Most of us can’t make it through a workout without sweating. Just how much of the wet stuff you produce depends on a variety of factors, such as:
- how hard you work out
- weather conditions
- your fitness level
- health conditions
- where you exercise
So, if you’ve ever wondered why you sweat, what the benefits are, and if it’s normal to sweat a lot or not much at all during a workout, we’ve got you covered.
Sweating is a natural process that your body uses to cool itself down.
“Sweat is released through glands on your skin and is then evaporated into the air, which provides the effect of cooling down your skin and therefore your body,” says physical therapist John Gallucci Jr., DPT, ATC, CEO of JAG-ONE Physical Therapy.
We have two types of glands that produce sweat: the eccrine and apocrine sweat glands.
- Eccrine sweat glands are located all over your body, although they’re mostly concentrated on the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet, and your forehead. Their primary function is to regulate your body temperature, also known as thermoregulation. These glands, which open directly onto the surface of your skin, produce a lightweight, odorless sweat.
- Apocrine sweat glands, on the other hand, open into hair follicles that lead to the surface of your skin. These sweat glands are found in areas that have a lot of hair follicles, such as your armpits, groin region, and scalp. These sweat glands produce more concentrated secretions of sweat, which is the type of sweat most often associated with body odor.
The primary benefit of sweating when you work out is that sweating helps cool your body down, says Gallucci. This can help prevent you from overheating.
Exercise and high temperatures cause your body to heat up. Your body then responds with sweat.
Being able to regulate your temperature during exercise is critical, especially if you’re engaging in activities in heated rooms or outdoors in warm weather.
Sweating profusely during a workout isn’t uncommon. Some people may sweat more than usual when they work out due to their level of exertion, the clothing they wear, or the indoor or outdoor temperature.
But for others, a condition called hyperhidrosis might be the reason for excessive sweating during a workout.
Hyperhidrosis is the term for excessive sweating or sweating more than normal.
People who have this condition don’t have more sweat glands than other people. Instead, the sympathetic nerve that controls sweating is oversensitive which, in turn, causes more sweating than normal.
Hyperhidrosis affects approximately
- Primary focal hyperhidrosis: Primary hyperhidrosis is often inherited. In fact, up to two-thirds of people with hyperhidrosis have a family history of excessive sweating. Sweating typically occurs on the hands, feet, underarms, face, and head. It most often starts in childhood.
- Secondary hyperhidrosis: With secondary hyperhidrosis, sweating is caused by some other condition, and it usually starts in adulthood. Sweating can occur all over your body or only in one area. Some conditions that may cause excessive sweating include:
Other factors that can affect sweating
Gallucci points out that everybody is different when it comes to sweating. How much or how little you sweat doesn’t necessarily equate to the number of calories you burn or your exercise intensity, he explains.
Other factors that may influence how much you sweat during exercise include:
- your gender (men tend to sweat more than women)
- your age (younger people tend to sweat more than older adults)
- your body weight
- humidity levels
- the type of exercise you do
The most common reason for lack of sweat during a workout is dehydration, says Gallucci.
“Dehydration before a workout means that your body will be severely lacking in fluids. And since sweat is primarily composed of water, not having enough of it may mean that your body is unable to sweat,” he said.
That said, if you notice that you’re well hydrated but still aren’t sweating, Gallucci recommends talking to your doctor. If you’re not able to sweat, you may have a condition known as hypohidrosis.
“Hypohidrosis is the inability to sweat normally, which means that your body cannot cool itself down. This can make you prone to overheating,” explains Gallucci.
If you tend to sweat a lot while working out, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using an antiperspirant as the first line of defense.
To reduce sweating, apply an antiperspirant:
- under your arms
- on your hands
- on your feet
- around your hairline
Besides applying antiperspirant, there are several other steps you can take to manage your sweat levels while you’re exercising. For instance, you can:
- Choose workout gear that’s made from lightweight, breathable fabrics such as cotton or sweat-wicking materials.
- Apply powder to areas that sweat a lot, like your feet, groin area, hands, and under breasts.
- Avoid exercising in the heat. Try to work out in the morning or evening instead.
- Control the room temperature and humidity if you’re exercising indoors.
- Stay hydrated by drinking water before, during, and after you exercise.
- Use an absorbent towel to wipe away sweat while you’re exercising.
- Switch to a higher strength or prescription deodorant.
For more complex conditions that don’t respond to antiperspirant, the AAD recommends the following treatments:
- Iontophoresis: This is a medical device that delivers mild electrical currents to your hands, feet, or armpits while submerged in water to temporarily block the sweat glands.
- Botulinum toxin injections: Botox injections can temporarily block the nerves that stimulate your sweat glands.
- Prescription cloth wipes: These cloths contain glycopyrronium tosylate, an ingredient that can reduce underarm sweating.
- Prescription medications: Some types of prescription medications can temporarily reduce or prevent sweating throughout your body.
- Surgery: In more severe cases, surgery may be an option. This involves removing sweat glands or severing the nerves that carry messages to the sweat glands.
We all sweat when we exercise. It’s a normal and natural process your body goes through to help regulate your temperature and cool you down. The good news is you have options for managing excess sweat when you exercise.
That said, if you notice you’re sweating too much or not enough during your workouts or at other times, follow up with your doctor. They can diagnose the cause and put together a treatment plan that’s right for you.