Effects of wearing a cloth face mask on performance, physiological and perceptual responses during a graded treadmill running exercise test.

Driver S; Reynolds M; Brown K; Vingren JL; Hill DW; Bennett M; Gilliland T; McShan E; Callender L; Reynolds E; Borunda N;Mosolf J; Cates C; Jones A;

British journal of sports medicine [Br J Sports Med] 2021 Apr 13. Date of Electronic Publication: 2021 Apr 13.

Objectives: To (1) determine if wearing a cloth face mask significantly affected exercise performance and associated physiological responses, and (2) describe perceptual measures of effort and participants’ experiences while wearing a face mask during a maximal treadmill test.
Methods: Randomised controlled trial of healthy adults aged 18-29 years. Participants completed two (with and without a cloth face mask) maximal cardiopulmonary exercise tests (CPETs) on a treadmill following the Bruce protocol. Blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, exertion and shortness of breath were measured. Descriptive data and physical activity history were collected pretrial; perceptions of wearing face masks and experiential data were gathered immediately following the masked trial.
Results: The final sample included 31 adults (age=23.2±3.1 years; 14 women/17 men). Data indicated that wearing a cloth face mask led to a significant reduction in exercise time (-01:39±01:19 min/sec, p<0.001), maximal oxygen consumption (VO 2 max) (-818±552 mL/min, p<0.001), minute ventilation (-45.2±20.3 L/min), maximal heart rate (-8.4±17.0 beats per minute, p<0.01) and increased dyspnoea (1.7±2.9, p<0.001). Our data also suggest that differences in SpO 2 and rating of perceived exertion existed between the different stages of the CPET as participant’s exercise intensity increased. No significant differences were found between conditions after the 7-minute recovery period.
Conclusion: Cloth face masks led to a 14% reduction in exercise time and 29% decrease in VO 2 max, attributed to perceived discomfort associated with mask-wearing. Compared with no mask, participants reported feeling increasingly short of breath and claustrophobic at higher exercise intensities while wearing a cloth face mask. Coaches, trainers and athletes should consider modifying the frequency, intensity, time and type of exercise when wearing a cloth face mask.