Sync your period with your workout

As women, we deal with a hormonal cycle that changes throughout the month. It’s hardly surprising that your period influences your metabolism, mood and exercise performance, so how can we use this cycle to our advantage? Here’s a guide for aligning your exercise routine with your period.

Your menstrual cycle

The menstrual cycle has three phases, taking an average of 28 days. Each phase is brought on by fluctuating levels of hormones in the body, particularly the two female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Knowing the different phases of your cycle will help you fine-tune your intensity and plan your workouts accordingly.

During your period

When you bleed, your oestrogen and progesterone hormones are at their lowest levels. This drop in hormones may give you lower energy levels, cramps and cravings. Studies have shown that exercise can really help with period cramps and other mental or physical symptoms. The improved blood circulation and endorphin boost we get from our workouts can act as pain relief and may assist with reducing the intensity of PMS.

During your period, consider low impact exercise like walking, yoga, ilates, swimming or a casual bike ride. Gentle exercise may help balance the irritability, sadness or depression you may feel when oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels.

Follicular phase (day 1 to 13)

As oestrogen levels rise, your body becomes more primed for building muscle and improving performance. This phase is often called the “anabolic phase” because it’s great for muscle growth.

With increased oestrogen, your body becomes more sensitive to insulin, meaning it can better handle carbs, especially after workouts, helping with muscle building and recovery.

Match it with: HIIT/high-intensity workouts

Research suggests that strength gains are often better during this phase, so, if you’re into high-intensity workouts like HIIT, this is the time to go for it!

Ovulation phase (day 14)

Around day 14, oestrogen levels are at their peak. Once ovulation (the release of an egg) occurs, progesterone begins to rise too. At this stage of the menstrual cycle, there’s a switch to a more catabolic state, which means you’re better able to utilise fat as a source of energy.

Match it with: endurance (cardio) activity

This is a good time to add some endurance work to your routine while your body is burning a little more fat. Increase that time on the elliptical trainer or cycle by 5-10 minutes or increase your walking and running distances.

Luteal phase (Day 15 to 28)

Once ovulation is over, progesterone levels are at an all-time high as your body prepares the lining of the uterus for pregnancy. Your body temperature will rise, and you may experience symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). As you approach your period, both progesterone and oestrogen levels begin to plummet, causing the lining of the uterus to thicken and prepare to shed.

Although you may be feeling more tired and less energetic than usual during the second half of the cycle, exercise gives you a natural endorphin high, which will help elevate your mood and give you an energy boost. The release of endorphins also acts as a natural painkiller and may help to increase circulation, working to relieve the cramps, headache or back pain associated with premenstrual symptoms. Don’t beat yourself up during this time – decreased performance is perfectly normal in the luteal phase of your cycle.

Match it with: recovery and light strength training

This is your chance to concentrate on active recovery or de-loading in strength training, paired with yoga, Pilates or a stretch session. Beat the overheating effect by exercising first thing in the morning, before your energy levels go down as the day wears on.

The takeaway?

Understanding the pace of the hormonal changes during your cycle can help you adjust your workout schedule and feel in sync with your body throughout the month. A couple of minor lifestyle changes and calendar notes can make a difference, but the most important thing is to listen to your body. If you feel strong enough for a tough workout, don’t cop out because of your cycle. However, when your body needs rest and recovery make sure you listen, as recovery is particularly important for women cycling through our hormonal changes. Be kind to your body, but don’t forget the benefits of exercise at each stage of your cycle.

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