As a menstruating woman, have you noticed a pattern in your motivation to exercise? At times, are you quick to book a high-intensity spin class—and other times, you crave slower forms of movement? If so, this is likely in alignment with your body’s hormonal ebbs and flows. Hormones rise and fall each month, and your entire being is affected. Think: appetite, sex drive, energy, creativity, and more. By honoring these natural rhythms, you can live more in alignment with your menstrual cycle. This practice is called cycle syncing. Once you begin cycle syncing, you’ll notice fewer cramps, less PMS, and a world’s difference in how you feel. Along with cycle syncing your nutrition, let’s talk exercise. Specifically, follicular phase strength training.
The MENSTRUAL CYCLE: A refresher
Each month—during the years between puberty and menopause—a woman’s body goes through a number of hormonal changes. Evolutionary speaking, this is get ready for a possible pregnancy. This series of hormone-driven events is the menstrual cycle. During each menstrual cycle, an egg develops and is released from the ovaries. The lining of the uterus builds up. If a pregnancy doesn’t happen, the uterine lining sheds during a menstrual period. Thus, the cycle starts again. The length of each phase can differ from woman to woman, and it can change over time. A woman’s menstrual cycle has four distinct phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal.
• menstrual: the start of your period
• follicular: 7-10 days leading up to ovulation
• ovulatory: 3-5 days of ovulation
• luteal: 10-14 days before your period
WHAT IS CYCLE SYNCING?
As you become more in tune with your menstrual cycle, you can incorporate cycle syncing. Through this practice, you adjust your diet and exercise routine (and even your social calendar!) to fit each phase of your menstrual cycle. In turn, this supports your hormones and optimizes your overall health. Once you determine which phase you’re in, you can begin cycle syncing. Keep in mind that cycle syncing is ideal if you’re not currently on birth control. Ultimately, the idea behind cycle syncing is to work in tandem with your body. By doing this, you set yourself up to achieve your health goals: sustained energy, better moods, reduced period problems, improved body composition, and more.
Use EXERCISE as a TOOL TO WORK WITH YOUR HORMONES
We all know exercise is essential for overall health. But it’s especially important when it comes to managing blood sugar and balancing hormones. You can use it as a tool to work with your hormones by aligning your workouts with the different phases and energy levels of your cycle. For example, your athletic performance (and quite frankly, desire to exercise) may naturally falter during PMS / period times of your cycle—while the more energetic follicular phase and ovulation stage can often have us hitting a new personal best, squatting heavy, and yearning for more intense workouts! Even Olympic medalists report a change in their performance due to fluctuations in hormones.
what does the data show?
First and foremost, research indicates that a woman’s resting heart rate / cardiovascular benchmark fluctuates throughout her menstrual cycle. Second, physical activity in general has been shown to reduce PMS symptoms. Last but not least, elite athletes self-report decrease in their athletic performance in the menstrual phase and an increase in follicular phase. In essence, this shows that there is a natural ebb and flow to energy, athletic performance, and hormones with each stage of our cycle.
Follicular phase strength training
The follicular phase is the longest phase in the menstrual cycle. It lasts from the first day of your period to ovulation. Once your period ends, you may begin feeling more energetic, inspired, and focused. Now is the time to socialize with friends, start a new project, and be intimate with your partner (unless you’re trying to avoid pregnancy!). This is also the best time of the month to strength train. Several studies have looked at differences in responses to strength training in the follicular phase versus training in the luteal phase. Some research has found that strength training during the follicular phase resulted in higher increases in muscle strength compared to training in the luteal phase.
OPTIMIZE YOUR WORKOUTS WITH YOUR CYCLE
Below is a general framework, divided by menstrual cycle phase. However, keep in mind that every woman’s cycle is unique. Therefore, it’s important to have an awareness to which exercises / energy levels seem to correlate with your cycle.
MENSTRUAL PHASE (DAYS 1-5)
This may feel intuitive already, but this is the time for slow, gentle movement. Either take an active rest day (stretch or go for a walk) or choose another form of low-intensity movement—like mat pilates with light weights, yoga, or bodyweight strength. You may feel some energy gradually come back around day 3-4 of your cycle as your estrogen begins to surge again, and at that point you can increase intensity.
FOLLICULAR PHASE (APPROX. DAYS 6-14)
This is when your energy is starting to bounce back! You’re likely feeling more energized, so it’s a great time to increase to moderate-intensity workouts: jogging / power walking, trail running, cycle classes, weight lifting, resistance band or dumbbell strength exercises, etc. If you start paying attention to your cycle phases, you may find your strength training pays off the most in your follicular phase.
OVULATION PHASE (APPROX. DAYS 15-20)
Consider this the peak of your follicular phase. Thanks to higher levels of estrogen, you’re likely feeling the most energized of any phase of your cycle. Amp up to moderate-to-high-intensity workouts during this phase. You may find you can tolerate HIIT classes, quicker paces, faster recovery, higher weights, etc. during this time. This would be a good time for: interval workouts, running, intense weight lifting, sculpt yoga, speed walking, etc. If there’s a time to push yourself, this is it.
LUTEAL PHASE (APPROX. DAYS 20-28)
The week or so before your period is time to start slowing things down again, decreasing the intensity of your workouts. You may still really want to be active during this phase (which is fine!), but perhaps to a lesser degree.This phrase is perfect for workouts like: hot yoga, resistance band exercises, bodyweight strength, incline walking, and pilates.
MASTER YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE WITH THE BEST PERIOD BOOKS
Below are my top four books for diving deeper into your menstrual cycle. These are all great reads for the inner-autumn, pre-menstrual time period (when you naturally crave more rest and solitude!).
This is all about discovering that your power lies in the rhythm of your menstrual cycle. Through this book, you’ll connect with your body on a deeper level. In turn, finding healing, balance, and wholeness.
If you’re new to understanding your period and how the rest of your lifestyle impacts your cycle, read this.
Transform your periods using all-natural solutions like diet, vitamins, and hormone-balancing nutrition. This is an all-encompassing period repair manual.
This is a phenomenal resource for women of all menstruating ages. As a double-certified health coach who specializes in female hormonal health, I can honestly say this book is packed with well-researched and accurate information. By reading this, you’ll be surprised by how much we were never taught about the female body (and you’ll now be empowered to take care of it).
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