Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bodily Functions & Fitness 101: Sweat

Peeing and pooping, already discussed on this site with alarming frequency, are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the ways your body can betray you during exercise. It matters not whether you exercise indoors or out, in a gym setting or just with a friend, or if you are a die-hard or a fitness newbie; bodily functions happen to us all. That’s just what happens when your kidneys, sweat glands, gastrointestinal system and other body parts are working as they should. So today, I’m going to give you a Fitness Primer in all things icky. You can thank me later. I accept payment in jelly beans.

Since this topic is so broad (and because I get a ridiculous amount of reader e-mail on this topic!), I will be devoting the next few days to covering sweat, pee, poop, gaseous emissions, vomit & snot. If you are weak-stomached or just one of those men who believe women “never do number two” then you might want to skip the rest of this week. However, the rest of us will hopefully find some solace - and laughter- in knowing that we are not alone in our excretory embarrassments. This post goes out to any woman who’s ever balked at doing “Happy Baby” pose in yoga or any man who’s scooched across the weight bench only to have to announce loudly “I swear that wasn’t me!” This is for the gooey people.

Let’s start with the most innocuous and also the most common of the bodily fluids that exercise exacerbates. Whether you are a mere “glistener” or a sweaty Betty like me, if you are actually working out (and not just pretending by pedaling the stationary bike on zero resistance so you won’t ruin your elaborate hairdo) then you will sweat. The harder you workout, the more you will sweat. There are two things to know about your sweat: 1) it’s normal and there is no need to be embarrassed about it and 2) people only like their own sweat on their bodies.

You might have to just trust me on the first one - believe me, no one is judging you on your sweat-soakedness. If they’re staring, it’s because they want to know what you are doing that is obviously such an awesome workout. At least that’s what I tell myself. There is plenty you can do to help yourself in regards to the second item though. In order to keep your sweat to yourself, a few basic rules of hygeine apply.
1. Bring a towel. If you’re a massive sweater (wow, that reads funny!), then use it not only to wipe yourself down but also as a barrier between you and publicly shared items like weight benches and yoga mats. This would be a great opportunity to buy one of those Shamwows you’ve been looking for a reason to order. You know you love that guy!

2. You stink. I know you can’t smell yourself (unless you’re pregnant or poo-covered) but trust me on this one. Wear deodorant. It won’t stop you from sweating but it does help with the stench. Do NOT under any circumstances substitute cologne or perfume for deodorant. It won’t mask the smell and it will make people (i.e. me) barf. Also, and this is more of a side note as there isn’t much you can do about it; if you eat strongly flavored foods - garlic and curry are the worst offenders - then you will “sweat it out” the next day. Personally, I don’t mind smelling other people’s faint food odors but some people are sensitive about it.

3. Wipe stuff down when you’re done with it. This rule not only applies to obvious things like the bike or treadmill you just geysered all over but to things like the floor in front of you or the wet spot your butt left on the weight bench or even the mirror in front of you . There is nothing more disgusting than coming upon some identified puddle of fluid. If I wanted to play “guess that liquid” I’d stay home and be entertained non-stop by my relentlessly fluid-emitting children. This is demonstrated by one classic moment that lives in Gym Buddy infamy: Gym Buddy Allison and I were doing pull-ups one day when a man asked to work in between our sets. We immediately regretted being good sharers when Allison, upon taking her next turn, pulled up to be right at eyeball level with a huge droplet of… something hanging precariously over her mouth. She dropped to the floor. We stared. The droplet hung on. And on. And on. Finally, in a testament to the power of surface tension and the magnitude of our squeamishness, the sweat droplet won and Allison & I gave up on finishing our pull-ups. Don’t be that pull-up guy. Wipe your own sweat off.

4. Wear proper gym clothes and then launder them. Even if they say “sweat wicking” or “performance fabric.” Even if you don’t think they smell bad. Unless you are a contortionist then you won’t be able to check your own crotch area and I strongly discourage you from asking someone else to check. That is not the proper use of a Gym Buddy. Another tip to avoiding the dreaded swamp crotch or other unsightly sweat marks is to skip light colored cotton. Gray is the worst offender but I’ve seen it happen even with basic black. Stick to lycra or spandex on the bottom if you are wearing something form fitting. If it’s loose then you have more latitude - just don’t forget the undies!

5. Shower. Not only does this help protect you from nasty skin infections like bacne, impetigo and MRSA but it also makes everyone around you happier. If you need this one explained, refer back to #2. Just don’t pee in the shower.

Which leads me to my next bodily function topic… check back in tomorrow to hear all about the many ways people urinate in the name of fitness!

So what’s your sweat story? Ever sat in a puddle of someone else’s filth? Grabbed the handle of the elliptical only to find it still warm and moist from the previous occupant? Do you leave a signature sweat stain on the stretching mats? Have you ever snapped yourself (or someone else) in the face with a sweat-soaked ponytail?? Share!

PS> For those of you keeping track, Gym Buddy Megan had her baby last Friday. A darling little guy! Both mom and baby are doing great!