“You know what I really feel like doing? Working out!” said no woman on her period, ever. Because let’s be honest, during that time of the month we barely feel like moving from the foetal position on the sofa, let alone hitting the gym. Turns out, there’s a scientific reason behind why we’re so adverse to exercise when Aunt Flo comes to visit—and it’s not just because we’re terrified of getting leakage when we squat.
According to hormone experts, our bodies have different needs during each part of our menstrual cycle, and this can affect how we feel about getting active. And instead of fighting against this, we should actually be syncing our workouts to our menstrual cycles.
How to sync your workouts to your menstrual cycle
In order to sync your workout schedule with your menstrual cycle, you need to first understand the four different phases. Your menstrual cycle doesn’t just refer to when you’re menstruating, but rather, the various hormonal phases a fertile woman’s body is going through at any given time. These dictate the intensity at which you should exercise and what kind of workouts you should stick to.
The four phases of your menstrual cycle
The Follicular Phase (7 to 10 days)
According to women’s health specialist Alisa Vitti, this is the part of our cycle that we tend to feel the most energetic. It’s when your body is getting ready to release an egg from the ovary, so your hormone levels dip. As a result, our energy levels increase, making this the perfect time to try a new and challenging workout.
This phase is where our energy levels peak. It’s in the middle of the menstrual cycle, when the body is churning out the luteinizing hormone that triggers the release of the egg. The body also produces more testosterone and oestrogen during this time. So, if there was ever a time to do really intense workouts like HIIT or plyometric training, it’s now!
The Luteal Phase (10 to 14 days)
Not only is this the longest phase, but it’s normally experienced in two halves. In the first half, the lining of the uterus thickens to prepare for a possible pregnancy. As a result, your oestrogen and progesterone levels increase and your testosterone levels peak. It’s a great idea to take advantage of this by doing strength training or other weight-bearing exercises during this phase. However, in the second part of the luteal phase, many people experience an energy dip. This is because the oestrogen and progesterone levels start to decline. You may prefer to do more low-key exercises during this time, like yoga, pilates or a walk.
The Menstrual Phase (3 to 7 days)
Yep, we all know what this one means! During the menstrual phase, the uterine level starts to shed which leads to us feeling out of sorts. Alisa recommends really listening to your body during this phase and tailoring your workouts routine accordingly. If you feel like doing some low-intensity exercise during this phase then, by all means, go for it. But if your body is telling you it needs rest, listen to it—as working out on your period can make you feel worse if your adrenals are already under stress.
To keep track of which phase you’re in, you may want to consider using a women’s health tracker like the Fitbit Versa.