Even in cool conditions, just thinking about executing even a moderately strenuous activity (let’s start with chewing gum), those tiny drops start to bead on my forehead. Maybe it’s fear. My grandfather used to say, ‘You should never be afraid of a hard day’s work,’ but I think I am. I’m pretty sure. And when I actually do something physical, it can get downright scary.
Families of ducks would start lining up outside the gym as I left mill ponds behind on the rubberised flooring after performing a set in that spot. I’d be red faced and cascading rivers as my trainer barked instructions at me. The occasional gym rat would give her a polite shoulder tap to share an observation, ‘I think he’s gunna die, I really do’.
Does that mean I was fit? Maybe not. There are many factors influencing how much you might sweat but the general consensus, amongst the experts, is… The more you sweat and the earlier you sweat may indicate that you are operating at a higher fitness level.
If only those ducks knew, they might’ve delayed their visits for a few months and enjoyed some much deeper ponds.
The amount a person sweats at the gym generally depends on the individual’s fitness level, according to diet and fitness author, Andrea Metcalf… although fitness isn’t always an accurate measure either. Other factors to consider are genetics, age, gender, environment and what type of exercise you’re doing.
Knowledge is power and understanding why we sweat can give you the upper hand in competitive events.
There are many scientific explanations of this often smelly phenomenon, most include eccrine, apocrine and apoeccrine glands, some touch on hydroxylated branched fatty acids but my favourite articles elaborate on Corynebacterium and Staphylococcus epidermidis. Try and say that with a mouthful of marbles!
I’m content with understanding that as our core temperature increases, the pores in our skin open and release perspiration. As the air around us flows over our wet skin, the perspiration evaporates, which is a cooling (endothermic), process. Simultaneously, the tiny blood vessels close to our skin become engorged and carry more blood there. This blood then circulates back to our core to help regulate our body temperature.
Generally, it’s our own perspiration, which is mostly water and trace electrolytes, that helps to cool our body but splashing on more water helps the process. This also means that our body doesn’t have to work as hard in producing sweat. When you see a runner squirt their drink bottle all over their head, it’s not because they’ve suffered some temporary eye-hand coordination malfunction. It’s because they’re proactively assisting their body with the cooling process. They’re also cleverly helping their body direct energy production towards running faster, rather than generating more sweat.
During exercise, the average person might produce 1.0 to 1.5 litres of sweat per hour, so some of the stuff in your water bottle still needs to find its way into your mouth and if you plan to work out for more than one hour, mix in some electrolytes.
According to Metcalf, fitter people sweat more because their bodies have become more efficient at cooling off during exercise. And, as your level of fitness increases, so too does your level of performance. That might mean that you begin to run faster, swim further or lift heavier weights. Therefore, as your level of performance increases, your body needs to increase its’ level of cooling. It’s simple stuff and more reason why physically fit people usually sweat more during exercise.
If you would like to get stuck into some routines that will really get your eccrine glands working like a pro, try some of these that I’ve selected for you.