Understanding how your menstrual cycle works can help you make more informed choices about your exercise routines. Designing your workouts around each phase of your cycle can yield better results and motivate you more. When your exercise is challenging but not exhausting or frustrating, you are more likely to build good habits. Remember that nobody knows your body as well as you do, so if you feel you can push yourself a bit harder or need to go easier at certain times, listen to your body and adjust accordingly.
The four phases of your menstrual cycle are:
- Menstrual (technically part of the follicular phase)
- Follicular (pre-egg release)
- Ovulation (egg release)
- Luteal (post-egg release)
Matching your workouts to the hormonal changes in your body can aid in less pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, easier periods, and reduced bloating. Everyone who menstruates benefits from planning their exercise to their cycle, but it can be especially useful for those who experience polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), are overweight, or who want to conceive.
During your menstrual phase, your estrogen and progesterone levels are low. This phase is when the shedding of the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) causes bleeding. The most important thing you can do during this phase is rest. When it comes to exercise, simple and light movements keep you active without pushing yourself.
Movement ideas for your menstrual phase:
- Restorative yoga
- Nature walks
- Light stretching
The follicular phase is the week after your period. This is when estrogen and progesterone levels increase. You may be experiencing low stamina and need to keep some of your exercise light. But you will likely start feeling bursts of energy as you get closer to the next phase of your cycle, This allows you to incorporate some aerobics (cardio), especially around the middle of the day when your energy is higher.
Physical activities for your follicular phase:
- Aerobics (cardio)
During the ovulation phase, also known as mid-cycle, your levels of testosterone and progesterone peak. This is when you have the most energy and are ready for high-intensity workouts. You generally have lots of energy in the early morning so you should take advantage of it. This phase is the most appropriate one to push yourself and go all out regardless of what type of activity you choose.
Exercise ideas for your ovulation phase:
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Spin classes
- Bodyweight circuit
Progesterone is high during the luteal or pre-menstrual phase while testosterone and estrogen diminish. If the egg doesn’t get fertilized, your hormone levels decrease, and the menstrual cycle begins again. It is common for energy levels to be lower, so light to moderate exercise may be a good idea.
Workout ideas for your luteal phase:
- Strength training
As your luteal phase progress, you may want to switch from early morning training to early evening as your energy levels diminish. If you start experiencing PMS symptoms, restorative yoga before bed can also alleviate discomfort and cramps and uplift your mood.
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