Exercise During Your Period & Each Stage Of Your Cycle
Exercising as women
If we feel called, there are many ways we can adapt our lives based on where we are in our menstrual cycle and one of those is the way we exercise.
It’s normal to feel like we need to be really disciplined and follow a certain standard of intensity consistently no matter what’s going on. But, if we adopt a more long-term view that’s really aligned with the cyclical needs of our bodies, we can actually see far better results with a lot more ease.
We have all been exposed to the messaging that tells us our menstrual cycles are nothing but a gross inconvenience to be ignored unless we want to become pregnant. It’s heartbreaking that we are so far behind in education around this and most of us are still lost in a pool of misinformation.
So we ignore them, resist them, dread them, talk poorly about them, resent them and so on.
But, like many things, resisting it makes it worse. Surrendering and flowing with it makes it better, even something pleasurable, and can even have positive side effects we didn’t even think of (such as improved PMS symptoms).
One of the most wonderful ways we can practice self-care and one of the things we can alter depending on where we are in our cycle is the way we exercise.
This blog will outline each stage of the cycle for you and how you might like to alter your movement depending on each phase. These alterations don’t only need to apply to exercise but to any aspect of life you like!
Before we get into it, it’s important to clarify that this is just a guide. Your body knows best. If you happen to be on day 2 of your cycle and are craving a high intensity workout, don’t let this stop you! If you love giving it 110% every time, don’t let this stop you. If you love gentle workouts and stretches and don’t fancy anything too intense ever, good for you!
Stage 1: Your Period
Menstruation is the first phase of your menstrual cycle and begins the first day of your period (not spotting). It usually lasts 3-7 days and it overlaps with the next phase, the follicular phase which we get onto next.
Menstruation begins because menstrual blood and tissue is released from your uterus, through a small opening in your cervix, and out through the vagina. We are all familiar with signs and symptoms of this phase such as mood swings and sore breasts. While we experience such changes through every phase of our cycle, the bleeding part is the one no one can ignore and so is usually the only one acknowledged.
Exercise during your period
During this time, you might want to do slower, more intentional movement such as gentle yoga, pilates, low intensity bodyweight exercises, even a gentle walk. You can also try doing easier variations of exercises you usually do. For example, if you like to do planks, you could instead hold a bird- dog position. Instead of a lunge, maybe go for some air squats.
If period cramps are something you have to deal with, there are a number of moves and positions you can try to ease the discomfort. You can incorporate these into your workouts and your morning routine to take the best care of yourself possible. Examples include gentle twists such as your supine twist, lying on your back with your legs propped up against a wall (or headboard if you’re in bed!) And our favourite – child’s pose. Ultimately, anything which helps you to feel relaxed is going to be lovely at this time.
“It is a misconception that workouts have to be super hard to be effective. This isn’t true. You can still make incredible progress during this time, not to mention the positive benefits of showing your body it can trust you and that you’re not ignoring it’s changing needs!”
Simply taking the time to do what you can, slowly, with self-love and compassion, really can be enough. Yes, you really don’t need to do your usual routine week in week out to get the results you desire (and deserve).
Stage 2: The Follicular (aka Proliferative) Phase
The follicular phase begins before monthly menstruation ends and lasts on average 16 days (ranging from 11 to 27!). This means your body is already preparing to become pregnant again before you’ve even finished your period! It is triggered by the pituitary gland (located right at the base of your brain!) releasing a hormone conveniently named the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This hormone means that follicles containing an egg are stimulated to grow. During this phase you can expect improved focus and higher energy levels.
Exercise in the Follicular Phase
During this phase, you can increase the intensity of your exercise. You might like to go for higher energy exercises such as HIIT, spinning, boxing, running, power yoga or circuit training. Or you can try harder variations of exercises you already do. Examples include increasing your weight, speed, and the length of time you spend doing exercise. As you get closer and closer to your ovulatory phase you’ll likely find your energy levels steadily increasing until you peak at ovulation.
Stage 3: Ovulation
This biological magic trick happens on one day midway in your cycle, on days 11-21 depending on the length of your cycle. To figure out when you ovulate, calculate the length of your cycle (from the first day of your period to the day before your next period begins) and divide by 2. Ovulation means that the body is releasing the most ripe egg to be fertilised and this is triggered by a surge in luteinising hormone (LH). At this time the body wants to get that egg fertilised and so you may experience that peak in energy levels and arousal. This is a great time for your most intense workouts, whatever that looks like for you.
Exercise during Ovulation
You can use this incredible extra energy to do those higher intensity workouts and even get a little creative with your workout. Maybe try something new that you’ve been putting off or resisting, such as finally giving a run around your local park a go or giving an exercise you typically avoid a proper go (hello burpees).
Stage 4: The Luteal (aka Secretory) Phase
This phase starts after the ovulation day and lasts until the end of the cycle, before the next period begins. At this time your body is preparing for the possibility of pregnancy.
This phase is where pre-menstrual syndrome aka PMS comes into play where we can expect symptoms including bloating, breast swelling and tenderness, mood changes, lower sex drive and food cravings. Most of us grew up associating this with the onset of our period, not knowing there’s an entire phase of our cycle responsible for it and that phase is not menstruation, it’s the luteal phase that comes before!
The ovulation section mentioned that the body releases the ripest egg to be fertilised. This means the follicle that housed the egg was ruptured in order to release it and during the luteal phase this ruptured follicle closes and forms a structure called a corpus lute which produces increasing quantities of progesterone in the body.
Exercise during The Luteal Phase
When it comes to exercise during this phase you can try bringing that intensity back down again as menstruation approaches. Returning to those easier variations and slow, gentle, intentional movements that were mentioned in the beginning like gentle yoga or pilates, or swimming!
How should you respond to your cycle?
So, overall you can expect to go easier on yourself in the lead up to your period, start increasing intensity as your period comes to a close, keep increasing intensity until you peak around ovulation, and then start bringing it back down again as you near your next bleed.
It’s completely up to each of us how much we want to adapt our training to our cycles. For some, maybe keeping it the same is best while maintaining an awareness of the cycle and for others maybe adapting on the spot is better. Those of us who feel more affected by our cycles, will find the best thing is to really integrate this into our lives on a consistent basis. If you are working with a female personal trainer, lean on her to guide you, as she will know this all too well and be able to adapt without you even noticing!
The right way for you is likely whichever makes you feel empowered, and naturally this may change over time!
Written By Bea Franchini: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal