Sweating Has Nothing to Do With Losing Fat
His nickname was Stinky- so named, as you might rightly imagine, for the unmistakable musk that trailed behind him whenever he walked into the gym. He probably didn’t have a body odor problem under normal circumstances, but Stinky was a true believer in the magical powers of sweating for burning fat and losing weight. Clad in two layers of gym attire, gracefully topped by a garbage bag, he would enter the gym already drenched (and ripe), and hop onto the treadmill for an hour or more of cardio. The average temperature back home was already 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air conditioning systems at the gym where I first trained didn’t do much save to reduce the humidity a bit. Needless to say, one day Stinky, soaked to the bone with sweat, collapsed during one of his aerobic perspiration marathons. When we got to him, he was severely feverish and a bit delirious, and we had to tear off his many layers of clothes and garbage bags and try to make him drink as much as possible while cooling him off. He ended up in the back of an ambulance bound for the general hospital. An extreme case- yes, but a useful example of how important many think sweating is for overall fat loss. A dangerous, and misguided idea that can do you more harm than good, not to mention, distract you from what you really need to be doing to lose fat. No today there is a growing trend of people, (usually women) who want to exercise without sweating and a host of articles in women’s magazines and online claiming to have exercises that won’t make you sweat but still help you lose weight, and I can tell you with certainty that this is physically impossible to guarantee. Everyone has different thresholds for sweating, some people can break a heavy sweat just warming up, while others can go through a high intensity workout and hardly sweat at all. either way, sweating is not something that should be shied away from and it’s important to keep in mind that any aversion to sweating is an aversion to the body doing what it is supposed to do. It’s actually a bit oppressive as it forwards the antiquated idea that women should not be physically active and that there are somehow some magical difference between men and women that require them to train differently to achieve the same results. A notion that unfortunately is responsible for many women being rather frustrated that they don’t see the progress they want from hours of cardio and aerobic type classes. (See my article Should Women Lift Weights And Train Like Men.) Sure, you might not want to be all sweaty before going to a social function, but that’s what showers are for and you should never evaluate how effective any form of exercise is by how much it makes you sweat or not. That said, in this article we explore where the sweating equals fat burning myth came from and show why sweating has nothing to do with losing body fat. Thanks for reading and do be sure to share this article with anyone who you think might find it to be of interest.
Sweating Won’t Help You Burn Fat
Sweating has absolutely nothing to do with fat burning, and there is no relationship between how much you sweat and how much fat you burn. If sweating meant losing fat, we wouldn’t have a growing obesity problem here in the United States, as every summer everyone would just sweat off the extra pounds! There wouldn’t be anyone overweight living in the tropics- I grew up in the Caribbean, and trust me that certainly isn’t the case as rates of obesity are actually becoming on par with the rates here in the United States even though you are almost always sweating when you are in the Islands! Sweat- or perspiration if you want to be a bit more technical, occurs when our body excretes water and dissolved salts from our sweat glands along with a small amount of urea. Sweating is the way in which our bodies regulate our body temperature so we don’t overheat as the evaporation of sweat from the skin’s surface has a significant cooling effect on the body.
During exercise, when your muscles heat up from exertion, you will tend to sweat more, however the amount of sweat has nothing to do with how much fat you burn, or how effective your workout was. The oft heard post workout expression, “I had a good sweat” only means that your body did what it was designed to do while you were exercising and not much more. Some people naturally seem to sweat less than others while training, but this is not always an indication of how hard they were training. A study conducted at Osaka International and Kobe Universities, in Japan, found that men being perspiring faster than women and tend to sweat twice as much as women do while exercising  but that has no bearing on fat loss or levels of exercise intensity.
Where Did The Myth Of Sweating To Burn Fat Come From?
Every myth has its origins, and the myth that sweating helps you burn fat is no different. The problem stems primarily from observations of athletes in sports with standardized weight classes. A boxer or wrestler, for example, knows that they will be most successful if they compete on the upper side of their weight class limit as opposed to the lower limit. For obvious reasons, you would rather be in a ring weighing as much as you could and the same logic applies to bodybuilding and physique contests as well. Thus, a major part of preparation for a fight, or contest is ‘making weight’ or “getting down to fighting weight’. The goal being to fall right on the upper limit of your weight class when you are weighed before the event. To get to their desired weight, athletes often spend hours in saunas and steam rooms or try to sweat out extra pounds by running or doing aerobic exercises while wearing layers upon layers of clothing. The human body is composed of almost 75% water, so it makes sense if you need to shed a few pounds to try and sweat as much as possible- but you are only losing fluids-not fat. Bodybuilders, and fitness models do the same to “make weight” and rid themselves of excess fluids and the general public sees this and began equating covering up in lots of clothings while working out, or going to saunas as a way of losing body fat as the athletes they observed doing so were in great shape and they wanted to follow suit. Without realizing that any body fat the athlete lost came from their training and diet, and that layering up and sweating in a sauna only helped them lose a few pounds of water that they would immediately regain over the course of only a few hours.
The downside is that very often athletes suffer hyperthermia- heat exhaustion or heat stroke; when the body produces more heat than it can dissipate and our heat regulating sweat mechanisms are overwhelmed by the amount of heat generated.  By exposing yourself to high temperatures for prolonged periods of time in steam rooms, you can suffer heat stroke. Also, by wearing too many layers while exercising, or wearing plastic type materials that interfere with the water evaporation process that cools us down. Combined with a restriction in water intake, excessive sweating and overheating can adversely affect your heart, nervous system, heat regulation, kidney function, electrolyte balance, body composition, and muscular endurance and strength. [4,5,6] So much so that you run the real risk of ending up in an emergency room, and I have unfortunately seen this happen quite often over the years even among athletes who don’t use diuretics. Some athletes- boxers, collegiate wrestlers and bodybuilders have even died as a result and it isn’t a practice anyone should try to emulate at all as it really isn’t worth it given that there are so many other ways to reduce water retention without resorting to extreme practices. (See my Article How To Lose 5lbs Overnight Naturally And Safely).
Sweating Doesn’t Burn Fat- So What Does?
So we have firmly established that sweating is a localized phenomenon that doesn’t increase your metabolism or help you do anything but cool down and lose water, but what can you do to lose fat? There are no secrets and it’s very much your diet and training to increase muscle mass. Aerobic exercise, while noted for being a great way to work up a sweat, does have its benefits, but it isn’t going to sculpt your body into a work of art. (Read my article- Rethinking The Need For Cardio and do take a look at my Free Ebook below on the Role Of Exercise In Reducing Abdominal Fat) For that, you need weight training of sufficient intensity while eating the foods that you need and avoiding the ones that you don’t (See my Article the truth About Six Pack Abs.) At the end of the day, how wet you are after training really isn’t part of the equation and while you shouldn’t be afraid to sweat, know that if you didn’t sweat too much after your last workout it isn’t necessarily and indication that you were not training hard enough. So don’t sweat it!
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1 Mosher HH (1933). “Simultaneous Study of Constituents of Urine and Perspiration”. The Journal of Biological Chemistry 99: 781–790.
2 “Women outshine men in sweat test”. Sydney Morning Hearld. 9 October 2010. http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/lifematters/women-outshine-men-in-sweat-test-20101008-16c0c.html. Retrieved 21 October 2010.
3 Elert, Glenn (2005). “Temperature of a Healthy Human (Body Temperature)”. The Physics Factbook. http://hypertextbook.com/facts/LenaWong.shtml. Retrieved 2007-08-22.
4 Horswill CA. Applied physiology of amateur wrestling. Sports Med 1992;14:114-43.
5 Scott JR, Horswill CA, Dick RW. Acute weight gain in collegiate wrestlers following a tournament weigh-in. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1994;26:1181-5.
6 Steen SN, Brownell KD. Patterns of weight loss and regain in wrestlers: has the tradition changed? Med Sci Sports Exerc 1990;22:762-8.
7 Sawka MN, Young AJ, Francesconi RP, Muza SR, Pandolf KB. Thermoregulatory and blood responses during exercise at graded hypohydration levels. J Appl Physiol 1985;59:1394-401.