We all typically sweat when we perform cardio, but should you sweat when lifting weights?
You’ve probably performed many muscle-building workouts in the gym, but by the time you’re finished your t-shirt is still bone dry.
Does this indicate that you’ve had a poor workout?
Should you carry on working out until you’re drenched in sweat?
Here’s what you need to know about lifting weights and sweating.
Should You Sweat When Lifting Weights?
Sweating doesn’t indicate a great workout. So, it is perfectly normal to complete an intense weight lifting session and not sweat at all. However, certain factors may mean you’re more likely to sweat. You would expect to sweat if you completed a leg workout with compound exercises, while performing 10-15 reps with as little as one minute rest between sets. Whereas, 5 sets of 5 reps of bench press with 3 minutes rest between sets will typically leave you dry.
1. Sweat is Not an Indicator of a Great Workout
I know most of us feel we’ve had a great workout if we’re drenched in sweat.
But, in truth, sweating is not an indicator of whether you’ve had a great workout or not.
If you’re performing a cardio workout, where your heart is elevated constantly throughout your workout, you’d expect to sweat.
The exact same could be said for a conditioning workout, even if you’re taking short rest periods.
However, when it comes to lifting weights, the answer isn’t so cut and dry (not pun intended).
In fact, there are a number of factors you need to consider when it comes to whether you’re going to sweat or not when lifting weights.
So, let’s cover these things now.
2. Reps and Rest Are Sweat Factors
One of the major factors when it comes to sweating when lifting weights is how many reps you’re performing, as well as how much rest you’re taking between sets.
If you’re training with proper intensity your heart rate should be slightly elevated anyway when lifting weights.
However, in most cases, when performing a standard weightlifting set, this won’t be enough to make you perspire.
Plus, you’ll then take a moment’s rest after your set before continuing onto your next set.
Now, let’s say you perform an exercise for 15-20 reps per set and you only take 45 seconds between sets.
Firstly, you’ll generally be doing this with a moderate or light weight, but due to the number of reps you’re performing you’d expect your heart rate to increase a fair bit.
In fact, it could almost feel like a cardio or conditioning workout.
Then when you consider that you’re taking a short rest period before moving onto your next set, this could actually feel very similar to an HIIT workout.
So, you would expect to sweat after as little as 3-4 sets of this type of weightlifting workout.
Then again, if you want to focus more on strength training, you decide to complete 5 sets of 5 reps.
Granted, you’ll be lifting heavier weights, so it will feel a lot more intense.
However, due to the intensity you’ll need to rest longer in order for the muscles to be ready for your next set.
In this case you decide to rest for 3 minutes between sets.
For this type of strength workout it’s likely you won’t be sweating much at all.
In effect, for both of these examples the actual workout will take about the same amount of time.
However, in the first example you’re lifting (lighter) weights for most of the time, whereas in the second example the majority of your time is spent resting.
And this will explain the difference between whether you sweat or not.
3. What Body Part Are You Training?
Now, even though reps and rest will have much to do with whether you sweat or not, this isn’t always the case.
In fact, you could quite easily perform low reps with long rest periods and still find that you’re sweating profusely.
However, this very much comes down to which body part you’re training.
As a prime example, five sets of five reps of really heavy and intense barbell back squats could see you absolutely drenched in sweat.
This is simply because the legs happen to house the largest muscles in the body.
And the more muscles you’re using (or combination of larger muscles), the more intense your workout will typically be.
In fact, I know that I personally sweat much more from a great lower body workout than I do from performing traditional steady-state cardio.
With that being said, I am more prone to sweating than the “normal” person (more on this in a moment).
The same principle could apply to a back training day, which again involves training some of the biggest muscles in the body.
However, irrespective of how hard you hit a back workout, it’s unlikely that you’ll sweat as much as you would when training legs.
Just to put this slightly more into perspective, here’s a couple of workouts for two different body parts.
- Barbell Back Squats – 4 Sets of 10 reps
- Romanian Deadlifts – 4 Sets of 10 reps
- Walking Lunges – 4 Sets of 10 reps
- Barbell Bicep Curls – 4 Sets of 10 Reps
- Dumbbell Hammer Curls – 4 Sets of 10 Reps
- EZ Reverse Curls – 4 Sets of 10 Reps
As you can see, the volume is exactly the same for both workouts.
However, the simple fact that your leg muscles are substantially bigger than your biceps makes all the difference.
You would expect to be pretty drenched from the leg workout, and almost dry as a bone from the bicep workout.
4. Are You Training With Compound or Isolation Exercises?
I have alluded to this above without actually specifically mentioning it.
However, from the legs and biceps examples, the leg workout is solely compound exercises, whereas the biceps exercises are isolation movements.
The simple fact is that you will be working more muscles at the same time when performing compound exercises.
So, once again, the more muscles you’re working simultaneously, the more likely that you will break out into a sweat.
Now, although you’ll typically hear it’s best to train with compound exercises, this does very much depend on your training experience and your overall goals.
I would say that if you’re fairly new to training then increasing strength is more important than anything else.
Therefore, it makes sense to train the big compound lifts, e.g. squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, bent over rows, etc.
However, if you’ve been training for a while, and you have a good base level of strength, then you may wish to focus more on hypertrophy.
So, you’ll want to add some more isolation exercises to your workouts, leg extensions, hamstring curls, chest flyes, lateral raises, bicep curls, etc.
Compound vs. Isolation Exercises
5. Genetics Plays a Role in Sweating
This again, is something that I touched on above.
I know that I am quite a “sweaty person”, LOL.
Basically, if the temperature outside is about 70F and I simply walk a slow-paced mile, I will have a few beads of sweat on my forehead.
So, pretty much every time I hit the gym to lift weights I will be sweating.
Obviously, this will depend on the body part I’m training, as well as sets, reps, and rest periods.
But, I know that even for a basic arm workout I will certainly be perspiring, even if it is just a little bit.
Then again, there are those lucky ones who make me extremely jealous.
I have witnessed countless people perform a heavy leg session, hit every exercise perfectly and with great intensity, and they leave the gym with a completely dry t-shirt.
Unfortunately, this is simple genetics, some of us are just more predisposed to sweating than others.
So, as you can see, there are a number of factors to consider when it comes to sweating from lifting weights.
With that being said, it’s important to realise that sweating does not indicate a great workout.
However, you would expect to sweat when performing high reps will little rest, whereas low reps with longer rest periods will typically leave you dry.
Additionally, which body part you’re training will make a big difference.
So, training the biggest muscle groups in the body with a lower body workout will usually leave you drenched in sweat.
But, training a smaller muscle group, such as biceps, will not raise your heart rate as much, so you’ll generally finish your workout dry.
Finally, genetics also plays a role, some of us simply sweat more than others.
If you’re looking for a muscle-building workout that will really fire up your sweat glands then you’ll want to check out Nick Nilsson’s fantastic workout program. Nick will show you how 3-rep sets and 15-minute workouts can help you to pack on huge slabs of muscle. Here’s my Review of Nick Nilsson’s Time Volume Training Workout Program.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.