Okay, so most of us live somewhere where a mask is required in any indoor public place. Assuming your state hasn’t closed all gyms (hello, California!), many see this as a huge bummer while working out at the gym.
In fact, gyms have been the most difficult offenders regarding enforcement of indoor mask policies. People just don’t want to wear them while doing intense exercise (though many local governments have permitted mask removal when performing cardio exercise on a machine).
Instead of seeing the required use of a mask as a burden or shackles holding you prisoner to The Man… recognize the two key training benefits wearing a mask is providing you.
Constricted breathing trains your breathing
The biggest complaint about masks in gyms is that you need to breathe harder to exercise, and the mask interferes with breathing. I’m not going to pull punches: Yes, masks by design constrict your breathing. The intent is to keep any germs you have out of the public airspace, but the flip side is that it makes taking air in more difficult. Your lungs themselves don’t have muscles, so the associated core muscles that keep them going have to do more work.
However, because your associated lung muscles are working harder per breath, this is actually a workout for those muscles. You are effectively making your breathing stronger, and once you can train and compete without a mask you will improve your overall oxygen intake.
Many people don’t breathe, take in oxygen during exercise, as effectively as they could. Wearing a mask will force your body to adapt your breathing patterns and muscle usage to maximize oxygen intake.
Even though it wasn’t the intent of the law, this policy is actually helping you get stronger and better.
The mask is to some degree an air filter
So while the mask obviously won’t stop most viruses from getting into your windpipe, they do however filter out dust, allergen and dirt particles you otherwise would have breathed in.
Recall that people in heavily polluted Chinese and Indonesian cities walk around in public wearing these masks. The masks do filter out most if not all of the pollutants in your immediate airspace.
Most don’t realize that indoor air is generally far more polluted and dirty than outdoor air. The air is enclosed and very few people and businesses employ ground-level air filtration systems. Most don’t clean or replace their HVAC air filters more than once every few years, if ever. The air you breathe indoors is often rather unhealthy.
In fact, if you don’t own one already, I recommend you buy a cheap electric air filter for your home, at least for your bedroom if not other rooms you frequently use. Also, if you can keep them alive, get some house plants: They also help a bit with air quality. But I digress….
Your mask is actually cleaning the gym air you’re breathing in. By being forced to wear one, you have improved the quality of the air you breathe during gym workouts (and of course you breathe more heavily during these workouts, needing more oxygen) by a lot. Again, this was not an intent of the mask policy, but it is a useful and healthy side effect.
So instead of getting mad about having to wear a mask, recognize the unintended ways that it’s actually helping you train healthier and get better.
Just in case you haven’t noticed, a certain pandemic problem has just wiped out every single road race and running event for the rest of the year, possibly also a good chunk of next year.
I’m not going to run any races anytime soon. Virtual races are a waste of my time.
This situation is also a gift. This is possibly the one time in our history where every event/race/etc is basically stopped, and we now have a long period of available space and time to work on improving ourselves. If and when life returns to some sort of normal in 2021 or beyond… we may never get this opportunity again.
Some are wasting it, in many cases waiting for normal to return… not realizing that “normal” isn’t going to come back for a long while, and they might want to get comfortable with the uncertain yet perpetual stasis of the present because this reality is going to stay for another while longer… months, not days or weeks.
I certainly have not wasted it. Never mind I’m among the few who kept their job through the lockdown, AND had to work my butt off for that job pretty much the entire time. Medical personnel and law enforcement can tell you way more about that than I can, but I’ve had less free time than everyone else.
And yet I’ve put it to productive use however much I could. Even though I put a forebearance on my running, I’m now focusing on something I’ve wanted to for a while: Strength training.
Since returning to Vegas I have worked out at four Planet Fitness locations on my side of town (I have a Black Card membership which allows me to visit any location).
I’m not exactly checking off a bucket list of PF locations, but I realize I’ve visited enough of them to provide a useful contrast and comparison of those locations (plus they’re on a nicer side of town and thus may get more outside visitors). As time goes on and I visit more locations in town, I’ll add to this. But here’s a rundown of the locations I have visited and worked out at:
I’ve cross trained with a variety of methods and machines over my time as a runner. There might be more runner-specific cross training methods than the ARC Trainer, but you won’t find one simpler and more readily available in most gyms.
The ARC Trainer is a machine developed in 2003 by a company called Cybex International. Your legs move forward and back on tracking similar to an elliptical, except the motion is more straightforward, and the angle is closer to that of running uphill. On some ARC Trainers the arms may move as they do on ellipticals, but on most (including the ones at my gym) the handles are stationary and only your legs are intended to move.
The ARC Trainers are usually empty at gyms where they’re available (including my current gym), and it’s a bit of a surprise they have stuck around this long given their limited popularity. But they’re still present in many big gyms, and after discovering them recently I quickly discovered that they’re my most effective cross training tool. When the gym’s packed and everyone’s crowding the weights, treadmills and ellipticals, the ARC Trainers are a widely available and welcome training option.
I finally got a membership at the nearby Planet Fitness. Despite having a gym within a block from home that only costs $10 a month and is open nearly all the time, I balked at getting a membership for a variety of practical reasons that now finally are no longer the case.
The gym itself has pretty much everything I’d need out of a gym. They have a ton of treadmills, several ARC Trainers and ellipticals, several spin and recumbent exercise bikes, and of course a wide variety of free weights and exercise machines. And because of the no-judgment motif of the Planet Fitness brand, everyone working out seems cool and goes about their business without any passive aggression or peacocking you see at other gyms.
I’m digressing a bit. As I ramp into official fall marathon training, the gym provides me with a ton of benefits it turns out I really need this time around. I’ve been admittedly struggling with several aspects of training over the last few months, and the gym’s going to help with several of them.