photo credit: Jimi Matthews

As with everything that is COVID related, information is evolving all the time. New theories are constantly being proposed, some of which sound very plausible but have yet to be proven in real life situations. This applies in the world of sport too – I am sure many people, especially cyclists, have heard or read about the Belgian theory that describes aerodynamics and slipstreams which may affect the distance of transmission of the COVID-19 particle. Basically these scientists propose that cyclists expel high velocity virus which could be inhaled by the cyclists in the slipstream behind them. If this is proven, it has huge implications for cyclists and runners alike. The large groups of unmasked cyclists, often observed on the streets of Johannesburg, may be taking a life-threatening risk.

Some of the recommendations around exercise are conflicting. Recent WHO guidelines state that masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably during exercise and that sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which can make it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms. While it is ideal to exercise without a mask on, this can only be done if excellent social distancing is maintained. In many areas of South Africa it is difficult to exercise completely alone. Even if we have no one exercising with us, we may pass others along the way and passing them at a safe distance cannot always be guaranteed. It is for this reason that our national guidelines demand that we wear masks when we go out to exercise.

The resounding message from many experts around the world and the South African Sports Medicine Association is simple and easy to follow:


Preferably ​exercise alone​ or only with members of your household.
If you do go for a walk/run/cycle with someone outside of your immediate family circle, you need to maintain a distance of at least 1.5m between you if you are walking.
The faster you move, the bigger the distance you need to keep. This is because the faster movement changes the aerodynamics around you and can therefore allow for the viral particle to travel further than the 1.5-2m it would manage with a cough or a sneeze. You will therefore need a wider distance between you if you are running and this needs to increase to at least 6m if you are cycling PLUS you will need to run/cycle alongside or in a staggered manner next to each other instead of being directly behind one another for the same reason.
Remember that when you are exercising you are breathing harder and faster too – again, giving respiratory droplets the opportunity to travel further.

Keeping all this in mind, when you are overtaking/passing someone give them as wide a berth as possible.

    Keeping your mask on around other people is not negotiable.
    Find a cloth mask or buff that you are comfortable wearing so that you don’t have to fidget with it during your training. If you want to take your mask off, only do so when there are no other people around. Whenever you are passing another person, your mask must be on. Consider adjusting your training to off-peak times.
    Everyone knows the drill – into the elbow! Even if you are wearing a mask, small particles can escape through it so continue to use your elbow.
    If you are a spitter, you will need to carry tissues with you and spit into them. Make sure to dispose of them safely.
    The most dangerous opportunity for COVID transmission may in fact be during the socialising that takes place after exercise.​ It is common to see large groups of cyclists or runners having a long mask-free chat at close quarters. Try to keep social interactions to a minimum and if you must chat, wear your mask and keep your distance.

Exercising in this time has benefits on so many levels especially physically and psychologically. If you have never exercised before, now is a great time to start too. Just do so safely.