it doesn’t mean there are no benefits to wearing a mask while training.

Wearing a mask means our lungs have to work harder to get the same amount of air inside. In due course of time, this could strengthen the lungs and diaphragm.

“You’re going to give your respiratory system a boost,” said Hannah Daugherty, CPT-NASM and fitness expert.

How to pick the best mask for runs?

Surgical masks, bandana, home-made or store-bought cloth mask, or a Buff, primary lookout while choosing a workout mask are two things- comfort and cleanliness.

The mask should be fit snugly and comfortably around the face, not causing any itch or irritation, and should be clean.

Ideally, if using cloth masks, we should keep more at hand so that they can be used interchangeably to avoid reusing unwashed ones.

Improved Performance

Yes. You will see an improvement in performance when you go back to running without a mask. Similar to a runner running on a flat track after months of running on hills.

Even though the mask may attenuate your performance in the first few days or even weeks, ultimately the body will adapt. The lungs will strengthen, the capillaries in our muscles will increase, and the oxygen utilisation of the body, as a result, will increase too.

If like me, you too are facing difficulties with wearing a mask while running, take heart in the fact that it will be worth it down the line.

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Written by


Engineer by education and profession. Beginner runner. Curious about anything and everything. Always learning.

Runner's Life

Runner's Life is a publication for advice and stories from the intersection of running and life. By runners, for runners.


Written by


Engineer by education and profession. Beginner runner. Curious about anything and everything. Always learning.

Runner's Life

Runner's Life is a publication for advice and stories from the intersection of running and life. By runners, for runners.

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