Next time you’re at the gym on your period, wondering why on earth you even left the house today, and spending way too much time taking sneaky looks at your butt in the mirror to a. check your pad isn’t showing and b. your tampon hasn’t leaked, just stop for a moment. Give yourself a massive hi-five… You’re part of the new generation who had recognised the awesome benefits of exercising full cycle!
But wait. Before you put together your fitness mission plan, you need to realise that we are faced with chemical challenges every month. The hormonal changes that happen during our cycle have big effects both mentally and physically, and your workout schedule should certainly take this into account.
Below are our top tips on how to get the most out of your exercise routine during each phase of your cycle.
Day 1-7: Menstruation
Hormones: Oestrogen and Progesterone levels are at their lowest, your body is using more glycogen (stored fuel) as its preferred energy source.
You feel: Blah. Crampy and Bloated, but mood improving as the week ticks along
Your workout: Get out of your comfy house pants and head to the gym for a turbo-charged workout! This low-hormone phase actually makes you a little more…uhhem.. ‘manlike’ (yes, really!). Cramping and backache aside, this week is the perfect time to push yourself with the most demanding exercises in your routine. Bootcamp yourself. Become a period ninja. Add in a few more reps, or one more exercises, and really push yourself. Metabolically you are burning fuel more efficiently, recovery is faster and pain tolerance higher. Oh, and those other menstrual symptoms? Studies have shown that within 10minute of exercising cramping reduces, back ache is eased, mood improves and mental alertness increases.
DAY 8-14: PROLIFERATIVE PHASE
Hormones: Oestrogen levels start to rise slowly; your body prefers to burn fat as its fuel source.
You feel: Energetic, sexy, and gorgeous!
Your workout: Your dude-like powers are still with you but to a lesser degree. Keep up the high strength and intensity but now is also a good time to add in some endurance work while your body is burning a little more fat. Increase that time on the cross-trainer or rower by 5-10minutes, or increase your walking and running distances. With your brain power neither pre-occupied with period leaks or ovulation, this week is the perfect time to try a new class or sport. Aerial Zumba anyone?!
Top-tip: Although you’re still smashing out epic workout sessions, make sure you take your warm-up and cool-down stretches seriously. As you creep closer to ovulation your chance of injury can increase (yikes!)
DAY 15-21: LUTEAL PHASE
Hormones: Hormones reach their peak, and your high progesterone levels alter metabolism and how you handle heat.
You feel: less energetic, motivation slightly lower, a little moody
Your workout: Turn down the intensity a notch and concentrate on good form this week. Your energy levels and concentration will be a little lower, which means that epic set of box-jump you smashed out so easily last week can turn into a cringe-worthy stack and twisted ankle incident. And no-one wants that effect on their street cred. This week is a good chance to concentrate on some more endurance-focused exercises. Pair it with yoga or a stretch session.
Top Tip: Beat the overheating effect by exercising in a gym (air-conditioned) or in the early morning, and keep your sodium/electrolyte fluids up.
DAY 22-28: LUTEAL PHASE CONT…
Hormones: Oestrogen and progesterone slump – Hello PMS!
You feel: moody, bloated, un-motivated, anti-social
Your workout: Yep, you’re right, it’s time to curl on the couch with that bag of chips and watch Netflix…Hell no!! This is the week you really do need to drag your sorry self into your workout gear! Exercise will help improve that fluid retention and bloated middle. And the endorphin release that comes with exercise will actually lift your mood so that only half the people in your life will get their heads ripped off this week. Turn to mid-high intensity cardio sessions that will increase your heart rate such as cycling classes, jogging, and power yoga.
Top tip: Take a nourishing, hi-protein low GI post-workout snack in your gym bag. Consume within 20 minutes of finishing your session. Eat slowly and enjoy. This stops the post-workout ‘hangries’ (which is intensified with PMS!).
Just as no two bodies are the same, no two menstrual cycles are the same either. Some seem to breeze through it and for others it’s a real rollercoaster. While most health practitioners would suggest that exercising to help with menstrual cycle symptoms is better than doing nothing, tailer your sessions accordingly and listen to your body. This includes adding in rest days! (phew!)