Want a hard workout? ‘No sweat’

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer

In our household, mid-March does not herald the coming of spring, most welcome after the cold, dark winter months.  No, this time of year is recognized by the arrival of an even more significant yearly occurrence: March Madness!  College basketball is my husband’s favorite sport, and as the announcement of the lucky 64 teams edges closer, we find ourselves watching a lot of college games, both televised and at Chaifetz Arena cheering on the SLU Billikens.

Aside from admiring the talent these young men possess, it is always stunning to observe how much body weight these athletes lose to sweat during a 2-hour game.  As such, and not just with regard to basketball, profuse sweating has come to be equated with the intensity of a workout.  Watch any televised Wimbledon tennis match, NBA tournament, or Olympic track event and you will see the cameras zoom in on the glistening athletes, as though the sweat pouring off their bodies is proof of their physical prowess.

Throughout my years as a group exercise instructor, students have often commented to me after class, “Look how wet my T-shirt is!  I must have really worked hard!!!” I have also heard the inverse: “Wow, I thought I was working hard, but look — I’m barely sweating!  You should make class harder next time!” 

The truth of the matter is that sweating is not always the best indicator of how hard a body is working.  Many factors, aside from exertion, may contribute to the shedding of bodily fluid in the form of sweat. 

The temperature of the room can have a great influence on how much one is going to sweat during exercise.  Materials from which some athletic apparel is made are designed to wick away and absorb perspiration, so much so that it never even appears on the outside of the body.  Hormonal fluctuations, medications, sodium intake and time of day are also considerations that may have a direct effect on whether or not a body will profusely sweat, even during the most daunting aerobics class.

Prior to beginning any potentially intense workout, it is always advisable to properly hydrate, in case your body is the type to expel excess sweat.  Dressing appropriately is also important, whether that might be in layers for a chilly day or in loose-fitting garments during the hot, humid months.  The best way to gauge how hard you are working, however, is to either monitor your heart rate at the midpoint of class (if that is possible without interrupting your exercise), or the “talk test”:  If you can easily carry on a conversation during what should be the peak point of your workout, you probably are not exhibiting your maximum effort, even if your sweaty T-shirt seems to be telling you otherwise.  

And if you are breathless, exhilarated, and feeling great after class, but your clothes have remained dry, know that you have indeed worked hard and should feel proud of your efforts!  Instead of living by the old slogan, “No pain, no gain”, try to embody the new mantra, “No sweat? You bet!”