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

Shaw K, Butcher S, Ko J, Zello GA, Chilibeck PD. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov 3;17(21):8110. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17218110.
Full Article Freely Available

Take-Home Message

Wearing cloth or surgical masks had no discernable effect on performance nor blood or muscle oxygenation among healthy young adults during a maximal stationary bicycle exercise test. These findings support the use of masks during physical activity to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.


The Center for Disease Control COVID-19 guidelines advise individuals to wear masks in public spaces to mitigate the coronavirus’s spread. However, it is unclear how wearing a mask during physical activity would affect athletic performance and the body’s response to exercise.

Study Goal

The authors conducted a randomized cross-over study to assess how wearing no mask, cloth mask, and surgical mask during a progressive cycle ergometry test (a maximal effort exercise test to exhaustion) affected test performance and physiological response to exercise among 14 (7 female, 7 male) healthy young and physically active adults.


Participants completed the vigorous physical exercise protocol on three separate occasions with at least 48 hours between visits to complete all of the masked conditions in random order. The investigators assessed time to exhaustion and peak power as indicators of test performance. They also collected rating of perceived exertion, heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, and tissue oxygenation index through Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) at the thigh as indicators of response to exercise.


The authors found no differences across any of the masked and no mask conditions for test performance, nor for the body’s response to exercise.


Overall, healthy young adults experienced no impaired performance nor response to exercise by wearing masks during this maximal cycling testing protocol. These findings support the use of masks during physical activity without hindering athletic performance nor creating physiological disturbances. This study complements a previous study that had a similar outcome among healthy young adults. As gyms re-open and athletics attempt to ramp up activity safely, implementing masks during activities is essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19 until a vaccine can become widely available and accessible. Athletes, coaches, and health care providers should be encouraged that masks can safely be implemented into activities. It is key to note that the athletes included in this study were younger and adults without any health conditions, and therefore the results of this study may not translate to other populations. For example, authors of another study and a review article noted that people with obstructive lung diseases like asthma and heart diseases should undergo meticulous evaluation before resuming/starting physical activity with a mask.

Clinical Implications

Clinicians should encourage people to exercise with widely-endorsed protective equipment to promote health and physical.

Questions for Discussion

What is your personal experience with wearing masks during physical exercise? Have you helped and encouraged athletes that you worked with to wear masks during sports?

Related Posts

  1. Safe to Exhale? Exercising with a Face Mask
  2. Cardiopulmonary Considerations for High School Student-Athletes During the COVID-19 Pandemic: NFHS-AMSSM Guidance Statement
  3. Return to sports after COVID-19: a position paper from the Dutch Sports Cardiology Section of the Netherlands Society of Cardiology

Written by: Alexandra F. DeJong
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban

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