On Friday I rode my bike 50 km with my daughter in the heat in part to get to church camp and in part to mark the longest day of play. I actually like riding my bike in the heat. You get a breeze and it feels lots better than walking or running in the heat. The breeze dries the sweat off quickly and you actually have to pay attention and drink lots because in dry heat (hello Arizona, hello Canberra!) you can be misled into thinking you’re not sweating at all. I also know that if I did take the car, I’d turn on the air conditioning and become part of the smog creation problem.
Sunday I had a warm, steamy row on the lake in the morning and an evening outdoor soccer game. I even threw some backyard burpees in in the middle. And as you might imagine a lot of sweat was involved and a lot of water was consumed.
As readers of this blog know, I’m an adult onset athlete. I regret that I didn’t discover my athletic self until well into my adult life. Read more about that here and also here. And so when I did start to learn to run, ride a bike, lift weights etc that was really my first encounter with serious sweat. I also grew up on the cool East coast of Canada in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland where days above 25 Celsius were rare. I started my regular exercise routine in Chicago and Toronto, in the summer. Yikes. Heat, humidity, and sweat.
Learning to like sweat was a funny thing. It was a bit of hurdle to liking being physically active outside in this part of the world. But since I’m driven indoors midwinter by the ice and cold, I certainly didn’t want to have the heat be another limiting factor to my enjoyment of outdoor exercise.
How did I come to like sweat?
First, I did some reading. Yes, I’m an a academic and that’s what we do best. Sweating is all about thremoregulation or temperature control. We sweat, our skin gets wet, the sweat evaporates, and cooling commences. Interesting things happen when humans move from cold to hot climates. Our bodies adapt to sweat more and the composition of sweat changes.
Second, I started to think about the connections between class and the dislike of sweat. I’ve been watching Downton Abbey lately and thinking more about the clash between ladylike values and the norms of athletic performance. There are interesting class associations with sweat and manual labour.
Third, I tried to focus on the fun associations many of us have with sweat. Dancing late into the night in clubs when I was younger was one such image. I have also come to love hot yoga and there’s no doing that without sweating buckets.
Fourth, I realized that sweat doesn’t actually smell that bad, fresh sweat that is. I ride my bike to and from work and keep a towel and clean clothes in my office. I don’t have quick, easy access to a shower but I do have access to a sink and private washroom. I keep antiperspirant in my office and change when I’ve cooled down after arriving at work.
Fifth, I learned through experience that I do actually feel better when I sweat lots. Sweating it turns out is a very good thing and and as you become fit, you sweat more, not less. Read why athletes sweat more than unfit people here. See also Better athletes sweat more. Also, annoyingly it turns out that men are better sweaters. Read Men Perspire, Women Glow: Men Are More Efficient at Sweating, Study Finds.
“Women have to work harder than men in order to start sweating, while men are more effective sweaters during exercise, according to new research published in the journal Experimental Physiology.The study by Japanese scientists at Osaka International University and Kobe University looked at differences between men and women’s sweating response to changes in exercise intensity. The researchers asked four groups of subjects (trained and untrained females, trained and untrained males) to cycle continuously for an hour in a controlled climate with increasing intensity intervals.
The results showed that men are more efficient at sweating. While exercise training improves sweating in both sexes, the degree of improvement is greater in men, with the difference becoming even more pronounced as the level of exercise intensity increases. The untrained females had the worst sweating response of all requiring a higher body temperature than the other groups (or work intensity) to begin sweating. In other words, women need to get hotter than men before they get sweaty.
The study’s coordinator Yoshimitsu Inoue commented: ‘It appears that women are at a disadvantage when they need to sweat a lot during exercise, especially in hot conditions.'”
The Fit Bottomed Girls have even put together a sweat themed playlist for your workout pleasure including the song that is the title of this post, one of my favorite grad school songs to dance to. My actual favorite sweaty song is the Prince song here: