If you've ever found yourself hiding under the covers during your period, with exercise being the last item on your to-do list, know that you're not alone. But you might want to give exercising a try during your period — you could be missing out on an opportune moment to crush your next fitness goal. During your menstrual cycle, your body shifts through various hormones, and those fluctuations can affect how well your body does — or doesn't — tolerate intensity and endurance.
Your cycle is actually broken down into three specific phases — follicular, ovulation, and luteal — which can help you to better expect and track the same patterns each month. By getting in touch with your inner female warrior and tailoring your workouts to your bodily needs, you can maximize your performance and reach your fullest potential.
According to Dr. Michael Cackovic, an ob-gyn at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, follicular phase begins with the start (day one) of your period and ends the day before ovulation. So you can assume this extends from day one to 13 of your cycle. "Since estrogen and even testosterone rise [at this time], you may have an energy boost, improved mood, and maybe even think clearer," Cackovic said. "You may feel more assertive and more willing to take risks, as well as feeling extroverted and sexy," he added. Win-win, right?
The best workout? Of course, doing any workout at all during your period is fantastic, but if you really want to experiment in this phase, amp up the intensity and try to break a new record. "At day one of your cycle, your energy is high (though you might feel drained, technically), and this phase is a good time to focus on longer cardiovascular workouts," said Laura Arndt, NSCA-CSCS and CEO of Matriarc. Going for a long run, bike riding, or taking an aerobic dance class are all great workouts, she said. And "with higher levels of estrogen, you can burn fat more easily, so it's also a great time to focus on lifting if you're into strength training to pair well with the cardio," she said. Of course, with anything, listen to your body — if you feel dizzy, extremely fatigued, or in a lot of pain, it's better to rest and take care of yourself in gentle ways.
During ovulation, you're releasing an egg from the ovaries, and this occurs around day 14 of your cycle, Cackovic said. Unfortunately, you might notice lethargy, pelvic or abdominal pain and cramping, and even some slight spotting (though less common), he said. That confidence boost you were feeling earlier on is slowly starting to fade.
The best type of workout? One that's lower in intensity, Arndt said. "During this phase, some women experience pain or cramping, and if that's the case, it may be a good idea to lower the intensity of your workouts with light jogging, walking, or swimming, instead," she said. What's more, low-intensity exercise should also have a positive effect on mood and energy during the ovulation phase, which can make it suck just a bit less, she added.
For the remainder of your cycle, you're in luteal. During this phase, there's an increase in body temperature (those workouts might feel extra sweaty and challenging), along with a rise in estrogen and progesterone. Your body also gets more fatigued, Cackovic said. "Due to the impact of progesterone, you may feel a little down by comparison. This can be a more difficult time for women. They might feel PMS symptoms like cravings for carbohydrate-heavy comfort foods, bloating, headaches, anxiety, and moodiness" he explained.
The best type of workout? It's a good idea to dial back the intensity a bit. "As a trainer, I focus on shorter HIIT cardio training for calorie burn and bodyweight strength training for muscular endurance and energy during this phase," Arndt said. Keeping those bursts of cardio short and sweet is key, as you'll have less endurance, she explained. "As you approach the end of this phase and get closer to your next period, you may have some effects of PMS, where you'll experience bloating, breast tenderness, or an increase in hunger," she added. So it may be a good time to scale back the workouts slightly. But don't stop moving — yoga and Pilates can be great exercise programs during the end of the luteal phase, she said.
Product Credit: Outdoor Voices bra, Stella McCartney for Adidas leggings