On the most painful days of your period, you’d probably want to put a hex on anyone who suggested that a visit to the gym would help matters.
However, the truth is that exercise is fantastic for the body during all four phases of the menstrual cycle – even menstruation itself.
What’s interesting is that our energy levels and exercise capabilities change during each phase.
Let’s look at why that is, and which exercises you might want to try during different stages of your cycle.
What we’ll be looking into:
- The phases of the menstrual cycle and energy levels
- Being kind to yourself during menstruation
- Rising energy levels during the follicular phase
- Ovulation and energy peaks
- Starting to slow down again during the luteal phase
The menstrual cycle phases
Your menstrual cycle consists of four different phases – menstruation, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal.
Your cycle starts on day one, which is the first day of your period, the time at which you are least likely to fancy heading to the gym for an intense weight lifting session..
For most people who menstruate, energy levels hit their peak in the late follicular phase, and we’ll explain why in a moment.
However, you can make the most of your energy reserves throughout the cycle, if you listen to your body and work with it, not against it.
Energy and menstruation
Let’s start by saying that very few people fancy going hell for leather exercise-wise during the days they are menstruating.
Not only do unpleasant symptoms like cramps, sore breasts and headaches tend to rear their ugly heads during menstruation, but blood loss depletes your iron stores, which can make you feel even more tired and less enthusiastic about exercising.
What the experts say:
The US Office on Women’s Health (OASH) cites research that found exercising during your period can help you feel better.
That’s because exercise can increase the blood flow and releases endorphins to improve your mood.
They write: “Researchers have found that some women have fewer painful cramps during menstruation if they exercise regularly.”
“There are almost no risks to regular physical activity, like walking, which may also help you feel better during your period.”
Exercise during menstruation
It’s important not to overstress the body when you are on your period.
Opt for exercises like gentle walking, light weightlifting, stretching and other low-intensity activities.
It’s a good idea to exercise first thing in the morning, if you have the opportunity, as you can get a workout in before your energy levels start to fall.
You can keep a track of which exercises make you feel better and monitor how they impact your menstrual symptoms.
Energy and the follicular phase
Why do you feel more energetic during the follicular phase? It’s all about the oestrogen.
Following your period and the shedding of the uterine lining, your body begins to prepare for the next ovulation and that involves higher levels of oestrogen.
Oestrogen has numerous positive benefits on the body, including helping to maintain serotonin levels, which elevates mood.
What the experts say:
A recent study by Krause et al suggests that oestrogen’s impact on our brain could determine how physically active we are.
Whilst the study was conducted on female mice, the research team is convinced that the results – which showed that oestrogen surges prompted the mice’s brains to engage in increased activity – are likely to be similar in humans.
Interestingly, they found that “Oestrogen depletion in rodents and humans leads to inactivity, fat accumulation and diabetes”, the authors also found that this worsens with age.
Exercise during the follicular phase
Given you are likely to feel so energetic during this phase of your cycle, you might want to try more challenging classes and activities.
Think HITT classes, weights, circuits, Cross Fit and high-intensity yoga.
However, do be mindful that the high oestrogen level in your body does make the muscles and joints relax more than usual. Be sure to warm up and stretch out to prevent injury.
Energy and the ovulatory phase
Right before ovulation, mid-cycle, you’ll find energy and libido are likely to be at their peak, which makes it many people’s favourite part of the month.
During this phase, the pituitary gland releases a surge of luteinising hormone to trigger the release of the mature egg and begins ovulation.
You’ll also have the highest level of oestrogen and testosterone in the body, which makes the body highly receptive.
That’s great news for energy levels and exercise potential.
What the experts say:
Did you know body strength increases mid-cycle?
Research shows that your body strength increases mid cycle. According to one study, authors Sarwar et al. found that “There was a significant increase of about 11% in quadriceps and handgrip strength at mid-cycle compared with both the follicular and luteal phases”.
Exercise during the ovulatory phase
This is the time to make the most of that improved strength.
It’s the time to push yourself with high impact classes, longer walks, swimming, yoga, strength-training, and weights.
You should hopefully find that recovery is easier after big sessions due to the oestrogen levels in your body.
Energy and the luteal phase
In the luteal phase, the hormone progesterone surges as oestrogen and testosterone take a nosedive.
You may find as you reach the pre-menstrual part of your cycle that you feel more lethargic, achy and experience low moods.
Serotonin takes a hit during this time, which can upset your emotional balance.
Throw in other pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS) and your energy levels are likely to be much lower.
What the experts say:
In the luteal phase, body temperature rises by around 0.5 degree Celsius, which can impact recovery timings, intensify muscle ache, and disrupt sleep.
In her study, Xanne A K Janse de Jonge found this had an impact on exercise performance.
She wrote, “The mid-luteal phase has a potential negative effect on prolonged exercise performance through elevated body temperature and potentially increased cardiovascular strain.”
However, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t exercise during the luteal phase, just choose your activity wisely.
Exercise during the luteal phase
This is the stage where you might opt for exercise that’s slightly lower intensity.
Look to activities such as cycling, yoga, pilates and walking.
You are aiming to avoid putting too much strain on your muscles, although increased progesterone does increase their flexibility.
Also expect to sweat more due to your elevated temperature.
Every body is different
We hope this guide to exercise, energy and the menstrual cycle is useful.
However, please remember that every person’s body is different.
Not every menstruating person has a 28 day cycle, and different phases can last for different lengths of time.
You know your body so trust your instincts and listen to what it’s telling you.
In doing so, you’ll give yourself the best chance of being happier and healthier at every stage of your menstrual cycle.
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