WHY EXERCISE FEELS DIFFERENT THROUGHOUT YOUR CYCLE & HOW TO OPTIMISE YOUR WORK OUT
I don't know about you, but I have been following the Olympics and I loved the fact that Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui actually broke through the period taboo.
It reminded me of the time when I used to swim every day, I found that my exercise levels varied heavily from week to week. I couldn't figure out why some days, I could swim 2 km in record time, followed by aqua-aerobics, and I will still have to go running afterwards, just to feel tired enough to go to bed.
Then the next week, I would just do the swimming and the aqua-aerobics. The following week, I would struggle to do 0.5 km or aqua aerobics and I would literally stagger out the pool, grasping onto the wall, trying to hold myself upright. And I never really thought about why.
Fast forward several years later, I now realise that I was experiencing my menstrual cycle fluctuations and far from beating myself up about the dips, I completely understand that my body biochemistry changes throughout the month, and that it is infact a sign that my body is healthy and working properly by when it experiences these cycles.
So if you want to exercise continually throughout the month, here are some tips explaining how you can vary your work-out throughout your cycle. Both for the everyday woman wanting to work out and the female athletes out there. If you want to understand the different phases of your cycle first, then read this post about the menstrual cycle.
This is the time when your hormones are at your lowest and self reflection is the name of the game. Taking things gently and slow is the way to go here. Great exercises are restorative yoga or pilates, going for walks in nature and stretching. Resistance based exercises are your friend. The key thing here is to listen to your body and keeping moving, but pushing yourself will just leaving you feeling blah at this point.
Many women in this phase of their cycle would rather do solo activities rather than group activities due to the introversion feelings that tend to arise during menstruation. You are more likely to want to do the workout in your home than go to the gym so if you have a great gentle yoga or pilates video, this is a great thing to follow along at home.
It's worth noting too, that any intense cardio that has a pounding action against a hard surface, such as aerobics or running could actually put extra strain on the ligaments holding your womb in place. These ligaments are working harder than normal to deal with the excess weight and contractions of your period at this time anyway, so adding in extra sudden pressure could increase wear and tear, possibly cause damage and lead to more period pain.
If you are an athlete you can also use this time to reflect on your performance, training routines, plan and watch back videos for further training ideas. If you are competing during this time, make the use of other people to help you out with basic preparations such as food and transport so that you can just focus on what you need to do.
Your hormones will build greatly during this phase so your energy and confidence will gradually grow. You will also be feeling more likely to want to engage with other people. As energy builds during this part of your cycle, you are going to be able to increase strength and endurance and start pushing yourself more. If you are into cardio, this is the time you are going to want to introduce it into your regime.
You will also feel more open to trying new things and experiences so it is a great time to try different classes. As you start to feel more sociable, you will start to want to do more communal activities this is the perfect time for group activities or team sports.
This is the phase of your cycle where your hormones (including testosterone) will peak so you will be at your maximum performance level. This will be the time do really max out your routine whether it is cardio, High Intensity Interval Training, Boot Camp/ Military Fitness and really push yourself.
If you are looking at trying a new yoga pose or tricky gymnastic move, this is the time to do it as you will have the confidence to execute it fully. However, bear in mind, your higher risk appetite may lead you to over estimate your capabilities, so you may also be at higher risk of injury by attempting something you usually wouldn't.
You will have a lot more energy during this time too, so you may need to do far more exercise than normal to feel that you have had a good workout. This is the time you come out of the gym buzzing and wanting more.
If you are an athlete, this is the time in your cycle you want to compete or be assessed if given the choice as your performance will be at its optimum during this time.
Early Luteal Phase
Our hormones will take a few days to drop off after ovulation so during this phase you will want to continue your workouts as per the ovulation phase.
Late Luteal Phase
This is the premenstrual week where PMS may creep in. How hormones have been in decline and your energy levels will be feeling a lot lower by this point. Now is the time to maintain rather than push your exercise and a great time to work on more resistance based exercises such as yoga, pilates and even weights.
You will become more introverted during this time so you may want to start exercising on your own rather than in groups, however, you may find that you "read" other athletes better during this time. You can use this to your advantage during a team sport or if trying to analyse the competition.
As you approach menstruation, you will find that you will want to start winding down on both duration and intensity during your exercise regime.
So as you can see, your menstrual cycle really does vary the natural rhythms of the body. The most important thing I can recommend is to start monitoring your body's energy levels and queues throughout the month and see how you can work with it, which will lead to better results and feeling nourished and fulfilled after your work out each and every time.
To Work With Your Cycle More
If you want to figure out how you are feeling during each phase and find out what exercise works for you, then get the cycle charting kit at the top of the page sent directly to your inbox.
Find Out More
Read more about your menstrual cycle here
Read more about why period pain isn't normal and what you can do about it here
Read more about PMS and what you can do about it here