Why People Wear Sweatshirts While Exercising, and Why It’s Useless

I have seen over and over again people working out while wearing a sweatshirt, sweatpants, or both.  Many people claim that this helps them burn more calories because it heats up their body temperature, and, after all, heat is what really burns the calories.  Other people wear them because they say that it helps them prevent injury.  Are these claims valid?  That is what we are about to find out!

First let’s discuss the time that it would be wise to wear a sweatshirt while working out:  On a very cold day while working out outside.  The people who claim that wearing a sweatshirt helps prevent injuries are right!  Wearing something like a sweatshirt helps trap the heat in and warm up your muscles faster and keeps them warm.  If your muscles are cold when you workout, you have a chance of pulling something if you do an exercise too fast or sprint.  However, if you are just jogging very slowly, you have a pretty low chance of pulling anything, although you might want to wear it just to keep you warm.  If it is really hot outside, wearing a sweatshirt will do nothing; your muscles are already very warm from the heat outside and they do not need to be any warmer.

Now onto the reason that most people wear sweatshirts while working out: To lose more weight by being warmer and burning more calories.  Well first off, where did this idea come from in the first place?  Most likely wrestlers or people who needed to drop a lot of weight really quickly.  You see, there are many times when a wrestler needs to drop 5 or more pounds in just a couple of days, so people tell him to “sweat off the weight”.  He puts his sweatshirt on and starts jogging.  A day later, he amazingly lost 5 pounds.  ”Wouldn’t it be great if we all could lose 5 pounds in one day” many people thought.  So they decided that if it worked for the wrestlers, it will work for them too.  However, they are forgetting one thing.  Almost all of the weight that the wrestler lost was water weight.  The next time he drinks a lot of water, it will all come right back on.

You see, wearing a sweatshirt does what it says it does, it makes you sweat!  All that is coming off of your body is water, you cannot have fat leave your body in the form of water.  Moreover, increasing the temperature of the air around you will make you hotter and sweat more, but the extra heat will not burn calories any faster.  The burning of calories happens when you do work, not when there is heat around you.  The more work you do, the more calories you burn, but wearing a sweatshirt and making the air around you hotter does not magically induce work.

Even though some people may argue that having the extra heat will make your body have to do more work (because your body will have to produce more sweat), the amount of calories that that process actually uses is very insignificant.  It would be much more productive to make yourself as comfortable as you can when you workout so that you will not give up early or hate it more than you need to.  Moreover, most of the time, most people don’t even like the way that they look when they lose a ton of water weight.  A lot of water is stored in your muscles, so if you lose a ton of water weight then you will look like you have less muscle mass but not a significant amount less of fat.

If you want to get the most out of your workout, then try to do more instead of sweat more.  While I normally sweat anyway when I workout, that is not my goal, and it should not be yours either.  As a further note, when you hear of someone dropping 10 lbs in a week or something like that, you can almost be absolutely certain that most of that, if not all, is just loss of water.  Another way that people drop a lot of water weight is by drastically decreasing their carbohydrate intake.  This is because in each gram of stored carbohydrates is 4 grams of stored water.  So, decreased carbs combined with a lot of perspiration equals a lot of water loss.

Next time you go workout, try to make yourself as comfortable as possible so that you will be able to push yourself to the limit!  Don’t worry about how much you sweat, worry about how much you lift or how fast you run.

 
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9 Comments

  1. Nick
    Posted June 18, 2011 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    What about using calories for cooling you body off? I know it takes calories to heat your body up, but what about cooling down? Thanks- Nick

  2. Sean
    Posted June 20, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Nick:
    Great question!
    Calories are actually a unit of energy, so an easy way to think about burning calories is how much kinetic energy you are using for whatever you are doing. So if your cool down is light jogging, then yes, your cool down will be burning more calories because you are still doing “work” (force times distance). If your cool down is stretching, then you won’t be burning many more calories.
    Does that answer your question?

  3. Vince
    Posted March 28, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Your reference to the loss of “water weight” in the example of the wrestler and the correlation between sweatshirts is flawed. First, everyone, regardless of what they wear when they exercise, will loose water weight first. This is just a given. Second, “water weight” is water retained by the body because of lack of hydration and electrolyte imbalance, not from drinking too much water. When you drink enough water, the body does not retain this moisture, it releases it. In fact, if the imaginary wrestler was properly hydrated while doing the sweatshirt escapade, he may have lost more fat to water as a proportion of body weight. Simply put, the more water in, the less the body feels it has to hold onto, thus a decrease in “water weight”.

  4. Sean
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    Vince,

    “First, everyone, regardless of what they wear when they exercise, will loose water weight first.”

    Water weight does occur while exercising no matter what, true. However, the amount of water weight lost will be determined by how much you sweat; otherwise, where would the water go? Magic?
    Longer-term water weight loss (as in 2-5 days from the start of a diet) is typically from a decrease in carb intake. Each gram of carb must store 3g of water as well; thus, having less carbs stored in your body will make you lose “water-weight”

    “. Second, “water weight” is water retained by the body because of lack of hydration and electrolyte imbalance, not from drinking too much water. When you drink enough water, the body does not retain this moisture, it releases it.”

    True. A properly hydrated person will not hold as much water, all things being equal, as a chronically dehydrated person, because the body will try to hold onto what little water there is. However, while exercising we are talking about very short-term. Lose lose water temporarily from sweating.

    ” In fact, if the imaginary wrestler was properly hydrated while doing the sweatshirt escapade, he may have lost more fat to water as a proportion of body weight.”

    Being more hydrated does not cause you to lose more fat in the short term as you are describing. The amount of calories lost will be determined by the amount of Work he does. Work is measured in calories.

    “Simply put, the more water in, the less the body feels it has to hold onto, thus a decrease in “water weight”.”

    Long-term, you are correct. Unfortunately, that is not what this article was addressing.

  5. gus-hayden
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    i wear sweat shirts to cover up my muscles because there’s some fools out there that, that’s the only reason they’re in the gym to show off their sh*t. im in there to work out so i want to cover up. you could call me a “modest work outer” im not a show off thats for the ladies at the club to see later

  6. Sean
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    If that is your reasoning, that is completely OK. The point of the article was more towards why you shouldn’t focus on sweat as an indicator of the quality of your workout but rather the total amount of Work (force times distance) performed, or something along those lines.

    If you just prefer to wear a sweatshirt, that’s not a problem.

  7. Sean
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    I use wordpress. There are a lot of themes to customize it.

  8. Joe
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 3:32 am | Permalink

    I wear a sweatshirt because I sweat alot and I will literally drip all over if not for a thick sweater to absorb it. Kind of gross but I do it for others benefit.

  9. Sean
    Posted May 16, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Joe:
    That’s fine. At the end, it really will just come down to personal preference.
    Thanks for the comment!

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