With brick-and-mortar commerce slowly emerging from its coronavirus-induced slumber, not all businesses are recovering in the same way. Many restaurants, cafes, and retail shops have found their stride within the parameters of the “new normal,” but fitness centers are navigating particularly complex waters.

From barbells and free weights to treadmills and elliptical trainers, gyms are crawling with high-touch surfaces that are hot spots for sweat and moisture– i.e., where bacteria thrive. The CDC recommends limiting indoor physical activity whenever possible and wearing a face covering if you do wish to exercise inside.

However, while masks are recommended by most health experts as a highly effective way to combat the spread of COVID-19, not everyone is on the same page. Anti-mask protests have been popping up across the country, and social media has become a hub for smartphone videos that depict clashes with shoppers who refuse to cover their faces in public areas.

We surveyed 1,001 Americans to learn more about their views on masking up during a workout, from their own personal practices to how they would react to an unmasked exerciser. Read on to find out!

Work Out, Mask Out?

Different forms of exercise have different degrees of COVID-19 transmission risk. Here’s who is most likely – and least likely – to wear a mask while working out.


A little over half of the survey’s respondents (51%) said they never wore a face mask while exercising, and another 18% only wore one occasionally. Just shy of one-third said wearing a mask during their workout was more or less standard practice. Men were a little more likely to cover their faces than women, though the majority of both genders went mask-free.

It’s important to remember that not all exercise is created equal when it comes to coronavirus transmission risk: Jogging on a country trail by yourself is not the same as lifting weights at the gym. Respondents who exercised at a fitness center (representing a much higher transmission risk) were much more likely to play it safe and wear a mask (53%), compared to those who didn’t use a fitness center to work out (19%).


CrossFit athletes reported the highest incidence of covering their faces (51%), while just 17% said they never wore a mask. People who played some kind of team sport (46%) or individual sport (46%) had the second highest frequency of wearing a mask, but approximately one-third of both demographics never wore one – nearly double the rate of CrossFitters.

‘Rona Rules and Regulations

Here’s how fitness centers across the United States are approaching “wearing a mask while exercising” regulations.


As the global health crisis evolves, health regulations are constantly changing, and mask-related rules vary by state. At the time this survey was conducted, 45% of respondents attended a fitness center that required people to wear masks at all times, while 31% required people to wear a mask in common areas but not during their workout. Among those who worked out wearing a mask, 43% said they also sanitized their exercise equipment after every use.


Masks aren’t the only way to reduce the risk of transmitting or contracting coronavirus, though. Social distancing, one of the most effective and widely adopted precautionary measures, was required by 68% of gyms, followed by equipment cleaning (67%) and creating a safe amount of space between equipment (48%).

Two-thirds of respondents said they would be more likely to attend a fitness center that required people to wear a mask – unsurprising, given that gymgoers were significantly more likely to cover their faces during a workout, compared to the average respondent.

Taking Masks to Task

Most had an opinion about wearing a mask during exercise and how unmasked individuals should be treated in public. Here’s what they divulged.


Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they supported the idea of verbally confronting someone who was not wearing a face covering, and 49% thought it was fair to refuse to hand over equipment to individuals without masks. However, 45% were opposed to publicly shaming unmasked individuals (compared to 34% in favor and 21% undecided).

One thing a majority of people could agree on was that physically attacking someone who was not wearing a mask was inappropriate: 56% opposed it, while 25% supported it, and 19% were undecided. In the context of visiting a fitness center, 38% had witnessed a verbal confrontation of an individual without a mask, and another 38% had witnessed a physical confrontation.

The majority of people were OK with the idea of someone exercising without a mask if they were alone outside or in a socially distanced group outside, but sentiments soured when it came to indoor exercise and outdoor workouts in closer proximity.

Meaning Behind the Mask

What is the impact of wearing a face covering during exercise, and what are the most common health-related concerns?


While 39% of respondents said wearing a mask during exercise negatively affected their ability to enjoy their workout, only 34% reported an impact to their performance. A majority of people (58%) said they had partially removed their mask to get a breath of fresh air during a workout – though the Mayo Clinic recommends against touching your mask at all to avoid contamination, so be sure to wash or sanitize your hands if you do touch it.

Difficulty breathing was the most common mask-related grievance (62%), followed by sweating (52%) and discomfort (50%). Despite these challenges, the most common reason why people decided to cover their mouths while exercising was to protect themselves (71%) and protect others (60%). While the primary function of a mask is to block the wearer’s droplets from traveling and potentially infecting others, it can also reduce the wearer’s risk of contracting the virus themselves.

The main reasons why people elected to exercise without a mask was that they deemed it unnecessary in their case (66%) or found it uncomfortable (48%). Most people who avoided fitness centers did so out of an abundance of caution: They either had general coronavirus concerns (64%), did not trust others to behave safely (39%), or were worried others wouldn’t wear a mask (31%).

Safer Workouts at Home

While masks have proven to be a controversial topic, most indoor exercisers elected to wear one for their own safety and the safety of others. Fitness centers are also implementing health precautions like social distancing and mandatory sanitizing, though many people have still elected to avoid the gym due to concerns about contracting COVID-19.

If you’re looking to get a workout in but are feeling hesitant to return to your regular fitness center, FitRated can help you find the best workout equipment and services for your personal goals. Their unique algorithm compares treadmills, exercise bikes, ellipticals, and home gym equipment to help you find the best bang for your buck. Visit to make your next purchase with confidence!

Methodology and Limitations

We surveyed 1,001 people who engaged at least weekly in a variety of exercises. Our respondents ranged in age from 18 to 82, with an average age of about 36. 512 respondents were male, 486 were female, and three did not identify as male or female.

To help ensure accurate results and honest responses, all respondents were required to correctly answer an attention-check question. In some cases, questions and answers have been rephrased for clarity or brevity. These findings rely on self-reporting, and statistical testing was not performed on this data. Potential issues with self-reported findings include, but are not limited to, exaggeration, selective memory, and attribution errors on the part of respondents.

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