In the minds of many people, sweat is firmly linked with a good, effective workout. While there definitely is that group of hardcore exercisers out there who can genuinely say that they love to sweat, sometimes it goes beyond that. Very often, people do not feel as though they have pushed themselves hard enough at the gym if they aren’t dripping with sweat.
Is this a healthy view, though? Can sweat really be used as an accurate measure of exercise intensity? By taking a look at the mechanisms behind sweat and the role it plays in your body, can help to shed some light on this question.
While it might seem like a trivial thing, understanding whether or not sweat can be used to measure the effectiveness of your workout can have a major impact on your workout design.
What It Does
As warm-blooded mammals, humans have the extremely useful ability to control and regulate our body temperature. To accomplish this, our bodies have several tools at their disposal but sweat is the primary approach used to keep us cool.
As your body temperature rises, regardless of whether its because of the environment, intense activity or a combination of the two, your hypothalamus gland sends chemical messengers throughout your body. These hormones activate the sweat glands that literally cover your skin and cause them to produce sweat. This fluid absorbs the excess heat that has collected inside your body and sits on your skin. When the sweat evaporates in the air, it effectively removes the heat from your system and cools you down.
Many factors control how much you sweat. Of course, the most obvious is exercise. And since more intense activity creates more heat, it stands to reason that you would need to sweat more. But your gender, age, fitness level and environment can all have a large impact on your sweat patterns. In fact, out of all of these influences, the environment tends to have the most noticeable effect.
When the air around you is colder than your body, or when you swim in cool water, your body simply sends the excess heat out into the environment and allows the air to cool you. If the air is hotter than your body, though, evaporation by means of sweat is an extremely effective means of cooling your body.
Humid air, however, can cause a lot of confusion in regards to sweat. If the air contains a lot of moisture, it simply cannot absorb the sweat that has collected on your skin. Since it has nowhere to go, then, your sweat begins to drip. This means that being soaked with sweat really has nothing to do with your exercise intensity and is probably just an indication that the air is extremely hot and humid. In fact, you may not even be sweating as much as you think if this occurs. The pooling effect can just make it seem like you are sweating excessively.
Regarding gender, men have a tendency to sweat more than women do. Women also tend to start sweating at higher temperatures then their male counterparts. People also seem to sweat less as they age but this is probably just a result of declining fitness levels. Regardless of your age, you will notice that you sweat less as you become more fit and your body adapts to the exercise. At this point, your body will learn to handle the increased heat more efficiently than when you first started working out.
Words of Caution
As we’ve seen, if you’re dripping with sweat it’s a solid indicator that your body is not able to effectively cool itself down. This could also mean that you are in danger of overheating and should stop exercising to allow yourself to return to a healthy temperature. You should also avoid working out in extremely hot and humid environments.
Some types of exercise, though, focus exclusively on working out in hot, humid areas. Bikram yoga is one popular example of this. If you do choose to participate in this type of exercise, make sure that you stay properly hydrated. Remember, though, that water won’t be adequate during this sort of activity. You will need a drink that actively replenishes your electrolyte supplies since these vital minerals that facilitate nervous function are lost while you sweat.
Regardless of what type of exercise you chose to engage in, though, you need to stay hydrated. Since your individual requirements will vary greatly, listen to your body. Make sure, too, that you also have water or an electrolyte-enriched drink on hand when you’re working out.
Clearly, then, exercise intensity is by no means the only factor that can influence how much you sweat. Because of all the various things that are involved, sweat is not at all an effective way to measure your exercise intensity.