Do You Have to Sweat to Get a Good Workout?

Sweat and Exercise

Photo: Pond5

Your recent workout left you sweating buckets — that means it was great, right? Not necessarily. “Sweat is not always a great indicator of how good your workout was,” says Jessica Matthews, the American Council on Exercise‘s Senior Adviser on Health and Fitness. Then there’s the common misconception that how much you sweat determines the amount of calories you’ve burned — which is not always the case.

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First, a lesson on why you’re dripping (or staying pretty dry): “Sweating is one way your body prevents itself from overheating,” explains Matthews. When you exercise, your body literally heats up, stimulating your sweat response. Then, as sweat evaporates off your skin into the air, you cool yourself down.

But it’s important to remember that each person is unique. “Some people can be really sweaty even if they’re not being very physically active, [whereas] someone else can go to the gym for 60 minutes and look like they barely stepped out of the house,” explains Matthews.

And how much you sweat, or what’s referred to as your rate of sweat, is determined by a slew of factors including temperature, humidity, and even how fit you are. Generally, more physically fit people sweat sooner because their bodies’ thermoregulation — aka air conditioning — system turns on faster. But that’s not always the case: So don’t sweat not sweating just yet.

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Does Sweating More Help You Burn More Calories?

Because we often associate sweat with exercise, it’s easy to assume the two are related. “The truth is, no matter how much or little you sweat, it doesn’t always correlate to calories burned or how hard you’re working,” Matthews says.

Take a hot yoga class or an outdoor run on a scorching day, for example. Odds are, after you’ve finished, if you step on the scale you’ll notice you’re a few pounds down. Keep in mind that’s water weight — not fat — and is only a temporary loss. Once you rehydrate, you’ll gain it all back.

In one study, Colorado State University researchers found that in a 90-minute Bikram class, men burned around 460 calories, while women averaged 330. Far fewer than you’d think, right? That’s because heated classes are designed to improve muscle flexibility, not increase calorie burn. So while you may be sweating a lot more than you would in your typical power yoga class, you are likely burning less cals, since it’s a less rigorous form of yoga.

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What Really Matters With Calorie Burn

Matthews cites that duration and intensity are the two most important factors for boosting (or measuring) caloric burn. For aerobic exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine generally recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity per week. But they note that you need more time on top of that (150 to 250+ minutes) if you’re looking to lose weight.

For resistance workouts, Matthews says weight load is a good measure. Generally, to build muscle, you want to lift a heavy enough weight you can do eight to 15 reps — it should feel hard, but not entirely impossible.

But all this doesn’t mean you should forgo all workouts that don’t make you sweat. Take restorative yoga, for instance. You’re barely breaking a sweat, but you’re reaping quality, calming mind-body benefits. Plus, one study found restorative yoga can help you burn fat, too.

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So forget stressing about your sweat. Just keep moving. Remember: If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s more often about upping the intensity, not doing everything you can to sweat more.

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