Sweating Has Nothing to Do With Losing Fat
Does sweating burn fat? It’s a common question as to whether sweating is an indication of calories burned, and here’s a story all about sweating that sums the subject up perfectly: His nickname was Stinky, so named, as you might imagine, for the unmistakable sweaty 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 in Trinidad where I grew up was always 85-110 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 Ol’Stinky, soaked to the bone with sweat, collapsed during one of his aerobic perspiration marathons. When we got to him, he was 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 with ice cubes from the supermarket downstairs. 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 believe sweating is for fat loss. A dangerous, and misguided notion, which while very popular, that can do you far more harm than good and distract you from what you really need to be doing to lose fat.
Unfortunately, there is a growing trend of people, (usually women) who want to exercise without sweating and there are 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. It’s a wonderful idea, but I can tell you with certainty over the 28 years that I have been working with men and women to help them lose weight as a personal trainer that burning fat from sweating is absolutely impossible. 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 avoided and it’s important to remember that any aversion to sweating is an aversion to the body doing what it is naturally supposed to do. The notion of a no sweat workout to me is rather sexist and somewhat oppressive as it forwards the antiquated idea that women should not be too physically active and that somehow there is something unappealing about a woman working hard in the gym. Certainly not a way of thinking that we want to promote given the advances of the past several decades, but there are still many who also cling to the notion, women especially, that there is some magical difference between men and women that require them to train differently in order to achieve the same results. A notion that unfortunately is responsible for many women not achieving their fitness goals and feeling rather frustrated after spending so much time, money and effort in more “feminine” forms of exercise, like cardio and aerobic type classes but little in the way of actual progress. (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 attempt to evaluate how effective any form of exercise is, or how much fat you are burning by how much it makes you sweat. 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 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 this is not the case as rates of obesity are on par with the rates here in the United States, even though you are always sweating as you step out of the shower! So how do we know that sweating doesn’t burn fat?: A look at the biology behind it clearly shows that sweat and fat burning have no relationship whatsoever. 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 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 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 sweat less than others when 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 begin 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 if you are going to compete against someone else in such a physical sport and the same logic applies to bodybuilding and physique related contests. Thus, a major part of preparation for a fight, or contest is “making weight” or “getting down to fighting weight’. The goal is to fall right on the upper limit of your weight class at the weigh in before your event. To get to their desired weight, athletes can spend hours in saunas and steam rooms, or try to sweat out extra pounds by running or doing aerobic exercises while wearing layer upon layer of clothing. The human body is composed of almost 75% water, so it makes sense that if you need to temporarily shed a few pounds in a very short period of time you should to try and sweat as much as possible. But keep in mind that you are only losing fluids, not fat. Bodybuilders, and fitness models do the same to “make weight” and rid themselves of excess subcutaneous fluids to enhance the ripped to shreds look since excess fluid under the skin can blur out muscle definition significantly. The public saw this and without the full story, erroneously credited these methods of sweating as much as possible for the tight and taught bodies sported by athletes and the sometimes ridiculously chiseled bodies of physique related competitors and bodybuilders. The athletes they observed doing this were usually in great shape and so they too began covering up with layers of clothing while working out and going into saunas as a way of losing body fat. They didn’t realize that the reduced body fat was correlative, not causative, and that the reason why these athletes were in such great shape was the pains they took with their diet and training, not the hour or so spent sweating off the extra pounds right before an event. Extra pounds, that would come right back on once they resumed drinking normally after their event was over within the course of a few hours.
Sweating Doesn’t Burn Fat But It Can Hurt You If You Overdo It
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 without adequate hydration, 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 you down, you could end up in trouble as well. 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 a real risk of ending up in an emergency room or worse, 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 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 make you burn fat or increase your metabolism. All sweating does is to help your body cool down and lose water, but if sweating doesn’t make you lose fat, what does? There are no secrets and it’s your diet and training that you have to focus on to reduce your body fat and increase muscle definition. This comes from lifting weights, as aerobic exercise, while a great way to work up a sweat, 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- It’s All Diet and How Long Does It Take to Get Muscle Definition.) 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 an indication that you were not training hard enough. So don’t sweat it!
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Sweating Does Not Burn Fat References:
- Mosher HH. “Simultaneous Study of Constituents of Urine and Perspiration”. The Journal of Biological Chemistry 1933
- “Women outshine men in sweat test”. Sydney Morning Herald. 9 October 2010.
- Elert, Glenn. “Temperature of a Healthy Human (Body Temperature)”. The Physics Factbook. 2005
- Horswill CA. Applied physiology of amateur wrestling. Sports Med 1992
- Scott JR, Horswill CA, Dick RW. Acute weight gain in collegiate wrestlers following a tournament weigh-in. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1994
- Steen SN, Brownell KD. Patterns of weight loss and regain in wrestlers: has the tradition changed? Med Sci Sports Exerc 1990