A cyclist wears a mask as well as a helmet in Portland on Nov. 6. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, Maine now requires masks to be worn in gyms, according to an executive order by Gov. Janet Mills issued on November 5. Choosing a mask for exercising can be challenging because you are sweating and moving.

Whatever mask you choose should have at least two layers of tightly woven material, Josh Bridges, assistant director for fitness, wellness and instructional programs at the University of Maine, said. Disposable masks, he said, are generally made of at least three layers of synthetic fabric, so those qualify as well.

“Disposable masks are supposed to be water-resistant but your mileage may vary on that,” Bridges said. “I’ve seen some that were clearly soaked after a workout.”

Once you have found an effective mask with the right number of layers, you can branch out a little in terms of materials. Amy Dalrymple, owner of CrossFit Breakwater in Ellsworth, said that any sort of polyester or mesh material will be the easiest to workout in.

“Under Armour and Athleta make the best workout masks, and surgical masks are also pretty great,” Dalrymple said. “Masks are definitely better than a gaiter because they stay in place while working out.”

“Neck gaiters have been shown to be worse than wearing nothing because they aerosolize the particles, even if doubled up,” Bridges added.

Certain styles of mask stay in place during a workout better than others, too.

“Pleated fabric masks with a strong nose wire seem to stay in place the best,” Bridges said. “The pleats allow the mask to give while your chin is moving as you talk or breathe out through your mouth.”

Terry Lacy, partner and founder of Om Land Yoga in Bangor, Brewer and Orono, said that perhaps the most important aspect is a secure nose wire. His favorite mask to use while doing yoga or even teaching is a handmade one with a florist wire in the nose.

“It feels more secure,” Lacy said. “I don’t feel like I have to worry about adjusting it so much through the process of teaching or doing yoga.”

In that vein, Lacy said that adjustable ear straps are highly advantageous.

“You can adjust instantaneously how tight or loose you want them,” Lacy said. “That makes a huge difference, having that extra bit of adjustability.”

The best mask might also depend on the exercise you are doing.

“Yoga doesn’t move fast, the movements aren’t huge,” Lacy said. “It’s really a lot different than someone who is running. We all wear different clothing to do different types of exercise, masks are the same. You find what works best for different moments.”

Bring several masks along to a work out to figure out what works best for you for that kind of exercise that you are doing. It may take some experimentation to figure out which one will be best.

“It’s just a matter of getting used to it,” Lacy said. “Everyone is experimenting because every mask type fits a little bit differently.”

Even if you have found a mask that you like, Bridges also said that it’s a good idea to have a back-up mask for workouts.

“Exercise masks can get moved around and elastic ties can sometimes break, which would be a problem mid workout,” Bridges said. “A Velcro strap around the back of the head might be more useful for high intensity exercise. Having a second mask for just such an instant is a good idea, as well as having a mask to change into after your workout.”

Ultimately, though, the best mask for your workout is going to come down to personal preference. Bridges said that his favorite mask for working out is the disposable surgical mask.

“I find them to give me the most comfort and ability to breath as much as any other, and I tend to sweat a lot, so being able to easily switch them out is useful,” Bridges said.

If you use disposable masks, though, Lacy has one request.

“Please cut the straps before you throw them away,” Lacy said. “They’re quite dangerous to animals. They’re kind of like the beer can plastic [rings].”

Staying fit is an important element of staying healthy. Having the right mask for the occasion, though, is just as important to maintaining your health during the pandemic.

“Wearing a mask while exercising paired with keeping socially distanced from others is some of our best defenses [against] catching and spreading the virus while still trying to stay active and healthy,” Bridges said.

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