Exercise

Working out for your menstrual cycle phase – what to do when, according to the latest science

Jamie Kagianaris, from Period Love  |   4 Oct 2022


Does the thought of working out during your period make you want to cancel your gym membership? Perhaps you tend to just make do and ‘power through’ your weekly runs, or favour a softer, slower approach with gentle stretches and yoga flows.

Firstly, absolutely no judgment here, if any of those is you! No matter how you choose to move your body during your period though, the up-to-date science on exercise and menstrual cycle phases makes for really fascinating reading.

Exercise and menstrual cycle phases – can they really go hand-in-hand?

Until the early 1990’s, the majority of meaningful health research still focused solely on men.

Meanwhile, women were caught in an arguably exhausting cycle of hitting a health problem, being sold various restrictive diets and punishing workout routines to try, and getting deeper into sub-optimal health. 

The fact is, though, that most exercise routines and fitness crazes were never designed with cyclical bodies in mind.

What the latest research tells us

Fast-forward to more recent times, and science is actually beginning to clarify how exercise and the menstrual cycle – plus approaches to training – can impact each other.

Although, as ever, there is a clear need for more studies on women and female athletes, research tells us that certain forms of movement can be really beneficial when you’re on your period. Others have found that certain forms of exercise can create stress in the body during your bleed, and are best saved for other points in your cycle.

Fascinatingly, ‘ideal’ workouts to incorporate during different times of the month, not just the menstrual phase, are also being suggested.

The benefits of workouts that are in sync with your cycle are thought to be really wide-ranging, and could include:

  • better hormone balance
  • reduced stress
  • faster recovery
  • improved performance

So with this in mind, here’s our starter guide to getting the most out of your workouts, by syncing your exercise and menstrual cycle. 

Editor’s note – the following guidance on timings and cycle phases are based on an average 28-day cycle.

Let’s go!

exercise and menstrual

Working out for your cycle, at a glance

Your period (roughly days 1-6)

During the menstrual phase, your feel-good hormones will fall to their lowest level. Many women find their energy levels also drop to their lowest point for the month. Keep in mind that during your bleed, you lose vital nutrients. So excessive exercise which causes unnecessary stress on the body can be unhelpful in this phase.  

Stress is linked to hormonal imbalance, period pain, and increased PMS symptoms. The key here is to listen to your body. If you have period pain, bloating, or heavy bleeding, you could take some time off from your workouts until you notice your energy ramps back up, usually around days 3 to 5.

Studies have shown that therapeutic exercise can help reduce period pain, so if you do feel like moving your body, go for it (gently) – the endorphins will likely help you to feel good, too. 

Think you’d benefit from some extra support when exercising during your period? Make Layer Bands by Layer Clothing your go-to. These stylish bands trimmed with cuffing can be worn over workout leggings and under tops, around your hips, for added coverage and tummy-smoothing – and no bare backs when you’re stretching or leaning over, either!

The menstrual phase is a great time to: rest like you mean it, go slow, walk the dog, practice yin yoga, and spend time in nature.

Save these for later in your cycle: yoga postures with inversions, intense cardio, heavy lifting.

Your follicular phase (roughly days 7-12)

After your bleed is completely over, you’re officially in the follicular phase. Your feel-good hormones are rising each day during this time, signalling to your brain that it’s time to get moving and be creative. Many women notice they’re more likely to take risks and try something new during the follicular phase, so this is the ideal time to take that class you’ve been curious about, to mix up your fitness routine. 

Plus, the latest research shows that anaerobic capacity and muscle strength are likely to peak during this phase. This means that lifting weights (at the right level) now could come with improved overall performance.

Whether you’re resistance training or trying something new, have the confidence to raise the intensity here, in your workouts. 

 The follicular phase is a great time to: weight train, try something new or join a group fitness class.

Exercise and menstrual

Ovulation (roughly days 13-17)

The ovulatory phase is the time when you’re most fertile, and for many women it’s also the phase where they tend to feel the most active and energetic. Estrogen, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are all at their peak, which can add to feelings of vibrancy and increased stamina. 

High estrogen can enhance muscle strength and mass, so it’s a good time to continue with weights. The surging feel-good hormones in this phase also support the verbal and social centers of the brain, making you more communicative, and keen to engage. You’re primed for all-out intensity and socialising now, so call a friend and hit the gym! 

The ovulatory phase is a great time to: take a HIIT class, try spinning, keep weight training, run intervals, or practice power yoga with a friend.

Your luteal phase (roughly days 18 – 28)

The luteal phase is the longest part of your cycle, so you may still feel like high-intensity works for you in the first half of this period. New research suggests that we might fatigue faster, become more dehydrated, and experience a delay in recovery time, during this part of our cycle. So, if you notice your energy wane towards the end of your luteal phase, decrease the intensity.

Our metabolism naturally increases now too, so you don’t need high intensity to speed things up, as your body is doing that naturally.

Note too, that it’s normal to want to eat a bit more than usual here. Complex carbohydrates, like sweet potato and brown rice, will keep you fuller for longer, and help you stave off any sugar cravings.

The luteal phase is a great time to: maintain high-intensity exercise towards the beginning of the phase, gradually shifting to restorative yoga, qoya, and walking.

The bottom line

Whilst there is never any one ‘normal’ menstrual cycle in terms of timings and symptoms, we can use these tips to make tweaks to our workout routines, as the link between exercise and menstrual cycle phases comes into focus.

A copy-and-paste approach won’t work for everyone, but traditional workout science – so focused on the male form – which has been deemed applicable for your cyclical body, just doesn’t cut it.

Working with your body, instead of against it, by syncing your exercise and menstrual cycle can set you on a trajectory to reach your health goals more easily and sustainably.

This is just the beginning. Interested in learning more about your cycle and how to work with it to enhance other areas of your life? Check out Period Love and Jamie’s free guide.

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