Dear Trainer: If I’m Not Sweating, Is My Workout Hard Enough?

Shana Verstegen
by Shana Verstegen
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Dear Trainer: If I’m Not Sweating, Is My Workout Hard Enough?

Trainers get asked all kinds of questions, which makes sense: The gym can be an intimidating place with trends coming and going by the second. How can a person keep up with it all? We’ve been collecting questions and asking trainers for answers. If you have a question of your own, leave it in the comments below — and yours just might be answered next.

How much you sweat and how difficult your workout is aren’t always related. Let’s take a deeper dive into sweat.

WHY WE SWEAT

Sweating is all about temperature control. Once our body temperature surpasses 98.6ºF, sweat glands are triggered to release a mixture of sodium chloride, other electrolytes and water. As this sweat evaporates, some heat is taken with it, thus cooling the skin. During exercise, a combination of a temperature increase and an elevation of heart rate, blood pressure and muscle stimulation causes the body to excrete more sweat.

SWEAT VARIANCE

The frequency of brow wiping varies from person to person and workout to workout. The overall size of the exerciser, size and number of sweat glands, hormonal fluctuations, humidity, temperature, stress levels and certain medications can all play a role in this variance.

Some research in PLOS One indicates that the fitter the individual, the sooner and more prevalent their perspiration. This is due to our body’s ability to adapt to exercise — and cooling oneself down, especially in hotter temperatures, is one of these adaptations. However, too much sweat during a resting state, especially in the underarms and on the palms, can be a sign of a common condition known as hyperhidrosis, and once again, a visit to the doctor is recommended.

On the other hand, if you’re not sweating during your workout, there are a few things to take into consideration:

  • Are you drinking enough?: Dehydration is the first thing to consider. “When someone is not sweating during a workout and they are working hard, one of the first things I look for is whether they are properly hydrated,” says Todd Durkin, a certified strength and conditioning coach and owner of Fitness Quest 10. “I’ll ask them about their water intake or even their coffee/caffeine intake, as that can leave people dehydrated.”
  • What kind of workout are you doing?: The type of workout and exercises selected can also affect sweat levels, according to Mark Cheng, PhD: “I’ve spent the majority of my life in the martial arts and tai-chi is the foundation for most of my training. When I started training as a child, my father told me that the hardest training sessions would probably be the ones where it seemed like I was doing nothing … and he was right. The training sessions where I either looked like I was standing still or moving in super-slow motion, completely devoid of momentum or overt athleticism were the ones that left my muscles aching and growing. “
  • What medications are you taking?: If you feel you are properly hydrated and still working intensely, there may be a medical issue to blame. Certain drugs, skin diseases, neurological disorders or trauma to the sweat glands could also be the origin, thus consulting with your doctor is a good idea if you are concerned.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Depending on the workout, the environment and the individual, there will be a high variance on the size of the puddle on your exercise mat. It is important to be mindful of lack of sweating or too much sweating without exercise, as these could be signs of a medical condition.

Sweat itself is not an indicator of workout performance. As Cheng points out, “if sweat was the best arbiter of a workout’s usefulness, then a sauna should be the end-all-be-all of workouts!”

About the Author

Shana Verstegen
Shana Verstegen

Shana, a member of the Under Armour Training Team, is a TRX and American Council on exercise master instructor and a six-time world champion lumberjack athlete. She holds a degree in Kinesiology
- Exercise Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and is a certified personal trainer through ACE, NASM and NFPT. An energetic and personable speaker, she is also the National spokesperson for the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.

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