Gyms have been allowed to reopen since July 25, but there are many questions to be answered as to how they will maintain new social distancing rules.
As of 14 September, social gatherings of more than six people are illegal in England, after a surge in cases promoted fears of a second wave.
So how will gyms be affected? One question that often comes up is, do gym goers need to wear a mask? Face coverings are mandatory on public transport and indoor environments such as shops, but where does this leave exercise when it comes to masks?
The science around face coverings is divisive at the best of times, but it seems when it comes to exercise, the etiquette is even more blurred. In the US, it's been reported that some people are being shouted at while exercising for not wearing a mask. 73-year-old Jane Rosen told The New York Times that she screams "where is your mask?" to people exercising nearby.
Meanwhile, Adidas and the gym company Rebel have both launched their own ranges of face masks designed to adapt to the face for comfort during physical activity.
Here's what you need to know about face masks, exercise and gyms reopening...
Could gyms close again?
Although new government rules allow only six people to meet, gyms remain unaffected. However, the Prime Minister in his announcement to the nation on Wednesday 9 September reiterated that groups of six people cannot go to the gym together.
Mr Johnson said: "Covid secure venues like gyms can still hold more than six in total.
"Within those venues, however, there must not be individual groups larger than six, and groups must not mix socially or form larger groups."
However, he did warn he is not afraid to take measures further should it be necessary.
For now, fitness junkies can continue their regime as normal - providing it's at a Covid-secure gym and they adhere to strict social distancing guidelines. Changing rooms are still to be avoided and gyms are still encouraging people to change at home.
What are the rules in the gym?
Other countries that have already reopened gyms, including Hong Kong, use perspex screens between treadmills, while Switzerland has adapted facilities and limited numbers.
With many people working from home, the Swiss have since reported a more consistent flow of users rather than a flurry of people attending at the traditional morning and evening peak times.
Measures set out in government guidance for gyms in this country include:
- Limiting the number of people using the facility at any one time, for example by using a timed booking system;
- Reducing class sizes and allowing sufficient time between each class to avoid groups waiting outside during changeover;
- Spacing out equipment or taking some out of service to maintain social distancing;
- Enhanced cleaning and providing hand sanitizer throughout venues;
- Considering how the way people walk through their venue could be adjusted to reduce contact, with queue management or one-way systems;
- Ensuring adequate ventilation;
- Encouraging the use of outdoor spaces for individual, team or group activities, making sure to comply with the latest restrictions on public gatherings;
- Exercise or dance studios should have temporary floor markings where possible to help people stay distanced during classes;
- Customers and staff should be encouraged to shower and change at home wherever possible, although changing rooms will be available.
Do I need to wear a mask in the gym?
Masks are not mandatory in the gym, according to government guidelines, unless your specific gym implements rules to do so. Therefore the best thing to do is check with your facility and make sure they don't have their own specific requirements.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden confirmed this and said: "We have not taken a decision to require the wearing of face masks in respect of gyms."
Popular chains such as Pure Gym have already announced they will not be asking their customers to wear a mask because they have put in "other measures" to ensure people are safe and social distancing.
Gyms are expected to change their layout in order to maintain social distancing, and changing rooms are expected to be closed.
Boutique joint 1Rebel are just one example of a place which have overhauled how they operate, populating their entrance with a thermal imaging fever-testing machine that will deliver entrants’ results to the (perspex clad) reception computer in five seconds; outside the spin studio, tape along the floor marks where attendees are to stand, at a distance, before class begins.
Are runners required to wear face masks?
Not really. People should “wear a face covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet, for example on public transport or in some shops”, the government document says. In crowded areas, this advice could extend to runners but officially there’s no advice requiring people who are exercising in a wide open space to wear a mask. As long as you are practising social distancing, it shouldn’t be necessary to wear a face covering while exercising.
However, several images have cropped up on social media, including a tweet by Arsenal football club which showed one of their players wearing an Adidas face mask. The caption read 'the new normal.'
“No reason comes to my mind that we should be recommending face masks to be used during exercise. It would be expected that people should be socially distanced during exercise," said Dr Ben Killingley, Consultant in Acute Medicine and Infectious Diseases at University College London Hospital. "Football is restarting in a very controlled way with player testing before games, so social distancing will not be needed and neither are facemasks."
However, many professionals are in agreement that wearing a mask is more about preventing the spread of Covid-19 to others, rather than protecting yourself, particularly if you are asymptomatic. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 42 per cent of 78 close contacts of Covid-19 patients in a hospital in Wuhan, China, showed no symptoms of the disease.
If you are going to be jogging in a highly populated area, it might be advisable to keep a face mask in your pocket and put it on as you pass any crowds of people.
Is wearing a face mask while exercising harmful?
There’s no scientific consensus on either the benefits, or the dangers, of wearing a face mask while exercising, primarily because little research has been done into the area.
In May, a man's left lung collapsed after he jogged for two and a half miles while wearing a face mask in China. The doctors found that his left lung was punctured and had shrunk by 90 per cent, a condition that they believe was caused by the high pressure in the man’s organ due to the fact that he carried out intense exercising while wearing a mask. Dr Chen Baojun, a chief medic from the Wuhan hospital, warned that people should avoid wearing face masks while exercising as the face-coverings could obstruct the circulation of oxygen.
However, these incidents are rare, and it’s likely that there were underlying health conditions, or other factors such as an ill-fitting mask or over-exertion, at play.
Some professionals have advised against high intensity exercise, such as running, while wearing a face mask. Speaking on This Morning in May, Dr Hilary Jones advised viewers that wearing a face covering while exercising might not be a good idea.
"If you’re exercising outdoors and you’re jogging you don’t really need a mask, as long as you’re not with other people," he said. "There’s no guidance to suggest you should wear a mask or it’s beneficial. In fact, it’s covering your mouth and your nose, it’s inhibiting your breathing to some extent and some people would say you’re rising the rate of levels of carbon dioxide you’re breathing out when you’re exercising and that’s probably not a good idea.”
However, the research is still in very early stages. "Studies assessing the effects (including CO2 levels) of healthcare workers wearing a respirator (tight fitting masks) have been done and they do show (through several mechanisms) that they can impair work performance," said Dr Killingley. "However, I'm not aware of similar studies of other types of facemask and certainly not related to general public use."
What type of mask should I wear when I'm exercising?
From floral summer prints to heavy-duty respirators, it seems there's a face mask cropping up for every occasion. But with Adidas and Rebel jumping on the trend, is there a specific type we should be using?
"A number of companies are producing face masks to run in, and these are for style and using materials to prevent becoming excessively damp – breathing through the mask will produce water," said Professor Andrew Lane, Professor of Sport and Learning at the University of Wolverhampton. "The mask should be clean and so having several will help. The material needs to be porous. Many runners use a buff as a mask."
To help support our "journey back into the world" Rebel have introduced a face mask made out of soft, breathable fabric that's washable, making it safe for a sweaty exercise. They also provide FFP 1 grade protection.
Will exercising with a face mask affect my performance?
Whether you’re an experienced runner, or a lockdown newbie cyclist, everyone likes to perform to the best of their ability. But if you do decide to wear a face mask on your daily exercise, it’s likely that it will be feel uncomfortable, particularly in hot weather.
“There’s no question that people are going to find running with a mask more difficult,” said Prof Lane. “It will feel uncomfortable because the head is usually free and it’s a great way to get rid of hot air. Then you’ve got to breathe a bit harder to get through the barrier, which means your lungs are going to get a bit more of a work out.”
A face mask decreases the flow of air into your lungs, so you will have less oxygen in your blood stream; this means you can expect to fatigue quicker.
However, Prof Lane maintains that this isn’t likely to do any serious harm, and that it can actually be good training to breath through “a bit more resistance.”
It's likely that you will be getting enough oxygen when you exercise with a face mask on, but if you do experience unusual signs such as lightheadedness, dizziness, extreme shortness of breath or numbness and tingling, stop exercising, take off your mask and take a break.
Can runners pass on coronavirus?
The short answer is yes, but it's unlikely. Scientists generally agree that the most likely route of transmission for the coronavirus is through aerosol droplets that are spread through coughing and sneezing. However, air circulation outdoors seems to strongly inhibit transmission of the coronavirus. In a study of more than 7,300 coronavirus cases in China, just one was connected to outdoor transmission.
"The bottom line is that viruses, like all pathogens, like indoor crowded spaces," Lawrence Young, a Professor of Molecular Oncology at Warwick Medical School previously told The Telegraph. "Like many of these seasonal respiratory viruses, this virus is particularly sensitive to high humidity and sunlight. That’s why we anticipate the levels of virus will decrease over the summer."
In April, a Belgian-Dutch research team self-published a draft report advising runners and cyclists that they should take extra care while passing others on the road, warning them that respiratory droplets that could potentially contain coronavirus might spread further than the 6 feet buffer recommended by public health officials.
The news went viral online, with many sharing an alarming graphic which showed a runner spreading ‘droplets’ - represented by simulated coloured dots - onto another man. However, the authors later published a follow up acknowledging that the study- which hadn't yet been peer reviewed- was just an engineering wind-flow model.
How can I stay safe when I’m exercising?
Now lockdown restrictions are staring to be lifted, it's even more important to take extra care when exercising in public. For Prof Lane, appropriate etiquette to ensure social distancing is the number one thing to consider to stay safe.
"If you can, go for a run where you're not going encounter many people," says Prof Lane. "If you want to exercise with someone, run side by side with a good gap between each of you."
He also maintains it's important to be aware of the other people - both runners and pedestrians - on the pavement around you. "If there's another runner coming towards you, shout 'I'm going to the right' so you avoid any zigzagging or collisions," he said.