Sports masks put to the test

Do they boost breathability while reducing the spread of respiratory droplets as claimed?

Freelance fitness trainer Samuel Tan likes that the Asics Runners Face Cover leaves a space between the mask’s inner wall and his face, so that heat is not trapped from the constant exhaling during a workout.
Freelance fitness trainer Samuel Tan likes that the Asics Runners Face Cover leaves a space between the mask’s inner wall and his face, so that heat is not trapped from the constant exhaling during a workout. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

First came the Under Armour Sportsmask in June. Then the Asics Runner Face Cover in July. Since their release, sports masks have been a topic of curiosity and controversy, for their daring promise to keep one safe while exercising.

On one end, experts warn against potential asphyxiation when working out in a mask. On the other, sneering detractors point out the logical fallacy of being allowed to exhale heartily, unmasked, during exercise. Do the body's water droplets somehow attain immunity during a gym session?

Research suggests that face coverings help to contain droplet transmission or infection spread through exposure to virus-containing respiratory droplets from an infectious person. Some masks like surgical ones, however, are more protective than others.

Both brands advertise the masks as designed for maximum breathability while reducing the spread of droplets.

The Straits Times' Clara Lock and freelance fitness trainer Samuel Tan put these pandemic creations to the test.


Asics Runners Face Cover


PHOTO: COURTESY OF ASICS

The idea of a mask that will not choke you while running intrigues me.

But because my scarily unfit self cannot walk up a flight of stairs without wheezing, I enlisted freelance fitness trainer Samuel Tan (@samueltgk), 23, to do the dirty work for me and review the Asics Runners Face Cover ($55, above).

When we reconvened, Mr Tan has tried it thoroughly. The good sport wore it during a steady jog, high-intensity runs and even bodyweight workouts.

"As a first-timer wearing a mask to jog, the Asics mask felt very comfortable and non-existent," he tells me. "It fits just right on my face and the adjustable straps at the back made it easy to wear. The mask is made from mesh that enables it to hold its shape even after countless hand-washing."

According to a fact sheet, strategically placed air vents on this face cover created specifically for runners provide unobstructed airflow while preventing the spread of droplets.

The mask's curved design, said to create more room inside for easier breathing when running, achieves its desired outcome with this keen reviewer.

"What I like about this mask is the fact that I was able to breathe comfortably while running. There is a space between the inner wall of the mask and my face, so it doesn't trap heat from all the constant exhaling," Mr Tan says.

To my scepticism, he replies: "I didn't feel suffocated during the run as there was plenty of breathing space - it doesn't stick to your face while you breathe. I ran for 5km and never once felt that I was unable to breathe properly."

And would he wear it again in future workouts?

"Definitely - for any form of workout."

Well, all right then.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2020, with the headline 'Sports masks put to the test '. Print Edition | Subscribe