Our New Obstacle: Training With a Mask
Well folks, we’ve hit a new milestone. We are now entering phase 4 here in Illinois. Hooray!! For many of us, that means we may indeed be able to return to work. And for many, it will also mean returning to the gym. While some gyms are choosing to wait even longer to reopen, many others, including my own, are opening to limited capacity. Obviously in this new normal we can expect things to be very different when we return. The biggest change that most of us can expect is the mandatory rule of having face masks in order to gain access to the gym. I know that training with a face mask sounds horrible, but it is a fate that we must accept if we want to be responsible and abide by the new rules of the gym. I can tell you from personal experience, it’s not enjoyable. It is more difficult. That being said, it’s not impossible. However, there are certain factors to keep in mind when wearing a face mask while training.
1. Underlying health concerns. People with underlying cardiorespiratory illnesses must get medical clearance from their doctor before attempting to train with a mask on. Make no mistake, the lungs will have to work harder in this new normal. For certain people, training with a mask may indeed be contraindicated. Please don’t risk it. Get your doctor’s approval!
2. Unrealistic expectations. It’s important to keep in mind that when we do finally return to the gym, we will not just be able to jump right back in where we left off, especially if you haven’t been working out at home. If you have been working out at home, that’s great! You’ll be better prepared. But you still won’t be completely prepared. Training with a mask is a new obstacle. The exercise will feel more difficult. So, if you were squatting 300lbs before, I would definitely recommend starting back in with a much lighter weight load. The best way to overcome a new obstacle is to attack it gradually, not full force or all at once. That is a sure-fire way to cause harm. Please use caution and go slow!
3. Listen to your body. More than ever before, it is going to be extremely important in this new normal to listen to your own body’s rate of perceived exertion (RPE). In other words, you must pay attention to how you are feeling physically. Since the mask is a new barrier that we must work with, your body is going to respond differently to exercise. You may get tired faster. You may need longer rest period between sets. You may need to limit the time of your workout in the beginning. There may even be certain high intensity exercises that you will need to avoid for a while, until your body begins to adapt to the new challenge that’s being put on it. Remember, with the mask, your body is not getting as much oxygen as it was before. That’s a big deal. And it may affect everyone differently. Some people may adapt quickly, while for others it may take a long time. If you are struggling, please do not try to force your way through the workout, especially if you begin to feel sick. If you start to feel light headed or dizzy, please stop the workout or at least bring it down to lighter level. And if you feel that you are struggling too much for air, go outside, remove your mask, and breathe deeply for a while. Please, please, please listen to your body and give it a rest when it asks for it.
4. Obey the rules. There will most likely be some people who will be tempted to take their mask off when they return to the gym. Please don’t! I could go into a long tirade about how irresponsible that would be, but the simple fact of the matter is that you would not only be causing a potential health threat, but you could also be putting the gym in danger of being shut down! As someone who works in the fitness industry, I would be deeply upset about that, as would the many responsible members of the gym. The government is taking these rules very seriously, so we should too. I think we can all agree that gyms closing would be a terrible thing. It kind of makes wearing face mask seem small, don’t you think? It’s also important to follow the other new rules of the gym such as practicing social distancing, sanitizing equipment before and after use, and always following strict self-cleansing measures. Wash those hands!
5. Our future bodies. While wearing a face mask is irritating, we should take comfort in the fact that there will be a reward for it one day. Since our bodies will be so adapted to exercising with less oxygen, we are going to feel like super heroes when we finally take those masks off. Our lungs and cardiorespiratory fitness will indeed be stronger. Our bodies will be stronger too. And that will be a great thing. What can I say, I always like to end on a positive note.
Stay strong my friends, and stay healthy!
Michael Elder is a former competitive gymnast and has been working in the fitness industry since 1998. He is certified as a personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). He can be contacted by email: MichaelElderFitness@gmail.com. He can also be reached through his Facebook business page, Michael Elder: Certified Fitness Professional, or through his website: MichaelElder.com. He is currently available for one on one training sessions.