The Top Workout-friendly Face Masks for Your Gym Members

Athleisure companies meet the demand for workout-friendly face masks. Here’s our shortlist of top contenders.

If someone said a year ago that masks would be among the hottest topics in the world today, would you have believed them?

As we all adapt to the new normal that COVID-19 has presented us with, it has become increasingly clear that effective, consistent mask usage is linked to controlling and mitigating the spread of the virus in our communities. Experts agree that masks are one of the critical tools required to safely return to work and other activities, and a key ally in our quest to return to normalcy.

That said, it is a different experience when wearing a mask to run errands versus wearing one during strenuous exercise. Although there is little hard research due to pandemic restrictions, anecdotal evidence suggests that masks may have some adverse effects on the wearer while exercising. Results may vary, but unofficial tests have shown an elevated heart rate, and in some cases lightheadedness, that does not arise when performing the same workout without a mask. IHRSA Supplier member ACE Fitness has issued some great guidance on "Exercising with a Face Covering" that includes more information on these reports.

For active use, multi-layered cloth masks are a great option. Look for synthetic materials—think polyester or spandex—and no more than three layers to help breathability and negate moisture issues. Make sure the fit is snug for effectiveness and comfort.

Industry suppliers have noticed the demand for masks specifically designed for more intense physical activity and different options are now becoming available. Let’s take a look at a few early options.

Adidas Face Covers

The Adidas offering is simple, stylish, and comfortable. The fact that it is affordable—$16 for a three pack—is a bonus. It has two layers of protective fabric and is designed to be highly breathable and snug. It is machine washable and available in both blue and black. Matching sneakers are optional.

Adidas has also stepped up to support the global fight against the novel coronavirus. They have donated $3.25 million to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response fund, and are collaborating to produce 18,000 3D-printed face shields per week. They are also distributing 100,000 masks to communities worldwide.

Athleta Athletic Face Masks

Athleta, the GAP-owned brand best known for their women’s activewear, has a great value option. A five pack of masks in assorted colors is just $30. While it has three layers, the fabric is very light and breathable for a comfortable fit that is well suited for running or cardio. The different neutral colors make matching it to an outfit a breeze.

GAP Inc. has also lent a helping hand by leveraging their global supply chain to take the fight to the virus, supplying hospitals and health networks with much needed access to personal protective equipment (PPE). They are also pledging over $1 million to local, state, and federal nonprofit organizers.

Zensah Performance Mask

The Zensah Performance Face Mask is designed to provide a comfortable, secure fit by using two straps that wrap around the back of the head. This helps keep the weight of the mask away from the ears and allows it to be easily pulled up or down. The mix of synthetic fibers includes silver microparticles to help neutralize odors/bacteria and the mask is lightweight and breathable. The Zensah Performance Face Mask is available for $16.

Equipment cloth mask stock Unsplash column

Under Armour SportsMask

While pricier than other options, some consider the Under Armour SportsMask to be among the best athletic masks currently available. It is constructed with high-performance Under Armour (UA) materials leading to a structured design that sits comfortably off the face and upper lips. The outer shell is water-resistant, making it ideal for outdoor use in all elements. It includes UA Iso-Chill fabric on the interior lining, making it cool to the touch. An antimicrobial treatment on the inner layer helps the mask stay fresh during high intensity efforts. The sizing options are also substantial. Plus, it looks pretty darn cool. The Under Armour SportsMask is priced at $30.

Under Armour has also made substantial efforts to help their local communities. From a company press release, “Under Armour has already delivered 1,300 face shields to the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), and anticipates manufacturing and distributing more than 500,000 fabric face masks and assembling 50,000 specially equipped fanny packs with much needed supplies for personal preparedness kits.”

Other Types of Face Coverings

While studies suggest that bandanas and single-layer coverings may be less effective in minimizing virus droplet dispersal compared to masks with multiple layers, some may be a more comfortable option. They are generally light, have no ear attachment, and can be easily pulled up or down. Look for breathable material with moisture resistance. Avoid wearing the fleece one you take skiing to the gym—you’ll be sorry.

BUFF Original

The BUFF Original Multifunctional Headwear is a versatile covering that can be worn more than 12 different ways. Made of recycled performance microfiber, the BUFF Original is quick-drying and breathable. This moisture-wicking ability helps to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It also offers 50 SPF sun protection for outdoor use. The sheer versatility of the BUFF Original should allow its usefulness to outlast the pandemic. The BUFF original starts at $20 with many colors and designs available.

BUFF has committed to donating 2% of their global yearly profits to projects helping to combat COVID-19.

The Bandana

Ah, the old classic. There isn’t much technology or breathability here, but it makes up for it with old school coolness. If fashion is more important than comfort, the simple bandana might be for you. It is widely available and can be found in most gas stations.

While the bandanas were not as effective as other cloth masks, they did contain droplet spread to a distance less than the six feet of physical distance recommended by the CDC. These findings underline the importance of combining both masks and physical distancing, as recommended by most health authorities, to help lessen the spread of COVID-19.

The bandana should be used as a last resort for working out, and offers less moisture wicking and breathability than the other options above. However, it can be used in a pinch and is better for protection than no covering at all. Make sure to wash thoroughly after use.

It’s a Combined Effort

It is important to recognize that none of the options highlighted above are considered medical-grade PPE. This is why it is even more critical to adhere to strict social distancing protocols, especially when performing vigorous exercise. For example, the guidelines for the Massachusetts Phase 3 reopening specific to health clubs state, “If customers cannot wear a face covering during strenuous fitness activities, physical distancing must be at least 14 feet. If customers are wearing face coverings during fitness activities, physical distancing must be at least 6 feet.”

Masks are an important tool in the shed for minimizing viral transmission, but they are not the only tool. Combining mask usage with physical distancing is the current best strategy recommended by health authorities.

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Luke Ablondi

Luke Ablondi is IHRSA's Trade Show Director. He handles exhibitor communications, materials, and logistics for the IHRSA Trade Show. In his free time, Luke enjoys playing guitar, lifting weights, and following sports obsessively.