I'm a runner in all seasons. I enjoy hitting the pavement on steamy July evenings just as much as I love a midday jog on a Saturday in January. Aside from the difference in my gear from season to season, one huge thing sticks out to me: I sweat a lot during my summertime runs and very little during the winter ones.
My mileage and running time are generally the same, so this phenomenon leaves me a little stumped. If I'm not drenched in sweat after a run, am I really getting a good workout in? And a relaxing yoga class that does wonders for opening my hips but leaves my armpits dry? Was that actually high-quality exercise?
Because I'm sure you have similar burning sweat-related questions, I decided to get to the bottom of it. Here's what you need to know.
What's going on in your body when you sweat?
The first five minutes on the treadmill are sweat-free, and you're feeling good. But by minute seven your armpits and hairline are a little sweaty, and 20 minutes later you're totally drenched. This is your body's way of helping you cool off.
"Your body constantly works to regulate its temperature. Increased heat and blood flow during exercise amps up sweating, and sweat releases that heat," says Jason Boehm, certified nutrition specialist. "Sweating cools you off. It's also a great way to detoxify."
According to women's health expert Dr. Anna Cabeca, sweating is one of the biggest benefits of exercise. "It's really a wonderful thing when you are sweating after a workout; it's a natural process that your body initiates to cool your body temperature. We sweat through our glands all over skin; some areas have more than others like under the arms," she says. "As the sweat evaporates off the skin, it naturally cools your body. More importantly, when we are sweating also release toxins. But don't forget to hydrate before you exercise! And include healthy minerals in your diet from organic vegetables, nuts, and fruits."
What it means when you don't break a sweat in cold weather.
So you don't sweat in 20-degree weather. That doesn't mean you're not getting high-quality exercise. "All it means is that your body temperature was not overheating," says Anna while Jason adds, "In the winter, your body retains heat so you don't go into hypothermic shock. Your body has two responses to cold. Vasomotor responses help your body retain heat so you keep warm. Metabolic responses replace the heat your body releases. Together, they maintain that balance so your body doesn't overly heat but at the same time you don't freeze to death."
Trainer John Cianca adds, "Having a good sweat on a run no doubt feels great, but it shouldn't be used to monitor your performance. Try focusing on improvements on your speed, distance, and the rate at which you recover next time you go out for a run.”
That sounds pretty doable.
What about yoga?
I've been to dozens of yoga classes that leave me totally sweat-free afterward, and I know I'm not alone in that. So, are nonsweaty workouts worth it? The experts say yes.
"Any workout is a good workout if it works for you and you're consistent with it," says Jason. "Yoga is more core strengthening, stretching, and deep, slow breathing. Running on the treadmill is aerobic exercise that usually entails more shallow breathing, signaling your body to sweat as more rapid movements are performed."
According to Anna, fitness is about the whole picture—and it's OK if some of your workouts don't make you sweat. "Sweating is not an indication of a good workout," she explains. "You will want to include activities that do make you sweat periodically, though, and spend some time in infrared saunas and steam baths."
What to do if you're not sweating when you know you should be.
There are some cases in which you don't break a sweat when you know you absolutely should. Think a long run on a scorching summer day, or a hot yoga class. "Any type of high-intensity exercise should prompt you to sweat. If you are working out intensely and are still not sweating at all, you need to consult a physician to determine the cause," says naturopathic doctor Tiffany Jackson.
If this sounds familiar to you, it could be an indication that you're not drinking enough water, not exercising at a high enough intensity (we're not talking about yoga here), or you could be taking medication that blocks you sweat glands. In any case, be sure to consult a professional.