Wearing of Cloth or Disposable Surgical Face Masks has no Effect on Vigorous Exercise Performance in Healthy Individuals

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov 3;17(21):8110. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17218110.


Wearing face masks is recommended for the prevention of contracting or exposing others to cardiorespiratory infections, such as COVID-19. Controversy exists on whether wearing face masks during vigorous exercise affects performance. We used a randomized, counterbalanced cross-over design to evaluate the effects of wearing a surgical mask, a cloth mask, or no mask in 14 participants (7 men and 7 women; 28.2 ± 8.7 y) during a cycle ergometry test to exhaustion. Arterial oxygen saturation (pulse oximetry) and tissue oxygenation index (indicator of hemoglobin saturation/desaturation) at vastus lateralis (near-infrared spectroscopy) were assessed throughout the exercise tests. Wearing face masks had no effect on performance (time to exhaustion (mean ± SD): no mask 622 ± 141 s, surgical mask 657 ± 158 s, cloth mask 637 ± 153 s (p = 0.20); peak power: no mask 234 ± 56 W, surgical mask 241 ± 57 W, cloth mask 241 ± 51 W (p = 0.49)). When expressed relative to peak exercise performance, no differences were evident between wearing or not wearing a mask for arterial oxygen saturation, tissue oxygenation index, rating of perceived exertion, or heart rate at any time during the exercise tests. Wearing a face mask during vigorous exercise had no discernable detrimental effect on blood or muscle oxygenation, and exercise performance in young, healthy participants (ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT04557605).

Keywords: COVID-19; coronavirus; maximal oxygen uptake; near-infrared spectroscopy; pandemic; physical activity; pulse oximetry.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Exercise Test
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Masks / classification*
  • Oximetry
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT04557605