Tips on how you can start going with your flow. With Cycle Training.
Do you ever find yourself struggling through a workout that you were easily able to conquer a few days earlier? One minute you’re sweating, smiling and smashing out your squats, and the next, you can barely find the energy to put on your tights, let alone do some exercise?
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Instead of dropping into negative self-talk and pushing yourself even further, it might be time to consider the cyclical changes in your body.
While everyone rides waves of energy, those that menstruate can experience far more aggressive peaks and troughs. Most women will acknowledge this when they are menstruating, as the physical evidence of your period (and the constant checking to make sure it hasn’t leaked onto your brand new tights) is enough to make you understand why you might not be performing at 100%. But, our cycle is more than just our period, and there is growing evidence that proves just how beneficial it can be to consider your monthly cycle when it comes to your exercise regime.
Just like the seasons, the female body goes through cyclical changes. For the most part, this is entirely out of our control. So, just like you aren’t going to punish the sun for doing its thing and being hot in summer, don’t punish your body for doing its natural thing during your cycle. Female physiology is not a weakness. We are strong and powerful, and your training goals don’t have to suffer because of your period. You might just have to change up your perspective a bit to get the most out of every workout.
Still not convinced? In 2019 the US Women’s Soccer Team planned their world cup training around their player’s periods. They won the entire tournament, and the women were empowered to embrace their body rather than just pushing through the discomfort. Sounds pretty cool, hey?
When you choose to work with your body, instead of against it, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it will thank you. Not only will it perform better but also you’ll potentially decrease your risk of injury.
This blog will give you some insight into each phase of your monthly cycle and how you can maximise your workouts to go with the flow (pun definitely intended). Of course, we must point out that everybody is different, and at the end of the day the best exercise is the one you feel good doing.
First things first, a little period 101.
every woman is different; however, the average cycle lasts approximately 24 – 38 days (although most women fall between 30 – 40 days) and can be broken up into four main phases: menstruation (your period), follicular (pre-ovulation), ovulation, and luteal (pre-menstruation). Your cycle begins on the first day of your period. During your cycle, the body experiences a range of chemical changes that affect your mental and physical health.
Female bodies create two main sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. Oestrogen helps regulate your cycle and is responsible for female physical features (breasts, pubic hair etc.) and reproduction. It is also a key driver in the changes that take us from being a girl to a woman. Fluctuations in oestrogen levels affect your brain and mood and often contribute to PMS before your period and hot flushes during menopause.
The other essential sex hormone produced in the second half of your cycle plays a key role in sexual desire. Progesterone prepares your body for potential pregnancy after ovulation by prohibiting muscle contractions in the uterus that would otherwise cause the body to reject an egg. When you are pregnant, the body continues to produce progesterone to prevent the contractions and stop further ovulation.
Basal Body Temperature:
Your body temperature when you are entirely at rest. Many women track their basal body temp as a form of contraception, with the temperature increasing during ovulation.
A must-have ingredient needed throughout all stages of the cycle, especially during menstruation and the luteal phase.
Finally, it’s important to note that several things can and will impact your cycle. These include hormonal contraception (the pill), IUD’s, eating disorders, stress levels, PCOS and endometriosis (to name a few). If you experience these, it is worth doing further research and chatting to a medical professional about your individual needs.
On the topic of the pill, if you take hormonal contraception, you need to remember that your pill will alter your natural hormonal fluctuations. This means you may not feel the same peaks and troughs in your mood and energy levels as those that don’t take the pill. Don’t let this stop you from making the most of your cyclical changes, though; it just means you might have to track things differently! There are many ways to track your cycle if you’re on the pill. Whether it be writing your symptoms daily or choosing to cycle with the phases of the moon, we recommend taking the time to figure out a system that works for you and your period.
How to exercise during the different stages of your cycle
Just like you crave different foods and activities throughout the seasons, your body craves different movement patterns throughout your cycle.
What’s happening in your body:
- Oestrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest before slowly increasing as your period progresses.
- Higher levels of testosterone .
- The body is using glycogen (aka stored fuel) as energy.
- Inflammation, cramping and increased levels of tiredness.
How will you feel:
Best way to exercise during menstruation: When you’re on your period, the best form of exercise is the exercise that you feel like doing. Researchers are in two frames of mind regarding exercise on your period, so we will cover both below.
#1 The period ninja:
If you do have the energy, take this opportunity to smash out a turbo-charged workout. Lower oestrogen levels mean you are less prone to injury, and your body is burning fuel more efficiently. Endorphins are also a natural painkiller, and studies have shown that 10 minutes of exercise can help ease lower back pain, increase circulation, reduce cramps and improve your mood. Those increased testosterone levels might also take you to incredible hulk levels of strength. If this is the case, try some low-volume weight training or other power-based activities.
#2 Rest and rejuvenate:
If you don’t have this energy, then it is 100% okay to chill out. Take this time to rest and reconnect with yourself, prepping for the next stages of your cycle. Dr Brandon Marcello, PhD, said that “during this time, many women experience an increase in the rate of perceived exertion, so exercises that are moderately difficult feel much more difficult while on your period”. If this sounds more like you, consider taking a gentle walk in nature (or to the corner store for more snacks), trying some restorative yin yoga, going for a swim, or enjoying some breath work.
Tip: When exercising on your period, chose activewear that you feel confident and comfortable in. It’s also worthwhile using workout-friendly products, like a period cup or period underpants . That way, you’ll spend more time enjoying the workout and less time worrying about potential leaks.
What’s happening in your body:
- This stage actually begins on the first day of your period and continues until the of ovulation, but it is easiest to think of it as the time between finishing your period and your ovaries releasing the egg.
- Hormones begin to rise, with estrogen levels spiking and giving you more energy.
- Your body releases a follicle-stimulating hormone that signals the ovaries to start getting an egg ready for release.
How will you feel:
Best way to exercise during the follicular phase: Just like animals that emerge from their winter hibernation into spring, your body will feel more energised and awake as you leave menstruation and hit your follicular phase. Higher levels of energy and rising hormone levels mean this is the perfect time to try a brand new exercise or get into your favourite cardio – think barre, HIIT, dancing, running and cycling. Right now, your body prefers to burn fat as the primary fuel source, so if you are looking to lose weight, this is a great time to maximise your efforts.
Now is the time to focus on a bit more endurance-based exercise and enjoy movement that helps build lean muscles. Research completed in 2014 by the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal has shown that higher oestrogen levels in the follicular phase are linked to more pliable hamstring muscles. What does this mean? Take the time to warm up, cool down, and exercise a little more caution, especially with your knees, as you may be more vulnerable to injury.
Tip: Let your creativity shine during this stage. Strut your stuff in your funky new activewear, and don’t be afraid to try a new form of exercise, whether it be a Bollywood dance class, rock climbing, or even just skipping down the street. Werk it, girl.
What’s happening in your body:
- Your body releases a luteinising hormone to trigger the start of ovulation, aka the release of the egg.
- Estrogen drops briefly at the beginning, and progesterone increases, before both hormones peak as you enter the luteal phase.
- Sex drive spikes alongside progesterone. In other words, your body is ready for a baby!
How will you feel:
Best way to exercise during the ovulation phase: You know that time in the month when you’re really feeling yourself? There’s a little spring in your step, maybe you’re keen to get a little more frisky with your lover, and you feel like you’re walking on cloud nine? Chances are you’re ovulating.
Like the follicular phase, you will have plenty of energy to try new workouts and enjoy some higher intensity exercise during ovulation. You’re likely to be feeling a little extra social, so make the most of group fitness classes like barre, power pilates and power yoga, as well as HIIT and boxing workouts. This is also the perfect opportunity to put on that new dress of yours and hit the dance floor with your girls.
From the biology side of things, just like the follicular phase, the higher oestrogen levels may increase your chance of injury, so really make an effort to warm up and cool down. Towards the end of ovulation, as you transition into the luteal phase, the spike in your hormones may lead to increased fluid retention. This can reduce your sweat rate and the amount of oxygen delivered to your muscles, making you hotter. While this isn’t a huge thing to worry about, make sure you keep up your water intake and watch your body temp.
Tip: The peak in your sex drive is always an excellent excuse for a different kind of cardio with your flame. If you’re not looking to have a baby, just make sure you consider your contraception, as you are super fertile right now!
What’s happening in your body:
- You’ll experience a few hormonal ups and downs as oestrogen and progesterone peak at the end of ovulation and then begin to decrease.
- PMS symptoms will kick in. You know, the fun stuff, like mood swings, irritability, tiredness and cravings.
- Ovulation will increase basal body temperature, and your energy intake tends to be higher, adding another reason for food cravings.
- Peaking oestrogen and progesterone levels suppress gluconeogenesis, which is the process necessary to use energy stores in the body. This means you may need to provide more external carb sources (yay, bread!).
How will you feel:
Best way to exercise during the luteal phase: Think of this phase like a slippery slide into your period; you’ll begin at the top with heaps of post-ovulation energy before gradually feeling your energy levels drop while your body prepares for menstruation. We recommend varying your training as this cycle transition occurs.
In the first few days of the luteal phase, you’ll feel energised enough to continue with some higher intensity workouts. Then, as you settle into this Autumn-like phase of your body, take a step back and enjoy some more mindful (yet still challenging) activities like Pilates, yoga, long walks, a slow jog or gentle barre class. Moving your body in one way or another is never bad, and exercise will help reduce the fluid retention that may have started at the end of ovulation. It will also release plenty of endorphins to help with PMS-induced mood swings.
Speaking of PMS, a study completed in 2019 and published in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion compared the benefits of yoga to aerobic exercise (cardio) as a means of relieving PMS symptoms. Those ladies who completed the yoga experienced a more significant reduction in their symptoms than those who did the aerobic exercise. While both forms of exercise will help, it may be worth spending a little more time in a downward dog than pounding the pavement if you’re looking to kill the mood swings.
Another study published in the 2014 Kathmandu University Medical Journal looked at female heart rates during their monthly cycle. It was shown that, during the luteal and menstruation phases, the pre-exercise heart rate was higher, and the peak heart rate was lower. What does this mean? Well, your heart is working slightly harder than usual during the luteal phase, so it may be worth holding off on the super high-intensity workouts until after your luteal phase and period are over.
Tip: The increase in basal body temperature and a general increase in your hormones means your body is more receptive to heat. The potential for increased fluid retention and PMS symptoms will also make a workout out in the heat that little bit harder. Cut yourself some slack by exercising in the aircon and drinking plenty of water.
Exercising in line with your menstrual cycle
Hopefully, as you’ve read through this blog, a few lightbulbs have started to go off in your head. Remember when you suddenly got super hot 🥵 in class or the day you were feeling extra perky? Chances are, your cycle had a lot to do with that.
If you’re new to this or are ready to dive a bit deeper, the best thing you can do is start tracking your cycle. There are plenty of great apps out there that provide tips, tricks, and prompts for cycle tracking. A great starting point is tracking your basal body temperature, watching out for your cervical mucus (colour, consistency, amount) and generally just taking note of your emotions and how your body feels.
Once you have a better understanding of your cycle, you can then go on to make educated decisions about how you want to work and or plan your training.
Get it, girl
Female physiology is not a weakness 💪 . Regardless of whether you are an elite athlete or an everyday gal just trying to get in her daily workout, there is no reason why your period cycle should impact your training goals.
Take the time to get to know your body and your cycle; after all, it is the only body we have. It’s time we stopped working against it and instead recognised our menstrual cycle as the superpower that it truly is.
Researched And Written By Abbie Taylor
References, research and articles.
As with anything that you read, we advise applying critical thinking and doing further research from multiple reputable sources. Studies on women’s exercises physiology is still considered fairly new (the majority of studies have been on men and only within the last 40 years has there been an increasing focus on women and the impact of our hormones on exercise) with new evidence and data constantly emerging. Our blog is a great starting point and overview to provide you with easy to understand information, this is our opinion and thoughts based on the research and resources that we have found.