⚠️ WARNING – “ Taboo Topic!” ⚠️
But one I’ve wanted to post about for some time & after much research, so here goes…. “The Important Relationship between Exercise & your Menstrual Cycle”
Women have approximately 457 menstrual cycles in their lifetime!
Although there are physiological changes that occur across the menstrual cycle, this does not mean that exercise should be avoided. I have understandably heard my ladies say, “I can’t train today as I’m on my period” so I really wanted to see how I could help and collate the important things to consider when programming for my clients. In fact, I’ve developed “period plans” which are Low Intensity for some clients during this time of the month.
Exercising in a way that specifically encourages hormonal balance will improve your mood, reduce PMS, enhance bone, brain & CV health and make your fitter.
If you exercise in a way that’s mindful of your menstrual cycle, things FEEL GOOD. Everyone is individual though and cycle lengths vary, but take day 1 of your period as the starting point and here’s my guide to timing your workouts for the healthiest impact.
Day 1-14: The Follicular Phase “Get moving & Hit the Gym!”
Day 1-5: Low oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone. Do short bursts of exercise. Avoid High Impact. Endorphins released are good mood hormones & natural painkillers.
Day 6-11: Train hard & High Intensity. Better Power, Endurance & Pain Tolerance. Try something new or harder, physically stronger.
Day 14: Ovulation = Strongest physically but prone to injury!
DAY 1-14 “The Follicular Phase” (Start of your period to ovulation.)
I know many of us feel drained, weepy and sore on the 1st day, but energy and vitality are around the corner. Your oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone may be be low but oestrogen and testosterone will rise again with hours of menstruating. Even if you’re ropey, you should still GET MOVING & Hit the Gym! In fact, doing short bursts of moderate exercise is the best thing you can do, particularly if you’re suffering from cramps. Endorphins peak around 20 mins into exercise & are natural effective painkillers. Trust me, this works for me! Choose an exercise you enjoy eg power walk, cycle, light restorative yoga or lift weights, just be aware you may feel a little shaken or weak. It’s all best to avoid High Impact workouts like jumping or sprinting, as exercise while you’re bleeding can have a more powerful effect on your ligaments.
DAY 6-11 “GO HARD & HIGH INTENSITY”
Some women start to feel fabulous around Day 3, others Day 7, but somewhere during days 6-11, you’ll notice increased power in your body & more energy & clarity in your mind. The increase in oestrogen means muscle repair happens faster, so your body is prepared hormonally to train harder, at a higher intensity and with a faster recovery time, & you’ll be physically stronger. All that testosterone enhances confidence, making this the ideal time to try something new you’ve been putting off or try to book in big challenges for this phase of your cycle. Heavy weight lifting as well as any kind of HIIT should feel great now too. However, although you feel at your strongest and most resilient, around ovulation (days 12-16), you are possibly more prone to injury at this point due to high oestrogen levels.
You’re entitled to carbohydrate based rewards because this is a time when your body is optimised to turn carbs into muscle energy. You have better insulin sensitivity, which drives glycogen stores in the muscles. However if you’re hungry & to prevent overeating I advise my clients to increase protein for satiety & balance your fats/carbs.🤞🏼
DAY 15-23 KEEP IT STEADY & STRESS FREE
Ladies, now begins the 2nd half of your cycle, the Luteal Phase, starting after ovulation & continuing till you get your period again.
Progesterone starts increasing now⬆️, while testosterone and oestrogen decrease↘️ you’re likely to feel fatigued. Although you may not feel like it, this is actually the time for 30 mins or even steady paced exercise like walking, swimming or cycling (gentle yoga just isn’t enough). Your need to move intensely enough to create the physiological changes inside your body that boost your energy.
It’s worth noting that body temperature tends to run higher post ovulation, making high level cardio workouts or endurance training harder (so it you’re a serious runner or cyclist the week before is probably better for more intense/long anaerobic sessions.)
Another reason not to over do it relates to cortisol – which is an anti-inflammatory hormone released when you’re under stress. While regular exercise of varied intensities can help with stress & regulating our cortisol production, but if you do too much exercise (over train) you can actually increase cortisol levels and feel worse. I often tell addicted gym goers not to push too hard, too often.
To achieve optimal hormonal balance, exercise intensely 3/4x per week, aswell as LISS steady state aerobic exercise 150 mins per week. But if you do High Intensity 6/7x per week you’ll increase cortisol too much & often women relate this to increased belly fat. 😡
DAY 23 onwards – WIND DOWN YOUR WORKOUTS if necessary
PMS can start anywhere from 5-10 days before your period is due and includes all sorts of symptoms eg bloating, breast tenderness, feeling unusually irritated or upset, headaches, fatigue & skin issues.
You can afford to Eat more good fats as the higher progesterone levels in the Luteal phase make your body better at burning fat. Though women are more prone to a reduction in setotonin levels, which can drive carb cravings.
It is important for me as a coach and PT to alter the exercise prescriptions to make the energy and mood of the female. That means we could reduce overall load, use moderate weights and shift towards mixed style training, like metabolic conditioning or circuit style training & some steady state cardio. We can ofcourse still continue to use conventional strength and hypertrophy prescriptions if they’re part of the clients goal💪. Warning, lowered oestrogen and testosterone can reduce your coordination so be careful with complicated moves.
ie. Its good to keep moving ➡️ you’re aiming to produce endorphins again, which reduce pain, boost our mood and make your FEEL GOOD. 💞
A recent study suggests regular exercise has similar effects to some anti depressants and can also make the same positive structural changes in the brain as medication! 🙏
In summary keep the training frequency consistent throughout the month, and periodise the training volume – ⬆️high during the Follicular phase & ⬇️lower during the Luteal phase to have maximum advantage.
Work out with your cycle & I hope this helps you feel good!