Working out has many benefits, but there's one side effect that's hardly ever talked about: hard nipples. Not everyone will experience this themselves, but real talk: nips clearly poking out during exercise can be embarrassing, and not to mention, distracting for others if they notice (and trust me, you will know). Here's how to deal with them.
Image by stevendepolo.
It doesn't matter that I'm warm from the workout or that it's above 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the gym, I quickly find my bosom rocking out with my nips out. Apparently, I'm not the only one. In searching for an answer to this madness, I came across many other women and dudes who have the same problem.
There doesn't seem to be a firm explanation for exactly why nipples pop, especially during a workout. Nipples, in particular the areola, are extremely sensitive with myriad nerve connections and smooth muscle fibres, the contraction of which is related to hard nipples. They can also get hard for a number of reasons — anything between colder temperatures, breastfeeding, or arousal (tactile or otherwise). According to Columbia University, some people can experience this more often than others:
Levels of various hormones can also play a role, as they have effects on the autonomic nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system that controls the involuntary functions of internal body processes, such as heart rate and blood pressure.
So, during exercise the combination of your shirt rubbing, a heightened physiological response (increased heart rate and blood flow), and cooler temperatures from the air conditioning in the gym can potentially cause your nipples to become erect. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're sexually aroused, but some hypothesize the mechanism to be similar to the body's involuntary reaction of goose bumps to minimise heat loss.
While pointy nips can be embarrassing at the most inopportune moments, you can't exactly control your nipples. If you're really concerned, you can make them less conspicuous by placing band-aids or taping a flat cotton pad over them (which incidentally is also a way to deal with chafing and sore nipples from running). Other alternatives include wearing a sports bra with extra padding (for the ladies), a loud graphic tee that can hide them, or even noticing if any particular material or exercise makes them erect less or more often.
Whatever your solution, know that you're not alone.