As more women look to find natural ways of living, there’s a growing movement towards working with our periods, not against them. Instead of pretending they don’t exist every month or that we’re not affected by bloated stomachs or bothered by bleeding, more and more menstruating people are looking for ways to incorporate their periods into their lives and not the other way around.
And one of those ways includes timing exercising with your cycle. It’s an interesting concept, but when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. The menstrual cycle is a clear indicator that our bodies are constantly changing, so why shouldn’t we adapt the movement we do throughout the month too? If you’re curious about how you can choose the best type of exercise with your cycle, we’re here to break it down for you.
Why You Should Time Exercise with Your Cycle
If you’re not familiar with the concept of timing exercise with your cycle, it boils down to a pretty simple principle: your cycle affects how your body operates and you should adjust your exercise accordingly.
If you menstruate, your body’s hormones change very drastically depending on which phase of your cycle you’re in. And because hormones affect nearly everything in your body, that can mean everything from how you digest food to how much energy you have to how your muscles recover during a workout can change.
In fact, many of the recommendations that are commonly prescribed to people about exercise are based on studies and research that exclude menstruating people–specifically because researchers assumed having a period would “mess up” the data. Rude, right? So while we can all accept that, in general, exercise is beneficial for all people, it can be helpful to understand how exercise can be used to best support your body at different times of the month.
How to Time Exercise with Your Cycle
The most basic way to think of timing exercise with your cycle is by breaking it down into three phases: 1) active menstruation 2) the follicular phase, leading up to and including ovulation and 3) the luteal phase, after ovulation and until menses starts again.
This is the time in your cycle when you’re actively menstruating. Your hormone levels are low and your energy will most likely be low too. In this phase, you’ll want to listen to your body and do gentle exercises that coincide with the heavy parts of your cycle.
Not only does sticking to gentle exercise line up with your physical symptoms during active menstruation, but it may also protect you. For instance, a 2016 study in the Journal of Physiotherapy & Physical Rehabilitation found that not only can pushing your body to more heavy-duty exercise when you’re menstruation be uncomfortable, but it can also lead to more inflammation and even injury.
Try these exercises
Turn towards gentle forms of movement that will support your hormones and not add undue stress on your body. Try activities such as:
The next phase is all about the O–ovulation that is. As you approach and reach ovulation, your body is at its peak in almost every way. Your energy levels are high, your mood is lifted, and your levels of estrogen and even testosterone are at their highest levels too.
Physically, that surge in hormones also translates into increased muscle strength and endurance, so you can put all that power to good use with your activity levels. Now is the time to kick into high gear with your workouts. Your hormone levels are primed and ready for action (in more ways than one), so have fun with movement during this phase!
Try these exercises
As you approach ovulation, the sky's the limit for your workouts. Turn to whatever workout feels good to you and test your strength and endurance especially during this phase in your cycle. Consider exercises such as:
- HIIT (high intensity interval training)
- Cardio, like running or aerobics classes
- Bodyweight workouts
- Sex (hey, it counts and it makes sense with your hormones right now!)
The luteal phase begins after you ovulate, when all of your hormones start to drop again. Research suggests that during the luteal phase, the drop in estrogen and progesterone hormone levels can cause muscles to fatigue faster and require more recovery time before they’re ready to activate again. That means that if you’re forcing your body to do a lot of high-intensity exercise during the luteal phase, you may be over-working your muscles in ways that won’t be beneficial.
Because your hormones are low during this phase, adding too much stress to the body could also trigger a stress response that will further exacerbate negative symptoms you’re having–and if you’re trying to lose weight through your workouts, it will actually make fat loss more difficult because stress causes your body to store fat.
Try these exercises
During this phase, you might want to start with more intense exercise and then gradually taper it off as you approach menstruation. Again, listen to your body and back off the high-intense workouts as you feel your hormone levels shift and your body craves more rest and support. Try exercises such as:
- Bike riding
- Light jogging
- Modified lifting
Keep in mind that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to move your body during your menstrual cycle, but it can be an eye-opening realization to understand that everything–from nutrition to exercise–can be synced to your cycle for optimum results. Start by paying attention to how you feel during each phase of your cycle and choose your level of activity accordingly. You might be surprised at the results and how you feel.
Janse DE Jonge XA, Thompson MW, Chuter VH, Silk LN, Thom JM. Exercise performance over the menstrual cycle in temperate and hot, humid conditions. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012;44(11):2190-2198. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182656f13