How mask-wearing during training is affecting student athletes

By: Camryn Smith

Student athletes and their trainers are learning more every day about how the use of masks is affecting the way they train and practice sports.  

Research suggests wearing a mask while exercising reduces the risk of spreading COVID-19, but some athletes are having difficulty adjusting to the new practices.

Local hockey player James McIsaac hockey performance and his coach Matt Asmundson both admit the use of masks has come with its challenges but it hasn’t stopped them from training regularly.

“Just the idea of having a mask on during a workout makes me dread showing up every day,”  said the 21-year-old McIsaac, who plays hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York but is taking business classes online through RRC. 

Health experts suggest the public should take precautions while wearing a mask to make sure breathing is not being obstructed, an especially crucial detail during physical exercise.  

“It impacts performance mostly during vigorous cardiovascular work,” said Asmundson.  

Recent studies show that the use of masks while exercising can alter breathing habits and cause side effects such as dizziness, shortness of breath and imbalance. Health officials suggest being aware of exercise limits before working out with a mask to prevent these side effects from occurring.  

McIsaac said he always makes sure to wear a mask that is not super tight and has a thinner filter or more breathable fabric. 

COVID-19 has affected training routines for athletes in other ways too. Safety precautions have slowed down the training season for athletes and team sports. Trainers have had to cut group sizes in half and force athletes with breathing conditions to quit sports temporarily. 

Asmundson says these minor setbacks are not enough to discourage many athletes.

“The athletes I work with are very motivated and will always find a way to work through small obstacles such as masks,” said Asmundson.  

Some doctors say it’s a bigger risk for people to completely refrain from exercising than to exercise less intensely while wearing a masks and that masks are especially important in sports where social distancing is not possible.