The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on football at all levels. As recreational football has resumed it has become common for some players to wear face coverings. This edition of the Fast Fact profiles research that evaluates the impact of face masks on measures of athletic performance.1
Cloth masks are among the most common type of mask used by the general public. They are increasingly being used (and being recommended for use) during physical activity including, during football matches and training. The study is a prospective, randomised crossover trial in which participants completed two exercise tests (Bruce protocol) on a treadmill, one wearing a mask and one without.1. The primary aim of the study was to determine if wearing a cloth face mask significantly affected performance (reduction in exercise time) and associated physiological responses (VO2 max). Secondary aims were to describe perceptual measures of effort (rating of perceived exertion) and participants’ experiences (comfort, temperature and breathability) while wearing a mask. A total of 31 participants, with a mean age of 23.2 years, completed the study. There were a mix of male (n-17) and female (n=14) participants.
The results of this study suggests that cloth face masks are not always well tolerated and appear to have an impact on sporting performance. In this sample using a mask led to a 14% reduction in exercise time and a 29% decrease in VO2 max. This was attributed to perceived discomfort associated with mask-wearing. Compared with no mask, participants reported feeling increasingly short of breath and claustrophobic at higher exercise intensities while wearing a cloth face mask.
The results of this study have some practical real-word implications. Coaches, trainers and players should be counselled about the possible impact on performance that wearing a mask may create. They should consider modifying the frequency, intensity, time and type of training that they participate in when wearing a cloth face mask. It is important to acknowledge that the study has some limitations. It was obviously conducted in a lab and involved young, fit participants. As a result, the findings may not be generalisable to the broader football playing population and field setting.
1. Driver S, Reynolds M, Brown K, et al. Effects of wearing a cloth face mask on performance, physiological and perceptual responses during a graded treadmill running exercise test. British Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 13 April 2021. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-103758