Have you ever noticed how much your hormones impact your mood, energy levels, body image, and even how your body looks? If you’re someone who menstruates, you’ve likely had days where your cycle has impacted your workout plans, or had questions about how and when you should exercise during your period.
While the most common question tends to focus on whether or not you should be working out during your period, research shows there’s more to it than that! Hormonal changes throughout your menstrual cycle can have a range of effects on energy levels and exercise performance, and particular forms of exercise can be better than others depending on what phase you are in: menstruation, follicular, ovulation, or luteal.
1. The Menstruation Phase.
It’s that time of the month — the menstrual phase. This is when you’re menstruating, or when you’re actually on your period. It typically lasts 3-7 days at the end of your cycle but let's just start here since it's the one we all wonder about. How can you best support your body movement while menstruating?
If you experience fatigue during the early days of your period, you may not feel like doing much intense exercise. Your progesterone and estrogen levels are at their lowest which will contribute to feeling more tired than normal. You could be feeling cramps, tender breasts, bloating, mood swings, lower back pain, irritable, etc. You may want to reschedule your workouts or do some gentle movement instead.
You may have heard mixed messages about how you should exercise, or if you should work out at all while menstruating. For me it actually helps to get my body moving and just do gentle exercises to stretch. There is also research that shows exercising during your period actually helps with period pain. Keep in mind that everyone is so different. Your body and your nutrition can greatly effect how intense your periods are.
Ultimately, what you choose to do is up to you and how you feel. You have to listen to your body! If you choose to exercise during your period and are feeling low in energy, it may be a good idea to reduce the intensity of your workouts.
Here are some great lower intensity workouts that keep you moving in your menstruation phase:
- Yoga poses and/or stretching - It's a great way to relax your body and mind! Child's pose, reclined spinal twist, and cat-cow all poses that can help to relieve tension in your lower back and pelvis. Try THIS great hip opening flow with Elise Jones.
- Walking or light cardio - Walking is a great activity any time but if you're used to running, walking or slow jogging are great options to scale back the intensity.
- Light upper strength training - This is not the phase to push yourself too hard. Consider reducing your weights if you are feeling too fatigued where you're currently at.
What's going on mentally in the menstruation phase?
Personally I am more prone to self-doubt, tend to pick myself apart more, am more emotional, etc. It's easy to be tempted to quit your plan and eat everything in sight. Don't do it! Expect that you will feel more hungry and have cravings so you can expect it but don't go crazy.
2. The Follicular Phase.
Now that your period is over you're in the follicular phase. This is typically days 1-11 of your cycle. After menstruation is over your estrogen levels get a big boost as your body prepares to release an egg, which is usually associated with increased energy, which means this is a great time of the month to challenge yourself and try new things in your routine.
Here are some higher intensity workouts that maximize the energy you'll feel in your follicular phase:
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) High energy, fast-paced, and fun, this is a great time to incorporate HIIT workouts into your routine while your energy levels are high.
- Boxing Great way to let out some energy and try something new!
- Strength Training This is the time of your cycle to push yourself in your strength training! Think heavier weights or push-ups on toes instead of knees. If you're new to strength training, start with bodyweight exercises to get yourself going.
What's going on mentally in the follicular phase?
You'll have lots of energy and you'll feel strong! The bloating of your period has gone away so you're feeling like yourself again. Your hormones are more leveled out and it's easier to feel happier. You're on top of the world, enjoy it!
3. The Ovulation Phase.
Typically the shortest phase (falling somewhere around days 12-17 in your cycle), the ovulation phase is when you'll still have high levels of estrogen so that means a few more days living on the high energy!
Like the follicular phase you'll be enjoy feeling at your best so here are so ways you can switch up your movement to capitalize:
- Swap your cardio - If you usually cycle, try running. If you've been doing HIIT workouts, do some circuits.
- Go for those PRs! - You are going to feel strong so use it to tear some muscle fibers and really push yourself in your strength training. Go up in your weights, I promise you'll be able to lift more than you think you can.
Related: Challenge Yourself
What's going on mentally in the ovulation phase?
Enjoy the confidence! I feel so good and love to give my husband all the attending, my libido is usually really high. Your stomach is done with the period bloating and you can feel really good about your pace and efforts. Your lens is brighter so enjoy the sunny view!
4. The Luteal Phase.
This is the last phase of your cycle before you're back to menstruation and lasts around 12-14 days. Towards the beginning you'll still be coming down from your ovulation energy and that will decrease as you approach menstruation. Your progesterone will peak which can make you feel drowsy and like things are just harder. This is the phase you'll experience the dreaded PMS symptoms leading up to your period.
Here are some great ways to stay on track with your movement while transitioning from your higher energy phases to lower energy phases:
- Yoga or pilates - These are both good options to increase overall strength and release muscle tension.
- Lower intensity cardio - Don't be afraid to use swimming, walking or jogging, lower intensity elliptical, etc as your movement as you move to a lower energy. These are all very adaptable to how you're feeling.
- Stay steady in your weight training - Don't worry about hitting PRs if you're not up to it at the end of your phase.
- Stay consistent - Consistency is your best friend during this phase. Stay consistent in showing up for your workouts remember this is a phase of transition.
What's going on mentally in the luteal phase?
Be ready to push past the mental block in your workouts. You'll feel like you aren't able to push yourself like before, but that's okay! Towards the end of the phase you'll likely start those PMS symptoms like bloating, headaches, cravings, or trouble sleeping to name a few. Your emotions can fluctuate quickly so be patient with yourself (and others). Anticipate and recognize these changes as you transition and you won't feel surprised when these normal part of your cycle come around.
Related: How to Train According to Your Cycle Podcast
Remember, knowledge is power.
How well do you know your cycle? If you're new to tracking your cycle, try doing it for a couple months and notice how you feel in each phase and how you find yourself adjusting your activity levels. Be aware of the mental and emotional tendencies you find in each phase so you can prepare for them and be your own best support! Once you understand your body and mental changes throughout your cycle you're better able to plan for and accommodate your cycle in your workouts and your mental health.
Get to know you body's cycle and trust it! Get to know how the different phases of your cycle influence your energy levels, mood, and movement. If you feel that your cycle isn't regulating well, reach out to your doctor.
Being a woman isn't always easy, but I honor and love the cycle of strength and renewal our bodies experience.
If you are interested in safe, specialized training for women, visit our programs page. Bree is a certified personal trainer as well as certified in nutrition, mindfulness and meditation, and behavioral change coaching. The BodyByBree 8 Week Training Programs are designed to support holistic health for women by teaching sustainable habits in movement, nutrition, and mindset that give you the tools to enjoy a lifetime of health.