Are You Getting A Good Workout If You're Not Sweating?
For many people, working out means sweating—and for some, it means sweating a lot. Coming from a sports background, I attributed sweating to two things: how hard I was working and how hot it was outside. And once I left high school and had to go to the gym, that mentality stuck. To get a "good" workout, I had to sweat.
While that mindset has served me in some ways—fostered my love of Bikram yoga, HIIT, and boxing—it hasn't always been beneficial. Feeling like you have to sweat during your workout can be a real killjoy. I often thought, "Why would I do that workout if I'm not going to sweat?" "I didn't sweat during that workout, so I must've not worked out," or "I should do something else; that wasn't enough."
Fortunately I realized that movement is about so much more than sweating. But I still hear people asking themselves what I did so many times: Am I really getting a good workout if I'm not sweating? We asked top trainers their thoughts on sweat and whether or not a solid workout depends on it.
What does it mean to have a "good" workout?
Believe it or not, none of the trainers I asked mentioned sweat when giving their definition of an effective workout. They all did say, however, that a "good" workout should be challenging in some way.
"I define a 'good' workout as one that leaves a client feeling balanced," says certified personal trainer and Pilates and barre instructor Jason Williams. "Balanced meaning challenged, mobile, and motivated."
They also defined a good workout as a sort of progression—the workout helps you get better at whatever you're doing, and you accomplish your goal of the session, whether that goal is to work on your athletic performance, lower your stress, or simply feel better.
"I believe a good workout is achieved when the goal of the session is accomplished," says Alex Silver-Fagan, an ACE-CPT, certified functional strength coach and Nike master trainer. "Aka, was a skill learned? Was strength the focus? Was conditioning the focus? Once you determine what you want to do in a session, you can easily attack it and get a 'good' workout."
Is it possible to have an effective workout without sweating?
The short answer: yes. Workouts like strength training don't always cause you to sweat buckets, but there's no debating their efficacy and importance as part of your workout regimen.
"Sweat is in no way an indicator of anything 'effective' with exercise," Lauren Kanski, a NASM-certified personal trainer, told mbg. "People typically don't sweat as much in a strength-training session, and that's just because their heart rate might not get up as high or for extended periods of time, like it does in cardio. That doesn't mean they aren't working hard or being challenged."
Silver-Fagan agrees, noting that genetics play a role in how much you sweat as well—so it's not a true gauge of your workout.
"I honestly don't sweat much during my lifting sessions," she says, "and that's because the focus is on heavy lifting and because I'm genetically not a big sweat-er. This is different for everyone. Some people can sweat just by looking at a weight. For me, I need my heart rate to be pretty high to start breaking a sweat. Again, the effectiveness of a workout should be determined by if the goal is accomplished, not the amount you sweat."
To repeat: Sweating is not an accurate gauge of workout intensity.
If you base your workout on how much you sweat, you'll ultimately miss out on types of training that your body can reap major benefits from, including strength training and stability work (like Pilates). You're also likely to keep doing the same workouts and exercises—the ones that make you sweat—over and over again, which can lead to overtraining and plateaus. "We have to remember that the body is highly adaptive," Kanski notes. "We are such smart creatures. So doing the same things over and over again does not benefit us as time goes on. Stay creative!"
How much you sweat depends on so many factors, from your genetics and hydration levels to the conditions of the environment you exercise in (if you're in a gym without air conditioning, yeah, you're probably going to sweat). If you need physical evidence of your intensity, Kanski says you can look for faster breathing or muscle fatigue and shaking. Of course, there's a fine line with this. "Pushing someone to puke in a workout is by no means a good indicator either," she says. "It's about finding balance."
Above all, focus on achieving your goal for the session—that's the best way to know if your session was successful. Or as Silver-Fagan puts it: "If you are feeling 'worked' in the area you deemed as your focus, then yes, that's a good workout."
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