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exercise masks

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There haven’t been so many barriers to getting a good workout in as there are right now.

Granted, exercising has always been challenging. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, sticking with it, and looking like Teyana Taylor out here. But we certainly took some things for granted didn’t we?

These days, the easy access and options there were before have been limited in the pandemic. Here in NYC, gyms just opened again last month, but capacity is greatly limited, as are hours and even access to equipment in order to keep people healthy. Boutique fitness studios are still not allowed to have classes indoors, which presents a major worry for how they’ll be able to keep doors open once the temperature dips and weather changes. And perhaps, what makes all this even more complex, is the fact that wherever or however you’re able to work out, in most cases you have to do it with a mask on. Out of all the aforementioned barriers there have been, that last one has been the most difficult for me.

Since I returned to exercise after giving birth months ago, I’ve tried a variety of modes to get back into the groove I was used to pre-pregnancy. I ran at the park for miles. When my old kickboxing gym opened up for members to use bags as they so pleased (but no instruction allowed), I tried that too. Most recently, I started utilizing the membership at my local gym once they opened their doors again in September. In all three settings, I have struggled to breathe. Honestly, I gave birth in a mask and that was easier.

The last time I ran was on Labor Day. A massive number of visitors to the park I ran at after a while put me in a position where even though I was outdoors, I wasn’t comfortable pulling down my mask for a breather. Sometimes when I would, someone would turn a corner out of the blue, often not wearing a mask because they were outdoors. When that would happen, I would be left assuming for more than a week that any cough that might pop up was a sign of the worst.

While I loved the intense workouts I could have at my boxing studio, being indoors made breathing even more complicated. The one time I asked if I could exercise without my mask when I was the only person in the studio with the front desk worker one late evening, they told me if police or anybody walked by and saw me without my mask on, the business could get in trouble. I haven’t been back in weeks.

And as of late, I’ve been trying to stay enthusiastic about my workouts at the gym. Again though, I can’t take my mask off as much as I sometimes feel like I need to. When I do pull it down to drink water, I am paranoid, as a number of gym-goers tend to let their masks fall below their nose and aren’t always the best at keeping their distance.

And even though the World Health Organization says you shouldn’t exercise with a mask on as it reduces the ability to breath comfortably, simply keeping distance is not enough in most settings. It’s encouraged by facilities to wear a mask and keep it on at all times. And while two out of 10 people tend to exercise outside without a mask outdoors, it’s still recommended by the CDC that you wear a mask in all public settings. New York City as a whole is a very public setting. Though there have been lower incidences of spread when people come across each other outside, lower doesn’t mean infection doesn’t happen. Better safe than sorry.

And for the record, while I would love to work out at home, we no longer have the space for that, and to be honest, I’ve never been fond of working up a sweat in the house. I guess seeing other people training keeps me motivated. Not to mention, nowadays I work in the house, I relax in the house, I take care of my child in the house. I need a moment out in the world that doesn’t solely involve me pushing a stroller for a few blocks.

Because I don’t want to throw in the towel and go back to snacking for months, wishing I’d started last time I said “next month,” I’ve been resigned to gasping for air and gulping down water as I attempt to take part in exercise in the gym. However, the workouts are still rewarding. I’ve tried to adjust to make my exercise effective but minimal. These days I only work out for 30 minutes, doing HIIT training or Tabata workouts. I work up a sweat quickly, and limited breaks don’t allow me the time to expose myself for too long when I grab my water or stop to simply catch my breath. (This too gets me back home to my kid quickly.) I’ve also been testing out some of the masks on the market that are meant for exercise, and they do tend to help air flow better, though not a perfect remedy.

While it’s not the easiest or most fun (and makes me miss all I took for granted when I simply didn’t feel like checking out all the options out there), I’m willing to make what I have going on now work to get back to feeling, physically, like my old self. And I’m willing to wear a mask while I do it to help keep myself, and others, safe.

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