Sweat Does not a Workout Make

I can’t count how many times I hear that someone has had a good workout since they “worked up a good sweat”. Well, we can sweat in a hot tub or sauna too! Sweat does not equal a workout – good or otherwise.

Sweat is a response to increased body heat. Sweat is produced to then cover the skin surface and subsequently be evaporated. In the evaporation process, cooling takes place. Levels of humidity as well as a slight breeze can greatly affect the rate of evaporation. The goal of sweat is to cool the body. Once body temperatures reach 106, cell damage is taking place; not a good thing.

Often, we are fooled by the fact that down here in the southwest it appears that we aren’t sweating as much as in other parts of the country. Well, that happens to be completely untrue. In fact a recent survey found that “the average Phoenix resident produced 26 ounces (0.77 liter) of sweat per hour during a typical summer day last year.” This Procter & Gamble Co. survey studied 100 cities to determine estimates of the amount of sweat a person of average weight and height would produce walking around for an hour in the average high temperatures of a particular city during June, July and August. Phoenix ended up #1 on the sweatiest cities list for 2006. We sweat more than Miami! The main difference is that due to our dry atmospheric conditions (10-22% humidity) it evaporates faster on us than it will in a place like Miami where it drips off you in 70% humidity!

Now a really bad situation is when in fact you actually stop sweating. You are on the verge of heat related conditions that can culminate in heat stroke, coma and death. Actually stopping sweating is a medical emergency! So, be careful of course, but don’t be fooled that because your skin is not dripping wet that you aren’t sweating.

The amount of sweat lost during exertion is very individual. Even the chemical make up of the sweat differs from person to person. Perhaps you have notice how after some runs you see runners covered in “salt” residue and others not. That is one of the reasons each of us need to experiment with fluid replacement strategies before race situations. But, do not jump to the conclusion that you have somehow lost more electrolytes than someone else and arbitrarily start adding them to your drinks or diet!

Since sweat loss is individual, here’s how to determine the amount of sweat you lose in a given condition. Weigh yourself naked. (Don’t worry, nobody will look.) Go for a one-hour run. A shorter run could be used but this is what is most often used. Do not take fluids during the run. Then, once again after the run and before you take in any fluids, weigh yourself naked (We’re still not looking). Take the difference in weight and divide those pounds by 2.1. That will give you the number of quarts of fluids you need to replace. So, a body weight loss of six pounds is just less than three quarts (6/2.1=2.85) of fluid loss. (1 kilogram equals 1 liter of fluid for the metric minded.) And here is the importance of this assessment: performance is impacted with as little as a 3% loss of fluids and a 5% body weight loss will equal about a 10% decrease in performance. That is only 4.5-7.5 pounds in a 150 pound runner.

You then need to add that amount of fluid to your recommended daily amount of intake. The rule of thumb is nine eight-ounce glasses for women and 13 eight-ounce glasses of fluids for men.

By the way, those figures above aren’t unusual weight losses at all. And for dieters, that may seem like a good thing. It isn’t. You’ll gain it all back once you re-hydrate. And, if you do not re-hydrate appropriately and completely, you will workout less (less frequency, shorter duration and less intensity), which means you will lose less real weight over time not more. So, never be fooled that sweating and not replacing fluids helps you with weight issues. So stop running around in the heat with warm-ups on!

As another little acknowledged point, well acclimated athletes sweat earlier than those not acclimated. Yes. You sweat earlier because your body “knows” it needs to be cooled earlier and gets it going! Unfit, non-heat acclimated individuals have a slightly delayed sweat response. Therefore, their body temperatures rise faster and they suffer more.

And finally, here are ways to improve your ability to cope with warm conditions. This means that you’re body will sweat earlier to prevent your body temperatures from skyrocketing.
– Train in the heat several times a week
– Train in the heat of day the week before a race
– Stay hydrated all week long
– Improve running economy
– Increase intensity of training
– And know that endurance running does not acclimate you to heat as efficiently or effectively as shorter quality runs.

So, just like heart rate, sweat rates just do not correlate to effort well. Drink up and workout, weather (yes that’s a pun) you get sweaty or not!


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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One Response to Sweat Does not a Workout Make

  1. Jimmy Holub says:

    So anyway, yes, great points. I would also like to interject that Bikram Yoga saps an enormous amount of resources from the body, but does not contribute much, if anything, to the health or conditioning of runner athletes.

    Bikram is the yoga where the room is kept at 105 degrees Fahrenheit and the session lasts for 90 minutes. Running expends similar bodily resources, but of the two (yoga & running) only running is capable of yielding tremendous improvements in physical conditioning, especially aerobic conditioning. Both yoga and running deal with physical power and accuracy.

    Yoga is a beautiful slow-dance, somewhat of an extremely slow-motion version of gymnastics. Mentally, yoga can be a wonderful and relaxing thing, but physically, it is barely useful to runners, and only if extreme care is taken to schedule workouts properly, in order to replenish lost bodily resources (fluids, electrolytes, energy stores, etc.). Yoga does help with flexibility, static power and stationary balance, but this is a totally different realm from running: stationary poses and slow movement.

    Running is an action sport, presenting ADDITIONAL physical fitness components such as speed, dynamic power, efficiency/economy at a certain pace, extended periods at maximum aerobic capacity, extended periods over lactate threshhold, agility for external obstacles/stimuli, etc. Solo-racing requires pre-event strategy formation and during-event strategy execution. Competitive racing adds the component of mental competition with other athletes.

    It takes an extreme amount of effort to coordinate Bikram Yoga and an intense running program. In a word: Nutrition. The body has limits on how fast it can assimilate fluids and any other nutrients. Another word: Scheduling.

    By the way, I did a Bikram Yoga class with a friend this past winter. She’s a former gymnast and we have run together and she has a desire to qualify for the Boston Marathon and she is in her 20s and quite beautiful. Ah, if only yoga were a spectator sport like running…

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