Does Sweatier = Better?
For years, sweat wasn’t talked up much, unless advertisers were trying to sell Old Spice or wicking t-shirts. But as exercise has become mainstream, sweat somehow feels like a more approachable…and maybe even a sexy topic. Rather than marking hard work in the fields, a sweaty brow reflects workout prowess. In some circles, it’s a badge of honor, as people wring out their towels after Bikram yoga class and drink their smoothies in drenched tank tops. And at endurance races (like the famous Western States 100 ultramarathon), sweat is so matter-of-fact that athletes are weighed at checkpoints to make sure they’re taking in what they’re sweating out.
But does sweatier = better? Well, let’s start with the basics: what sweat is and why it exists. An odorless combination of water and sodium, sweat is a natural way for our bodies to cool themselves and keep our core body temperature at 98.6F, which is essential to functioning well. It’s secreted by the millions of sweat glands dotting our bodies, which activate when we need cooling. There are a few reasons our bodies might need to cool themselves, including increased work, elevated environmental temperature, and emotional response… only one of which (increased work) relates to fitness.
So, in a world where “hot” yoga, hot barre, and even hot cycling studios are popping up everywhere, I’m skeptical about conflating sweat and fitness. Both are important (I’m going to cover the ritual of sweat + sweat lodges in a future post), but they need not co-exist to be beneficial (check out this Wikipedia page on sweat therapy to understand how sweat alone can be good for you). For me, sweat is one of many inputs (breathing, heart rate, watts, perceived exertion, ability to talk to my workout partner, muscle fatigue, etc) that help me gauge how hard I’m working, but it’s not the only one. I’ll go to Bikram yoga class, but I’ll gauge my success by how I feel holistically versus how glistening or drenched I am when I walk out.
What’s your take? Do you love sweating or hate it? Do you feel like you’re working harder in “hot” classes, or do you take them for other reasons?