by Michael Plank

Look, nobody gets excited about breathing heavy in a mask. When we first started masked training was when we first were permitted by the state to resume training indoors. As vaccine availability grew, we went to a policy where masks were optional for vaccinated members, but then as the Delta variant has spread more rapidly and the CDC recommended masks for any indoors activities in areas of high transmission, we went back to masks. (Our county still has a critical number of cases and is still an area of high transmission as of this writing). We have always followed CDC guidelines at a minimum, and are committed to the health of our members and our broader community. But working out in a mask is undeniably less fun than working out without a mask.

We wear masks because they help limit the spread of Covid (The world is crazy, so here’s a peer-reviewed study from the National Academy of Sciences, just in case). But masks actually give us as individual athletes an added benefit: psychological strength.

We’ve now had 12 months of people working out hard in masks. They’ve done aerobic workouts, strength workouts, skill workouts, long workouts, and short workouts. Nobody has passed out from lack of oxygen. Nobody has developed complications from CO2 buildup. And people have still seen their fitness improve in that time period. BUT, working out in a mask does sometimes cause panic.

You. do. get. enough. air. You CAN breathe. But… it is not as easy as it normally is. And when that happens, and when your face is all sweaty behind a mask, your brain can sometimes tell you that you don’t have enough air and then you panic. But here’s where the unbelievable hidden benefit of masked training lies…

When you hit that panicky feeling, and then keep your mask on while you slowly recover your breath, and then realize that you’re ok, what you are learning is how to keep a clear head under duress. You are proving to yourself that even though it feels like everything is terrible, you’re actually ok. And the more you prove that to yourself, the more you come to realize that discomfort does necessarily have to mean panic.

The benefit of that skill cannot be overstated. If you can think clearly when you are in physical and psychological distress, it is an absolute superpower. It’s a secret weapon in business, in arguments, in emergencies, in parenting, in sport, and in every aspect of life.

Stress does come. Discomfort comes. Distress comes. And when our minds spin out of control, it makes things infinitely worse. When we can keep our wits about us, we can think clearly to find solutions and to help ourselves and those around us. And that’s a skill that can be learned and developed just like double-unders or power cleans. And so as much as the world might not be how we wish it was right now, even in this mess, we still have an opportunity to improve.

Go get it.