by Geoff Rand
If you’re old like me you may remember the 1980’s TV commercials for Dry Idea antiperspirant. They featured a slew of celebrities telling us “Never let them see you sweat.” While that might be a desirable result for an interview or first date, we definitely should be seeing you sweat in the Box.
Recently, a few CFF members were having a discussion about sweating and it got me thinking, so I decided to do some investigation into the topic.
Why do we sweat? Our bodies produce sweat to keep us cool and heat generated by exertion triggers our sweat glands. The air evaporating the sweat off our skin is what cools us.
Is there a correlation between amount of sweat and calories burned? While you may feel like you haven’t gotten a good workout unless you can wring out your shirt at the end, amount of sweat is not necessarily an indicator of how many calories you burned or how intense of a workout you had. If your amount of sweat really meant something, then workouts like yoga and Pilates, which often don’t turn you into a sweaty mess, wouldn’t produce toned and fit bodies.
I feel like I’m sweating more now than I used to, why is that? Barring a medical condition, if you find that you are perspiring more now than you were before, it might be because you are more fit than you used to be. Studies have shown that trained athletes sweat sooner and sweat heavier compared to untrained people.
While this may seem illogical, actually, the more fit you are, the more efficiently your body sweats. As you become more fit, your body starts to sense the exertion it is about to be expected to perform and starts to pre-cool you by activating the sweat glands early. This might explain why you find yourself starting to soak your shirt during the warm up. As you become a more efficient machine, your body becomes able to work at a higher intensity for longer durations of time. To keep this intensity up, your cooling system also becomes more efficient.
Why do men sweat more than women? While women have more sweat glands than men, male sweat glands produce more sweat than women’s sweat glands.
A 2010 Japanese study tested men and women in a controlled cardio workout and found that women’s bodies need to reach a higher temperature than men’s before they begin sweating. While the reasons for this are not known, it is speculated that because women have less fluid in their bodies than men, this heat tolerance is an evolved survival mechanism allowing women to retain fluid and increase chances of survival in a hot environment. The male response and increased sweating might be an evolutionary reaction to allow us to have greater efficiency during action or labor.
Will I still sweat if I’m dehydrated? If you go into a workout already dehydrated, your body will still attempt to cool you, but there is a limit to how much it can do for you with limited resources. Cooling through sweating is ideal, but as dehydration increases in severity, the body will start shutting down some processes to conserve energy in an attempt to cool itself while still performing the work being asked of it. If you notice you have stopped sweating during exercise, this is a serious situation, and you are likely in advanced stages of heat stroke and are in need of medical attention.
What is a “normal” amount to sweat? A former member of CFF was a heavy sweater. I remember one time when he was on the GHD, the sweat coming off him was being thrown several feet behind him with each downward movement. People on abmats had to move out of the way. There was a huge slick in front of his GHD machine at the end of the WOD. While he might sweat a lot compared to others, his level of perspiration was likely not outside of normal amounts.
The problem with determining what is normal when it comes to sweat is that there are so many factors at play that influence when and how much we sweat. Exercise, stress, temperature, lack of acclimation to the climate, certain medications, heredity, certain foods, and some medical conditions can all factor into the amount we sweat.
Likely, if you sweat excessively, called hyperhidrosis, you know you have it. People with this condition sweat nearly constantly, regardless of the situation or level of exertion.
When it comes to amounts of sweat we produce while exercising, the vast majority of us will fall into the widely varying “normal” range.
Sweating is nothing to be ashamed of. Men and women will sweat and if you are doing work, you should expect to produce perspiration. It’s natural. Don’t sweat it.