Do you judge the success of your workout based on how much you sweat? And do you wonder if you worked hard enough because you’re not sweating as much as others? Olivia Park explores whether sweating really is an indication of a good workout.
In short, no.
Perhaps you wonder if you worked hard enough because you’re not sweating as much as the other women in the class or you didn’t sweat as much as your last workout?
Maybe you even feel cheated if you don’t finish your workout dripping – what a waste of time!
Have you seen the memes 'sweat is your fat crying'? Not only are these messages deeply rooted in fat phobia and diet culture, they’re just not true. But it’s confusing when you’re overloaded with these messages telling you that your sweat is a badge of honour.
How much you sweat is literally your ability to sweat. It has nothing to do with a workout being beneficial or not.
Sweat is to do with your genetics, your core temperature, how much hair you have on your body – there is not a single thing that correlates sweating with losing weight, getting fitter, getting stronger or changing your body.
Here are a few facts for you:
- To prevent your body from overheating, your body sends blood outward from your core to your skin in order to cool down. This leaves a layer of moisture on your skin to act as a cooling agent.
- You may find that you sweat more or less in different phases of your menstrual cycle. Your internal temperature is constantly fluctuating with the changes in estrogen and progesterone. In the high-hormone phase (the luteal – see this article for more information about training with your menstrual cycle), skin temperature and blood flow are lower making it harder to cool our internal environment. With menopause, cooling is more challenging but an increase in aerobic fitness can be helpful.
- If you’re dehydrated, you’ll most likely sweat less because you have less water in your body to act as a cooling agent.
- Your environmental factors can affect your skin temperature. When you have hot skin, there’s less cooling available to return to the body. This means the water in your body is lower and will impact your ability to sweat and offload heat. (This is not a good thing as you may fatigue quicker and not be able to perform as well in a workout.)
It is a sensation. It is not a measure of intensity. Just like being cold. It is just what it is, right? You’re cold so you put a jersey on.
If you’re hot, you take it off.
If you need to go to the bathroom, you go to the bathroom.
If you have an itch, you scratch it,
If you sweat, your body is cooling itself off – it’s vasodilation.
If sweat is something you chase in a workout, I encourage you to consider what the meaning is that you may have attached to it and where did that come from?
So, if sweat is not necessary for a workout to be 'good', then what is? Being a little bit better than when you walked into the gym across a broad range of what 'better' could mean for you. On any given day it could be:
- Performance: increasing load, volume, capacity, progressing with an exercise
- Feeling more energised
- More mental clarity
- Less stress
- Feeling proud
- Being focussed
- Following through on something you said you were going to do
- Building resilience
It could be a PR on your bench press; it could be the integrity with which you moved; it could be feeling less pain.
I love getting sweaty in the gym, but that’s not correlated with working hard. Some days my hard work doesn’t make me sweat.
If you feel jipped because you could get away with wearing the same shirt tomorrow, what does your 'better' actually mean?
Is your 'better' to be smaller? Or to fix something? Dig deep here.
There’s so much more to movement than using it as a way to 'fix'.
At any given time you have the opportunity to choose your 'better' from a place of empowerment or disempowerment. Start with opening up the possibility for a 'good' workout to mean something different other than just sweating. Set an intention each time you do a workout: what do you want to achieve today?
You'll probably still get sweaty, because that's the physiology of how your body works (make sure you hydrate, please!), but you can detach from that as being good by giving it a new, empowering meaning.
Olivia is a women’s health and performance coach who helps women find liberation from the ‘shoulds’ of the fitness industry and the all-or-nothing mindset through training with intention and intensity. To find out more about her or get in touch, click here.
You can also find her on Instagram here and Facebook here.