Sweat. You either love it or hate it. For some people, it’s therapeutic; it’s a sign of a good workout. For others, it’s an enigma, no matter how hard they workout they never see much in the form of sweat. So what does the science say? Do you need to sweat during exercise?
Firstly let’s establish what sweating actually is. Sweating is a thermoregulatory system in your body that essentially acts as an automatic fan. Think of it like a bathroom air conditioning unit that turns on when the room temperature gets too hot and humid, it automatically starts cooling it down. That is exactly what sweat does – it cools you down.
When you exercise, your body heats up. This is because you’re being active, your heart rate is increasing and blood is being pumped more vigorously around the body and into the muscles, causing blood vessels in the skin to dilate. Unfortunately, humans are quite inefficient at generating movement: only around 20 percent of the total energy used contributes to the actual muscular contraction involved in the exercise, the remaining 80 percent of the total energy is lost in heat.
When your body temperature increases above homeostasis (around 37 degrees celsius), thermoregulation initiates, causing your body to produce sweat on the skin’s surface. This sweat evaporates, drawing heat from the skin to cool down the body’s core temperature.
If you’re not sweating during exercise, it may be for a few reasons. Firstly, your body temperature may not be above homeostasis, so there’s no need to cool it down. Secondly, you may not be as physically fit. Research shows that fitter people have a more efficient thermoregulatory system, meaning that their bodies are accustomed to regulating body temperature via sweat, from doing regular and intense physical activity.
Another reason you may not sweat is based on the type of exercise you’re doing. If you’re doing pilates or yoga, your heart rate doesn’t typically get very high. Compare this to high-intensity interval training or running, which requires a higher rate for an extended period of time, which equates to more heat being produced.
These types of exercise are still considered a ‘good workout’ and can be measured in terms of muscle shaking and contractions, feeling physically ‘worked’, harder breathing and muscle tightness. These workouts may help to improve flexibility, balance and strength; all great parameters of a ‘good workout’.