Exercise can mean different things to everyone, some people love it and are fuelled by it, some people endure it to stay healthy. However you see it, we exercise to stay fit and healthy and keep our bodies moving. There are occasions though, that the same workout that we usually love is far too strenuous, or equally you’ve burnt through a class that is normally gruelling and still got energy to spare. Your diet and sleep patterns can have an effect on how much energy you have, however emerging research shows that hormonal fluctuations throughout our menstrual cycles also has a range of effects on energy levels and exercise performance — with particular forms of exercise that may be better suited to your energy levels and hormones at each stage of your cycle.
WHAT’S GOING ON DURING YOUR PERIOD?
As we are coming to understand, our hormones control the entire flow of our menstrual cycles. The rise and fall of different hormones create the different stages of our cycle that we journey through every 28-32 days depending on our bodies. These hormones are unavoidable and can occasionally make life a little trickier than normal. Exercise is also affected by this, depending on the stage of your cycle, your hormone levels will have an effect on your performance.
That’s why, according to the research of cycle syncing, it may be beneficial to switch up your workouts throughout your cycle stages. Certain hormones can fuel a stronger more intense workout, or the depletion of others can require a more gentle flow in your exercise for that week.
WHAT TO DO WHEN DURING OUR PERIOD?
Your Menstruation phase, from the first day of your period lasts anywhere between 2-7 days. You may have heard mixed messages about whether or not to exercise on your period, some say it can cause higher levels of inflammation, whereas some research has shown that it can actually improve the symptoms and feelings of period pain and ease your mood swings with the endorphins that are released. Ultimately it is up to you, and dependant on your energy levels during your period.
But if you do choose to exercise during your period, it may be a good idea to reduce the intensity of your workouts due to the likelihood of lower energy levels. Build in more rest days, focus on yoga and exercise that does not require high levels of exertion. Opt for walks, particularly in nature, or a gentle hike, rather than pushing yourself to the point of fatigue. However, if you’re already used to strength training in your regular workout routine, you should continue with this as its prime-time to build strength muscle thanks to relatively high testosterone levels. Most importantly, listen to your body, due to increased fatigue, the menstrual phase is not usually the time to push yourself too hard.
The follicular phase overlaps with your period. It starts on the first day of the period and ends with ovulation. So, let’s now focus on the second half of the Follicular phase, after your period is over. Oestrogen levels starting to rise as the follicle inside one of your ovaries is maturing. As a result of the oestrogen rising and then spiking half way through, you are likely to feel upbeat and optimistic, giving you more energy. This is a great time to try pushing yourself, or to try new things in your exercise routine. HIIT workouts, boxing and increased strength training are great ways to workout during the end of the follicular phase with the increased energy levels. If you’re more into cardio, keep it lighter at the start of the follicular phase, so your stamina may not be quite there yet. As you move towards the end of the follicular phase you can increase the challenge of cardio workouts and increase stamina.
Ovulation happens when the ovary releases the matured egg around the day 14 before your next periods start. On the day of ovulation your estrogen levels are at their highest and you’re full of energy and confidence. This is a way to capitalise on your follicular phase workouts and peak with your most intense strength or cardio training and push yourself harder. Your ovulation is the peak of the follicular phase, and your hormones are at their best, but it really only lasts for 24hours, so make the most of it if you can! HIIT workouts are great here. If you’re building on strength or weight training this is the time to push yourself to the next weight you’re aiming for, or if you’re training for a distance run this is also a great time to push yourself that way. However, do still take the same amount of care you normally would, as you don’t actually become wonder woman for 24 hours!
The luteal phase is the longest of your cycle and the one with the worst reputation. When the egg isn’t fertilized, our estrogen plummets, leaving room for its heavy-eyed friend progesterone to take hold, often queuing the heavy emotions we know all too well. Your body is preparing for another period so your mood will begin to drop and your energy levels may decrease too, however this is an important time to focus on including exercise in your routine as this will produce endorphins, which help to lift your mood. Intense Yoga or pilates is a good exercise for this phase as it can optimise your remaining energy levels and increase your endorphins. As in other phases, a good long walk or hike in the fresh air also increases endorphins, and nature is also a proven mood booster. Near the end of this phase, all hormone levels decrease. This leads to the breaking down of the endometrium and the onset of the PMS symptoms, closely followed by the start of your period and the cycle begins again.
WHAT TO WEAR ON YOUR PERIOD TO EXERCISE
During your menstrual phase it can seem harder to be able to incorporate exercise into the routine, especially with what to wear and how to manage your protection.
Period underwear is perfect for exercising. It allows your body to breath as you raise your body temperature and sweat, if you’re wearing the right level of protection for your own flow, you won’t have to think about them or worry about them until you get home or relax from your workout, take a shower and pop on a fresh pair! Making exercise on your period that much easier.
You can also wear a light flow pair in your luteal phase if you’re unsure what day you might come on your period but want to be protected, as well as even wearing them throughout your cycle for any discharge or leaks you might experience.
Despite all the ongoing research into our cycles, it is always important to listen to your own body, nobody knows you better than you do, so do what feels best at the moment. If you feel you can push yourself a little harder, or need to back off more during certain stages, this is OK. Listen to your body!
PHOTOS (C): Cristina Gareau and Anthony Bonello