Written by Yoppie
29 Mar 2021
Why exercise according to your menstrual cycle?
How to exercise during… the Menstrual Phase
How to exercise during… the Follicular Phase
How to exercise during… the Ovulation Phase
How to exercise during… the Luteal Phase
Ever found yourself abandoning the gym in favour of lying on the couch with a hot water bottle eating ice cream? Welcome to the club. Some days, working out is just NOT the one, and we totally get it. When you’re bleeding, or cramping, or PMSing hard, the last thing you want to do is exert yourself physically. But you love working out, and you want to keep fit and stay healthy… so what’s the answer?
It’s not all bad news. Just as there are days in your cycle that will have you struggling to get out of your PJs, there will be others where your energy peaks and you’re in the zone. Time to tailor your workouts and fitness schedule with your periods in mind.
Scheduling your fitness activities around certain phases of your menstrual cycle can make a huge difference if you are an athlete or you’re training for something in particular. It’s frustrating to have an ‘off day’, and you may find those off days (*ahem* your period) happen at the worst possible times, for example when you are just about to reach a PB or hit a training milestone.
Many top athletes already tailor their diet, sleep schedule and other lifestyle factors in an effort to improve their performance, so it seems like a no-brainer that our period, with all its fluctuating hormone levels and physical symptoms, will have the same impact, yet many of us ignore what our body is trying to tell us, and either give up when we feel lousy or push through and make symptoms worse.
We’ve mentioned this example a few times on the Full Stop blog, but it’s just so good we had to use it again; last year the Chelsea Women’s team became the first in the world to tailor the players’ training schedules to fit with their individual menstrual cycles, leading to more successful training sessions and reduced incidences of injury. Here’s how you can do the same!
This is when estrogen and progesterone reduce to their lowest levels, and you experience bleeding. If you bleed a lot, you may find your energy dips due to lower iron levels, since it is thought around 1mg of iron is lost for every day of bleeding.
During this phase, you may also experience physical symptoms like cramps, joint and muscle pain, and headaches, which undoubtedly affect your fitness. Not to mention your sleep patterns could be disrupted, you may feel more irritable than usual, or you could start craving certain foods. Sound like a day for the gym? No, didn’t think so.
Understandably you may wish to take a few rest days during the worst of the Menstrual Phase, to allow your body to recuperate and prepare for upcoming workouts. If you don’t feel like sitting the session out completely, you can swap out intense workouts for something more gentle like walking or yoga.
In the Follicular Phase, your estrogen levels start to rise again to prepare your eggs for upcoming ovulation. During this time you might find you have a lot more energy to burn, so this is thought of as the optimum time for working out as our bodies are better at turning carbs into fuel during this stage and less likely to store them as fat.
One 2017 study found that doing strength training while in the Follicular Phase could lead to an increase in muscle strength, more so than other times of the month. Experts advise longer warm-up sessions during this phase, to avoid overstretching and minimise injury risk.
Hello again estrogen! Estrogen levels hit their highest here and start to balance out again, and it’s when your body releases an egg. During ovulation there’s also a testosterone increase, and this can have a positive effect on your workouts too, as energy levels could be at their highest. If you’re feeling up to it, this might be the time to push your limits and make the most of those low progesterone levels that cause the body’s overall pain tolerance to increase. Don’t overdo it though - everything in moderation, of course!
Pushing yourself is all well and good, but if you’re prone to feelings of stress and anxiety, they are more likely to show up during this period and affect your training schedule. If you find yourself feeling this way during the month, take it easy and don’t make any big goals. Stick to gentle exercises again, like yoga or a light jog.
This is when your progesterone levels start to rise again in the lead up to the Menstrual Phase starting again. That means estrogen levels fall, and our bodies go into a sort of hibernation mode, storing more carbs as fat, and craving certain foods. The great thing about this phase is, although you might be eating more and storing more fat, you could also be burning more fat when you exercise due to the efficient combo of estrogen and progesterone. If you’re going to implement fat-burning workouts like cardio, aerobics or HIIT classes, now’s the perfect time.
Remember though, the Luteal Phase happens just before your period, so you may experience some PMS symptoms that could slow you down, and that’s OK. During this phase, your body temperature usually rises by around 0.3°C, so remember to stay hydrated during workouts.
Do you keep your menstrual cycle in mind while planning your workouts and fitness activities? We’d love to know how you do it! Shout out in our private Facebook group or drop us a note on Insta @itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised period box can get organic tampons, PMS supplements and more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox, giving you more time each month to focus on those fitness (or other!) goals.
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