Athleta's new exercise face mask: What to know

The Gap brand’s latest combines months of research and iterations into a face mask that wicks moisture and that’s designed to help others see your smile.
Woman wearing Athleta Made to Move face mask.
Unlike the company’s ‘Everyday’ mask, Athleta’s ‘Made to Move’ mask has a contoured design that stays in place during movement, with an adjustable nose bridge for a more comfortable fit.Athleta; Getty Images
By Hanna Horvath

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The latest in a sea of face masks releases is built for stretching, fit for sweating and designed for smiling — these key features are all highlights in the newest Made to Move face mask from Gap brand Athleta, its second edition in the mask space.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, face masks are mandatory in more than half of states in the U.S. Masks help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, blocking large droplets that would otherwise spread further with coughing or sneezing. Masks work best in combination with safe social distancing practices and regular hand washing, and are often emphasized indoors. Some face mask rules, however, include wearing one while exercising in densely-populated areas where you can’t socially distance. As we reported in our buying guide to face masks for exercise, masks can be uncomfortable to wear when you’re working through fitness routines — after all, breathability and particulate-blocking features in fabric are in conflict. On top of that, cloth masks can become damp and soggy when mixed with sweat. And depending on how tightly-woven the mask’s material is, masks can make it more difficult to breathe. One of the most popular purveyors of fitness-focused face masks, Athleta, hopes to find the latest in a balanced face mask with its Made to Move Mask.

Athleta Made to Move Mask

In contrast to the brand’s Everyday Non Medical Masks, the Made to Move Mask is a lighter, exercise-friendly mask made to stay on your face during exercise, says Jana Henning, head of product at Athleta. Its binding is made of soft elastic to keep your hair from getting caught while exercising — and two layers of the company’s patented featherweight stretch fabric: a polyester and spandex blend with a polyester and mesh blend liner. The brand’s featherweight fabric combines comfort and performance, creating less friction on your face and preventing heat and oil build-up, the Athleta design team told NBC Shopping.

Unlike the company’s ‘Everyday’ mask, Athleta’s ‘Made to Move’ mask has a contoured design that stays in place during movement, with an adjustable nose bridge for a more comfortable fit. The mask covers your mouth and nose, but specifically leaves the upper cheekbones visible, making it easier to tell when the wearer is smiling (helping others understand body language cues), according to Athleta’s design team.

Flexible stitching runs down the center of the mask helps with keeping fabric out of your mouth while you exercise —a new mask feature. The mask is also moisture-wicking to prevent masks from getting wet during exercise, and it includes a pocket for an insertable filter.

Both the ear loops and nose bridge are adjustable, allowing the mask to fit a wide range of faces. Masks come in two sizes: women and girls. Girl’s masks are similar to adult ‘Made to Move’ masks, but packs come in different colors:

  • Warm — pink, blue and gray-colored masks
  • And cool — gray camo, gray-blue and yellow

The company wanted to design a mask that was “truly easy to work out in,” Henning said — to do so, they got input from customers. An Instagram survey gave Athleta 4,500 responses from women and girls weighing in on what they wanted out of their exercise mask.

One pain point was getting people to actually wear the masks — so comfort was “key” to the design, said Henning. The poll specifically asked what colors customers would actually wear, leading to the aforementioned cool and warm color palettes. The company consulted medical experts at the University of California in San Francisco and used their feedback to make sure the mask’s form and fit adhered to guidelines, which led to the incorporation of features like a head strap and pocket for filter inserts. The final result came after three design iterations and months of testing for wear and tear.

How to shop for exercise face masks

Whether you’re opting for the Athleta face mask or another, be sure to consider the best face mask for you and guidelines set by the CDC. When shopping for any mask, prioritize material quality and breathability. Look for masks with multiple layers of tightly-woven-yet-breathable fabric like cotton, Scott Segal, MD, MHCM, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, previously told NBC News Shopping. Segal led a peer-reviewed study that tested the effectiveness of different fabrics in filtering out particles. A simple test of a mask’s effectiveness is to hold it up to the sky. If you can see the sunlight through the fabric, it’s not tightly-woven enough, he said — you can try something similar with a flashlight.

“The most important thing to look for is a mask which fits comfortably and can stay in place covering your nose, mouth and chin. For some, having a less comfortable mask leads to less frequent use,” Richard Martinello, MD, a professor of infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine, told NBC News. “Keep in mind that physical distancing is also important, even if you’re wearing a mask.”

Breathability and flexibility of exercise fabrics, like moisture-wicking material, can impact the effectiveness of a face mask in filtering out some types of particulate, said Segal. His study found that knitted materials were less effective in filtering out particulate than woven materials. But it’s most important that the mask fits snugly to your face and covers your nose and mouth. If you find it difficult to workout with a mask, consider avoiding situations where you would need to wear one, said Melanie Carver, chief mission officer of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

“Consider working out at home or in private spaces where you are alone or can maintain safe, physical distance from others,” she said.

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