Reebok's vision for athletic face masks is horrifying

Three different possibilities for exercising safely even beyond COVID-19, each with their own touch of dystopian flare.

For runners, the need to wear masks in public has been a problem. Regular, non-medical grade face masks can get hot and uncomfortable — and we haven't even hit summer yet. Anecdotally, I've seen some runners wrap sweat-wicking shirts around their faces, but there's got to be a better solution.

Reebok is working to fill that void, as the brand has revealed three fitness mask prototypes. Don Albert, head of Reebok's European Creation Center, gave Fast Company the obligatory "This is the new normal" quote, but it's not just about COVID-19. Increases in pollution could render the masks useful well into the future, even after we've gotten through the pandemic.

"In many parts of the world, particularly Asia, people regularly wear masks to exercise outside," Albert says. The coronavirus is just increasing the need for masks."

Sensorial, Immersion, and Symbiosis masks — Reebok's three prototypes take three different approaches to fitness masks. The first, the Sensorial mask (pictured up top), is the most similar to what we're already working with and puts a clear screen around the mouth. The idea here is to continue to allow the wearer to emote with their mouth, as sports are often a social affair. Albert also envisions the mask becoming more advanced with sensors to monitor the wearer's heart and breathing rates.

The Immersion Mask.Reebok

The Immersion mask constitutes a full-face shield that covers the entire face and features a respirator and a hood that wraps around the wearer's head. It's intended for more extreme situations such as exercising in an area where you may be exposed to hazardous chemicals. More advanced versions could also feature sensors, as well as the ability to adjust oxygen levels and the temperature within.

The Symbiosis Mask.Reebok

Last is the Symbiosis mask, Reebok's most ambitious prototype thanks to a respirator embedded with organic matter. Algae or moss could help to purify air and filter carbon dioxide into oxygen. "We’ve already seen how algae is used to purify polluted air," Albert said, "So we think this could be a natural purification system on a mask."

Don't expect these to actually hit the market — Albert told Fast Company Reebok isn't actively working to produce any of these masks, but he says they could inform the company's future in the face mask space. That's probably for the better because it's hard to imagine many people embracing these extreme examples, even as dire as things are right now.

Still, we could still use more options, and being able to see people's mouths would be welcome — though Apple and others are trying to get around that for their facial recognition solutions. It's likely only a matter of time before the sporting apparel giants bring solutions like these to the market. Whether Reebok gets there first, though, is another matter.