Quantity doesn’t matter. Here’s what does.
Quick quiz: Which is a tell-tale sign that you’re getting a great workout?
A. Lots of sweat
B. A little sweat
C. No sweat
D. All of the above
E. None of the above
Chances are, you answered A. The correct answer is D. And E.
“Sweating and workout quality do not go hand in hand,” says Brian Zehetner, C.S.C.S., the director of health and fitness at Planet Fitness. “Sweating is simply a mechanism by which your overheated body can cool itself. As your core temperature rises, the body looks to dissipate heat. Sweating—and its subsequent evaporation—is just one way to do so.”
But wait, you’re thinking—the more we sweat, the harder we’re working, right? Well, not exactly.
There are several factors that dictate how little, or how much, we sweat during workouts, including air temperature, humidity, gender, body size, age, and genetics, Zehetner explains.
Your fitness level also plays a role. A study published in the journal PLoS ONE found that seasoned long-distance runners sweat faster and more profusely than people who exercise very little or are sedentary. As your body gets fitter, the researchers explain, your sweat system becomes more efficient.
So if you’re perspiring more than your gym buddy, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going harder––although you might be fitter overall. But with so many variables at play, it’s hard to say for sure.
What Your Sweat Really Means
The pool of perspiration next to your cardio machine may not say much about your work ethic, but the type of sweat is sending a message.
Does your skin get particularly gritty when sweat dries? And when perspiration drips into your eyes, does it sting?
If the answer to either of these questions is yes, your body likely needs more electrolytes, says Zehetner. He recommends refueling with a sports drink or plopping an electrolyte tablet into your water.
Regardless of how much (or little) you’re perspiring during exercise, one thing’s clear: You need to stay hydrated. The American Council on Exercise recommends guzzling 17 to 20 ounces of water two hours before your workout, 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise, and another 16 to 24 ounces after your workout for every pound of body weight you lost.
And remember: Our sense of thirst weakens as we get older, so drink up whether or your mouth is parched or not.
Note: Please consult your physician before beginning a physical activity program to make sure it’s safe for you.