Picture this: You’ve just finished an intense cycling class and are so soaked with sweat that it almost looks like you’ve just stepped out of the pool. But when you peek around the studio at the other riders clipping out of their pedals, you notice that they’re comparatively cool and dry. The differences in how much you sweat could have someone wondering if you did an entirely different workout.
You might be tempted to question: Am I out of shape? Or did I just work out harder than anyone else?
The truth is, we all perspire at somewhat different rates. If you’re sweating more than anyone else around you, there could be a few different reasons why.
First things first: Why do we sweat?
Humans sweat to regulate our internal body temperature when it begins to rise. That’s because the body wants to maintain its temp within a certain range to protect the cells and tissues from damage, and to keep enzymes functioning properly so they can carry out the various chemical reactions and biological operations in the body.
“Sweating is how our bodies release heat in order to maintain homeostasis and our internal temperature,” says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN, an exercise physiologist and author of numerous books, including The Micro-Workout Plan. But it’s actually not the sweating itself that cools us down—it’s the evaporation of the sweat that releases the heat, he clarifies.
Holland says that this sweat mechanism makes the human body is extremely efficient in cooling itself, compared to many other animals. For example, dogs are unable to sweat; instead, they cool down through panting, which is a much less efficient process. “Our ability to regulate our body temperature through sweating is one of the reasons anthropologists believe we were indeed ‘born to run,’” notes Holland.
Why do some of us sweat more than others?
Holland says there are three common reasons why someone might sweat more than those around them, despite being in the same environment and doing the same workout: being larger, being older, or being fitter.
“Higher sweat rates are found in people with larger bodies (more heat is generated and more surface area needs to be cooled down), older people due to an age-related decrease in heat tolerance, and, counterintuitively, fitter people,” he says. “The fitter you are, the sooner and more you sweat as the body attempts to cool itself down as quickly as possible.”
What can it mean if you’re sweating more than you used to, even though you’re doing the same workout you always have? According to Holland, it could be indicative of a few things. “One, you have increased your fitness level and your body has made this positive adaptation. Two, you might be ‘under the weather’ with a low-level sickness like a flu or cold. Three, your hormones might be a factor, especially women experiencing menopause,” he says.
Holland says that heavy sweat rate alone is generally nothing to worry about, and can often mean your hard work is paying off. However, if you’re suddenly sweating a lot more than you used to, or much more than the average 0.8 to 1.4 liters per hour, he suggests checking in with your healthcare provider.
What if you barely sweat during your workout?
So, if heavy sweating can be indicative of being fit, if you’re not sweating much, does that mean you’re not fit or not getting a good workout?
According to Holland, just because you aren’t sweating doesn’t mean you aren’t working hard or getting in a great workout. “Heart rate and perceived exertion are the two important metrics that you should pay attention to during exercise,” he says. “If you are working out in a cool environment with low humidity, there is less heat stress on the body and you will sweat less as a result.”
Whether you sweat a lot or just a little, the important thing is to replace the fluid lost. Holland says a good rule of thumb is to follow the “a pint a pound” guideline. “If you weighed yourself before and after a sweaty workout and lost two pounds (that’s fluid, not body fat), you would want to rehydrate with two pints of fluid,” Holland says.
Stay hydrated, enjoy your workouts, and don’t worry if your shirt is wetter than anyone else’s. That’s your badge of fitness!
Feeling ready to sweat? Try this HIIT workout with trainer Charlee Atkins:
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