You know your body better than anybody else, but do you know how to align your training with your natural cycle?
Each phase of our menstrual cycle calls for us to adapt to its highs and lows, variations in mood, energy levels, and hormonal changes.
Adapting our training regimes to each phase of the menstrual cycle can work to our advantage so that we can sustain our energy and strength throughout the whole cycle rather than burning out prematurely.
With the help of Flo, we explore just how we should be training to work with our cycle instead of against it, one phase at a time.
What is Flo?
Flo is the #1 female health app that allows you to take control of your health by tracking your cycle and symptoms and getting personalized insights reviewed by world-class health experts. Privacy is their priority. Having recently launched Anonymous Mode on their app, Flo allows all users to use the app without linking any of their personal info to their account. Know your body. Own your health. Download the Flo app via Google Play or the App Store today.
Disclaimer: To be on the safe side, please consult your physician before beginning any exercise program"
Training During Each Phase Of Your Menstrual Cycle
Okay, so we know that, on average, your menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, but do you know much about the multiple phases involved? Well here's a quick rundown of each phase of your menstrual cycle before we get into how you can train best during each phase.
"Menstruation phase - this lasts anywhere between 2-7 days. During this period, your uterus is shedding its thick lining, which results in bleeding.
The follicular phase overlaps with your period. It starts on the first day of the period and ends with ovulation. Estrogen levels start to rise as the follicle inside one of your ovaries is maturing. As a result of the estrogen spike, you are likely to feel upbeat and optimistic, and your skin will also be in its best shape.
Ovulation happens when the ovary releases the egg around day 14 before your next periods start. An unfertilized egg will dissolve inside the uterus, triggering the luteal phase of the cycle.
During the luteal phase, corpus luteum, which is formed from a dominant follicle after ovulation, starts producing progesterone. Its level increases gradually during the phase, and here you start experiencing the PMS symptoms. The luteal phase averages around 14 days." - Flo
How To Train During The Menstruation Phase
Exercise Recommendation: Yoga, more low-intensity exercise
You’re bleeding. At the same time, you may be experiencing a whole host of other symptoms, from cramps and bloating, to breast or lower back pain, so you might not exactly feel like cartwheeling in a pair of short shorts, regardless of what the commercials suggest.
“During this phase, hormonally, your progesterone and estrogen levels are really low, so you may feel like you have less energy compared to other points in the month,” explains Dr. Jacky Forsyth, Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology at Staffordshire University. “This, combined with the pain and discomfort, may make you feel less motivated to exercise.”
Dr. Forsyth notes: “While exercise can alleviate period pain for some, for others, it can aggravate it. It’s really individual, so listen to your body.”
Given the stress your body is under, this can be an excellent time to practice some more holistic fitness, as yoga instructor Jessie Mahoney, M.D., explains.
“Yoga has so many relevant benefits, from alleviating pain and tension to managing stress and boosting energy. At this time, I would recommend yin or restorative yoga, which practice breathing techniques and build self-compassion. Child’s pose, reclined spinal twist, and cat-cow poses can help relieve tension in your lower back and pelvis. Seated cat-cow and pigeon pose are good for hip releasing, while forward folds — seated or standing — also help your lower back.”
Personal trainer Lorena Savvidou, from Girl Can Do, also suggests a low-key approach.
“Gentle exercise can help, as it causes your brain to release endorphins, which act as analgesics and diminish the perception of pain. Exercise also boosts circulation. When the wall of the uterus contracts, it temporarily cuts off the blood and oxygen flow to your womb, causing it to release chemicals that trigger pain. Exercise works by improving blood flow at the pelvic level.”
Although everyone is different, some research suggests that intense exercise, such as running, that causes dehydration or a lack of electrolytes can trigger menstrual cramping, so it might be worth timing more strenuous workouts for later in your cycle.
How To Train During The Follicular Phase
Exercise Recommendation: tackle more high-intensity workouts, sprints, weight training
This phase starts on the first day of your period, meaning it overlaps with the menstrual phase.
“Your ovaries produce sacs called follicles, each containing an egg, one of which matures and is released when you ovulate. This triggers a gradual rise in estrogen — associated with elevated energy — and increased serotonin, which stabilizes mood.”
This slow rise in estrogen, combined with the end of your period, means that you’ll probably feel more able and motivated to exercise. Dr. Forsyth notes: “Everything is quite stable, you’ll be over the cramps, breast pain, and bloating; your temperature, heart, and breathing rate response to exercise are normal; your mood is level. So while you might not pull out a personal best, you can get back to your normal routine.”
“Channel your increased energy into some more high-intensity, anaerobic exercise, like HIIT classes, sprint intervals, and weight training,” says personal trainer Lorena Savvidou, from Girl Can Do.
Your energy levels are rising during this phase, so there aren’t really any limits on exercise. However, if you’re hoping to set a personal best or compete in optimum conditions, that might be easier later in your cycle.
How To Train During The Ovulation Phase
Exercise Recommendation: endurance workouts
During this phase, your estrogen levels are high, and you’ll have increased levels of luteinizing hormone (LH),” says Dr. Jacky Forsyth, Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology at Staffordshire University. “This triggers the body to start ovulating.”
In terms of exercise, it’s the estrogen that has the most impact, giving additional energy, boosting mood, and having a steroid effect. So you could feel stronger or find you’re better able to build muscle during this phase. Testosterone levels are at their highest during the latter part of this stage, which can make you more daring and competitive. But progesterone levels remain stable and low, so temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate are even.”
“When your estrogen levels are high, your body tends to conserve glycogen stores (carbohydrates) and have an increased ability to burn fat,” says Dr. Forsyth.
“This is important in exercise terms because carbohydrate fuel supplies are very limited in the body. So their depletion is a major cause of fatigue during prolonged exercise. By being able to rely on your fat reserves, you may feel more comfortable during sustained periods of exercise. Feelings of fatigue will be delayed, so you’ll be able to train for longer periods. Plus, elevated estrogen levels have also been shown to delay the onset of muscle soreness, so you may find recovery easier.”
“This phase is great for endurance activity,” says personal trainer Lorena Savvidou, from Girl Can Do. “So if you’re a runner, up your distance and enter some races. If you love cycling, sign up for a major ride. If you’re a swimmer, max your lengths.”
“You can also harness your increased ability in terms of weight-based training via circuit classes that blend cardio with dumbbells, medicine balls, and kettlebells, or group fitness classes that use barbells,” says Savvidou.
“Holding challenging postures can develop physical and mental toughness and endurance. Tree pose and dancer pose test stamina, while longer warrior poses and goddess pose test strength,” says yoga instructor Jessie Mahoney, M.D. “Opt for vinyasa flow or faster-paced, heated yoga classes.”
“With higher levels of estrogen, your joints are more pliant and less stable. So you’re more at risk of injury — particularly ligament injuries — especially with twisting sports like football or basketball. A safer option is linear strength training (doing reps while slowly increasing the weight of your barbells) because it’s more controlled.”
How To Train During The Luteal Phase
Exercise Recommendation: moderate exercise to keep endorphins up and stress down
There’s a dip in estrogen just before and after ovulation, with estrogen rising again midluteal phase, about a week after ovulation. However, during this phase progesterone levels also increase. Depending on the balance between these two hormones, this may trigger physical responses that can affect exercise performance.
“Progesterone is produced by the corpus luteum,” says Dr. Jacky Forsyth, Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology at Staffordshire University. “This is the area on the ovary created by the collapsed follicle that released the ovulated egg. Levels of progesterone — associated with elevated temperature, heart rate, and tiredness — peak in the middle of this phase. If conception doesn’t occur, the corpus luteum starts to break down nine to ten days after ovulation. This causes progesterone and estrogen levels to fall and triggers your period.”
Roughly a week after you ovulate, increasing progesterone raises your core body temperature and heart rate. This means that endurance-based training such as running or cycling may seem harder, and you might experience fatigue sooner, particularly if you’re training in hot temperatures.
You may also feel more drowsy, which could affect your motivation to exercise. Then, about 10 to 12 days after ovulation, or two to three days before your period starts, progesterone falls. This can cause side effects like breast pain, bloating, low mood, and anxiety — all of which can make exercise more challenging.
“Moderate exercise that keeps endorphin levels up and stress levels down is good — jogging and dance fitness classes are good options,” says personal trainer Lorena Savvidou, from Girl Can Do.
“Because it is a controlled, mindful practice, yoga helps us feel balanced, grounded, and centered, all of which is helpful in responding to hormonal shifts,” says yoga instructor Jessie Mahoney, M.D. “It nourishes the body and mind, and it’s an effective tool for managing stress and pain. Restorative, yin, hatha, and mindful yoga classes are good options at this time.”
With progesterone fluctuating, you may find endurance exercise tougher during this phase. So if you want to stick with it, just be mindful of these hormonal effects.
Armed with the understanding of how our internal body clock can be acknowledged and supported by our activity throughout the month, we can quit trying to play superhero every day. There’s time for strength and power and also time for softness and flow, and now you’re mindful of these things, you can go flourish.
Syncing your workouts to your menstrual cycle can have lasting effects throughout the months. The benefits are that you can sustain your energy mentally and physically without prematurely burning out.
If you'd like some more tips on getting your energy levels up, take a look at our recent article on 7 ways to boost your energy throughout the day.
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