After a couple of months in lockdown, the general consensus is that the world would have to live and adapt to the coronavirus pandemic till at least a vaccine is available.
Many European countries have now started allowing citizens the use of parks and open areas, while making it mandatory for them to always wear a mask when they are outdoors.
This could become a norm in India in the near future as well and the question people who want to go for a run would have is whether it is fine to do so with a mask on.
Wearing a training mask to reduce the flow of air one breathes with an aim to improve lung capacity has been a practice followed by elite athletes for quite some time, but the question to ask is whether it is fine for recreational or amateur runners to train with masks.
Earlier this month, the story of a jogger ending with burst lungs after running a couple of miles with a mask on as well as that of two young boys dropping dead after running with masks for a physical examination would not have come as a good news for those planning to go for a run after covering their faces, even though there is no evidence that the main cause of these deaths was the mask as no autopsies were conducted.
The makeshift cloth mask or the 3Ply face mask that has been recommended for people while stepping out does not really reduce the flow of air to the extent a training mask does but it still makes breathing slightly difficult and that can affect a person.
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“You will not be able to keep up the normal breathing through nose under control while exercising/running and so you have to compensate the increased oxygen demand by mouth breathing,” explained Dr Amol Patil, who is employed with the Sports Authority of India and works with elite boxers.
In simple terms, when a person indulges in any cardiovascular activity, he or she ends up breathing heavily and the person starts panting and breathing from the mouth.
With the mask on, the flow of air through the nose is restricted and even breathing from the mouth is difficult due to the barrier and this could lead to trouble for some.
So the obvious question to ask is whether it is really advisable to run with a mask on? Most experts believe that it is better not to. But if in the current scenario using masks when outdoor becomes a norm, then it is better to take some initial precautions.
Strength and conditioning coach Darshan Wagh, who has used training masks while working with elite athletes and marathon runners, insisted that anyone who starts running with masks will have to take it slow initially.
“When you start training for the first time with even a basic mask, the lung muscles feel additional pressure and that can tire you out very fast. So it is important to start slow,” said Wagh, who pointed out that even elite athletes use masks only for one-two minute intervals during high intensity training.
“If one pushes harder, muscles can go in spasm if lungs don’t get enough air. As the person gets used to running with these masks on, their lung muscles will become stronger and then can increase their training load gradually,” he added.
Though this would help those running with a mask strengthen their lung muscles, there is no co-relation between running or training with these mask and doing high-altitude hypoxic training. “There is absolutely no similarity,” said sports science expert Nikhil Latey.
“In hypoxic chambers or during high-altitude training, the oxygen in the air is pretty less. But say in Mumbai, the oxygen levels in the air will be the same whether you train without a mask or with the mask,” he added.
However, Latey thinks people running in masks in a city like Mumbai could be more chaotic. Given the number of people who could turn up at various jogging spots, maintaining physical distancing could be very difficult.