You can see the seconds ticking down, you begin feeling a premature sense of relief knowing that your workout is about to be completed. Your shirt is drenched and you have the familiar taste of sweat as it drips from your forehead reaching your lips.
Aside from your workout being complete, you feel another sense of accomplishment knowing that you had a great workout as indicated by the amount of sweat that has accumulated in your shirt (and pants, you know the feeling), along with the puddle that has fallen to the floor.
This is a common misconception that is shared by many people, not just you. Sweating doesn’t necessarily indicate that you had a good workout, especially if you are trying to make progress towards a specific goal. Unless that goal is to sweat more.
It’s hard to dismiss the connection between hard work and sweat. Think about it for a second, every time you workout hard, you sweat, so it seems logical to make that leap to thinking that sweating means you’re working out hard. But I’m about to break some bad news to you, it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, sweat is a horrible way to indicate how hard you’ve worked out (or are working out). You see, sweating is a way for your body to thermoregulate. That’s just a fancy way of saying that sweating is a way for your body to regulate heat.
I understand your confusion, especially since there is such a strong observational correlation to the intensity of exercise and the amount of sweat that you produce. Though it should be noted, that if you looked at the type of exercise you were doing when you were sweating the most, it would mostly likely be cardiovascular in nature. You see, the amount of heat that you generate is directly impacted by your metabolism. Your metabolism has to increase to produce more energy when you are working out intensely. The easiest way to picture this is someone running a long distance. In order for this person to run for long distances, their metabolism will need to produce enough energy to meet those demands. As the duration of the run continues, their metabolism will continue to produce energy, this is important because a byproduct of energy formation is heat. This is called entropy.
Quick note, entropy is essentially the representation of lost energy that cannot be converted into kinetic energy.
Now I understand that what I have written above sounds like a case for sweating being an indicator for a good workout, but think about this for a second. What happens when you are weight lifting and sweat very little? Does this mean you aren’t working hard enough?
Let me save you some time, the answer is no.
Remember, that sweat is a natural byproduct of an acute increase in metabolic response that increases body core temperature, and this is the only way that your body is able to dissipate that heat.
At this point in my rambling, I forgot to mention that the question at hand is more of a subjective question rather objective. What I mean by this is, we all measure good workouts differently, but whether a workout is good or not depends on the goal at hand as I mentioned above. If you’re goal is to increase speed, strength, power, lose weight, or anything in between, sweat really has no direct bearing on those outcomes. If you want to increase strength, it doesn’t matter how much you sweat during your workout, but rather whether or not you are using the appropriate weights to increase strength. There has to be some kind of stimuli for change and adaptation to occur, otherwise, there won’t be any.
What does this all mean?
Don’t use sweat as an indicator of a good workout unless your goal is to sweat a lot. To really make progress toward reaching your goal, you will want to remove all of the subjective data points as possible, sweat being one of them. Stick to as much objective data (weight used, repetitions completed, exercise order, etc…) as possible as this will give you the ability to make progressions and regressions where there needs to be.
I hope this helps, and as always, if you have any questions or comments, please post them in the comment section and I will help you out where I can.