After getting your sweat on during a workout, there’s nothing like having a refreshing shower. You wash away all that sticky, salty moisture, towel off, start to get dressed and then… you’re covered in sweat again. Suddenly you’re in a bind: do you get back in the shower, or stand – arms splayed – hoping that you’ll dry off ASAP?
That used to happen to me all the time if I went to a circuits-based class with a brutal finisher. I’d be there in the changing rooms, struggling to put on my bra 20 minutes after the session because fresh sweat made the fabric stick and tangle. Now, it makes sense that if you do a really intense workout that leaves you shaking at the end, you might sweat for quite a long time after too. Maybe your body is in total ‘WTF’ mode, quickly trying to cool itself down.
But this morning, I did a 25-minute leg workout in my living room with medium-heavy weights, and then went for a 10-minute, 2K run. As someone who usually runs about 30K a week, that’s nothing. And yet, after having a lengthy hair-washing shower, I was forced to change out of my first outfit because it was soaked with sweat. And a full 40 minutes after finishing my run, I was still moist.
What on earth was happening? Why was I struggling to cool down after such a short workout? And how could I stop myself from sweating?
Why do we sweat so much?
“When we exercise, we increase our metabolism to support the demands of the exercise,” Dr Brian Carson, co-founder of WholeSupp tells Stylist. He explains that, as we exercise, our body starts moving nutrients around the body, increasing the heart rate and our internal body temperature with each muscle contraction.
“In order to regulate this temperature and keep it within our set range, the body must dissipate the extra heat created during exercise. The body achieves this by mobilising blood flow to the skin and through sweating – which is the release of a salt-based fluid from the sweat glands.”
Normally, that sweat evaporates from the skin, helping to keep us cool both during and after exercise. But, Dr Carson says, “it takes time post-exercise for our metabolism to return to its normal rate and therefore, our body still has the potential for overheating. This is why sweating continues after exercise, sometimes long into the recovery from our session.”
Are our post-workout habits to blame for excessive sweat?
“Most of us tend to hit the bathroom immediately after crushing our sessions,” says Monika Wassermann, qualified physiologist and MD at Boutique To You, “but showering minutes after your workout exposes you to a hot and humid environment – especially if you’re using very warm water.”
Still dripping even after having a shower? It’s time to assess how hot the shower is, how hard you went in your workout and how quickly you tried to move on with your day.
She explains that a hot shower or bath limits our body’s ability to cool down, leaving us feeling even more sweaty than before. “Wearing heavyweight fabrics can also prevent your body from breathing in a much more efficient manner during a workout, and that can trigger post-workout perspiration,” she says.
And interestingly, Wassermann also says that what you consume post-shower might have an impact. “I discovered that drinking hot coffee after a heavy workout isn’t the best idea (if you sweat a lot); often, it makes it more challenging for our internal temperature to drop.” And that, in turn, prologues the sweating situation.
I discovered that drinking hot coffee after a heavy workout isn’t the best idea; often, it makes it more challenging for our internal temperature to drop
That makes a lot of sense – I had a cup of coffee the moment I got out of a hot shower. It’s not just that the drink itself is hot; caffeine can increase our blood pressure and body temperature. One 2019 paper, published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, confirmed that “caffeine can increase energy expenditure (and) thermogenesis” – meaning that it helps us to get rid of energy via heat. If your body is already trying to dump heat, drinking caffeine immediately after a workout is going to add to that workload.
It is worth flagging, however, that studies have found coffee to help us recover quicker from workouts – especially if you tend to drink yours with milk and sugar.
Meanwhile, Dr Carson flags that the weather can have an impact on our ability to cool down. It might not be sunny and super hot right now, but it is humid and muggy. “Sweat rates are impacted by both the ambient temperature and the intensity of the exercise,” he explains. “More intense workouts will lead to greater sweat rates both during and after exercise.”
How to reduce the amount you sweat after a workout
Dr Carson stresses that “in normal circumstances, there is no need to try to limit your sweat rate”. But he does flag the importance of hydration before, during and after a workout, and suggests wearing lighter-fitting clothing to exercise in.
Jenny Pacey, Hollywood trainer, Biosynergy ambassador and ex-international athlete, shares her tips on halting the sweat sooner:
Cool down better
“Hold stretches for 60-90 seconds, and think about your breathing by expanding your exhales to relax your central nervous system and lower your heart rate.”
Reduce the heat in the shower
As well as waiting a few minutes for your heart rate to properly lower before jumping into the shower, she recommends trying a cooler water temperature when you get in there: “That’ll help cool the skin and reduce core temperature.”
Assess your workout gear
Choose cooling clothing that wicks away sweat and is breathable during a workout so you don’t let your body overheat.
Drink cold water
Pacey recommends drinking plenty of cold water during and after your workout, adding electrolytes during a hard core workout.
Use a cold compress
If you don’t have a fan or it’s super muggy outside, try applying an ice pack to the back of the neck wrapped in a pillowcase or tea towel to protect your skin.
Get a check-up
“Excessive sweating could be a signal of an underlying health issue, including hormonal imbalances, hyperhidrosis (a condition where the sweat glands produce more sweat than necessary), anxiety, infection and in very rare cases, cancer,” Pacey says. “Don’t worry though – just make an appointment to chat with your GP who can make a proper diagnosis.”