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Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan did an experiment to find out if wearing a face mask while cycling indoors has an effect on performance or not. The results will be especially interesting to gym owners during the pandemic. Let’s take a closer look at what they found.


Surgical and cloth masks vs no masks

Many countries around the world have made it mandatory to wear face masks in certain situations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan decided to answer the question whether mask wearing during vigorous exercise compromises oxygen uptake or increases the rebreathing of carbon dioxide.

Their study involved physically active and healthy participants, 7 men and 7 women. Each participant went through three identical cycling tests, once wearing a surgical face mask, once wearing a 3-layer cloth face mask, and once with no face mask at all. The researchers controlled for the effects of diet, previous physical activity, and sleep during the 24 hours prior to the test.

Exercising with a face mask
Does wearing a mask affect our athletic performance? © Profimedia

“If people wear face masks during indoor exercise, it might make the sessions safer and allow gyms to stay open during COVID. It might also allow sports to continue, including hockey, where transmission of COVID-19 appears to be high,” said Phil Chilibeck, a co-author of the study.

They measured the participants’ blood and muscle oxygen levels

The test itself was conducted on a stationary bike. It consisted of a warm-up after which the resistance was gradually increased and the participants had to maintain a constant pedal rate. Once they could not sustain the pedal rate the test was over. Researchers recorded the participants’ blood oxygen levels and muscle oxygen levels throughout the test using non-invasive measurement tools.

“Usually a participant reaches exhaustion on this test in 6-12 minutes depending on their fitness level,” said Chilibeck.

Tour de France Race
“When expressed relative to peak exercise performance, no differences were evident between wearing or not wearing a mask,” the study concluded. © Profimedia

No negative effects on performance!

The study concluded that wearing a face mask during vigorous exercise had no discernible negative effect on blood or muscle oxygenation, heart rate, perceived exertion, and exercise performance in young, healthy people.

“Our findings are of importance because they indicate that people can wear face masks during intense exercise with no detrimental effects on performance and minimal impact on blood and muscle oxygenation. This is important when fitness centres open up during COVID-19 since respiratory droplets may be propelled further with heavy breathing during vigorous exercise and because of reports of COVID-19 clusters in crowded enclosed exercise facilities,” the researchers stated.