The Claim: The more you sweat, the more out of shape you are. What’s more? If you’re sweating, you’re getting a brutal workout.
The Fiction: Blame it on tv shows, movies, or those hokey deodorant ads – but somewhere between workouts we got all the wrong ideas when it comes to sweat. We’re conditioned to not only believe that those of us who are sweat-drenched after five minutes are less fit than our drier counterparts – but that the sign of a workout well done is a soaked towel and puddle below the spin bike. Hate to break it to you, but both of these claims are completely fit-fictional.
The Facts: Sweating is our body’s natural way of cooling down and preventing our core body temperature from rising into the (dangerous) stratosphere. When we exercise, we generate heat – and that heat needs to be released. If not, much like a car that’s missed way too many servicing appointments, we’ll eventually overheat and break down (dramatic, but true!). Sweat brings down our core body temperature and cools the body down, helping to carry heat out us. The more fit we get, the more heat we are producing on a regular basis – meaning the body slowly starts to acclimate to prevent overheating. Therefore, our bodies become super-efficient at cooling ourselves down – meaning we may sweat more (and sooner). So while you might think that sweat pool on the treadmill is a sign you’re in need of some gym therapy, in reality, it could be that the opposite is the real truth.
You might not only sweat more as you get more fit, you might sweat sooner – which leads us to the second half of this fit myth. Yep, you guessed it: sweat is not an accurate indicator of how hard you’re working. A number of reasons besides fitness level come into play when beads of sweat start to form: your gender, the clothing material you’re wearing, the number of sweat glands you have, the temperature of the room, your body chemistry and composition, even whether you’ve downed a cup of coffee or two (caffeine, smoking, and alcohol can increase perspiration – since sweat is also the body’s natural detoxification method!). And of course, if you’re truly concerned about your levels of sweat, please be sure to speak with your doctor. We’re sorry to break it to you, but while that hot yoga sesh or scorching spin class might leave you soaking wet and has numerous other benefits, the sweat you work up is not a very accurate indication of how hard you’re actually working in the moment.
The Verdict: Who knew that the hows and whys of sweating could be so confusing! The more fit you are, not the less fit you are, the more you might sweat and the sooner it might start up. But just because you’re super in-shape doesn’t mean that whenever you start sweating, you’re working hard. No matter your fitness level, sweating is not indicative of how tough your workout is or isn’t. The better, more reliable, more personalized way to gauge how hard you’re working? Pay attention to how the workout feels in your body and what’s happening with your breath. We like to use the intensity scale of Easy, Moderate, Hard, and All-Out (also referred to as Maximum Effort or Breathless) because it can be applied to any activity at any time, with any level of fitness. Here’s a quick breakdown:
An intensity you could keep up for an extended period of time, no problem. It’s easy to carry on full conversations and easy to breathe only through your nose.
An intensity level that feels like work. Talking is starting to get a bit tougher – and while you can maintain this intensity for a while, you need to start breathing through your mouth to get enough air.
An intensity level that definitely feels strenuous and difficult to maintain. Talking more than a word or two at a time is very difficult and you’re short of breath.
All-Out (Maximum Effort, Breathless)
An intensity level that cannot be sustained for much more than a minute at a time. Talking is impossible and breathing is extremely labored. It feels like you can barely keep going (side note: we know you can!).