Healthy Living

Optimizing Your Exercise With Your Menstrual Cycle

How does your period affect your athletic performance and exercise routine?

Periods and exercise are back in the news, with Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui discussing her period arriving the night before her relay race in the Rio Olympic Games.

This has opened up the floor to some great questions and curiosity about how your period affects your athletic performance and exercise routines. So here is a quick guide to optimal exercise throughout your menstrual cycle.

Note: This applies to women who have a menstrual cycle, not those who are not cycling or who are on the pill.

Follicular Phase

What’s happening: hormone levels are building as eggs are developing during your ovaries. You will start feeling more energy, more sociable and more interested in trying new things.

Exercise Tips For The Follicular Phase

This is a great time to:

  • increase intensity and duration of your work out regimen

  • do cardio-based exercise

  • try out a new exercise or class

  • be engaged in more team games and group activities

Ovulation

What’s happening: estrogen and testosterone levels are at their peak, increasing your energy levels and risk appetite.

Exercise Tips For The Ovulatory Phase

This is a great time to:

  • do more intense workouts such as High Intensity Interval Training, cardio and boot camp style exercise

  • push your training intensity and/or duration

  • do team or group exercises

  • push yourself to try something new

  • be aware that you are more likely to take risks, so if you are prone to injuries through risk taking, you may need to slow down and think things through

Luteal Phase

What’s happening: this is the longest phase of the cycle and has the biggest variation. At the start your hormones are still elevated from ovulation but estrogen and testosterone will decline whilst progesterone will remain elevated.

As this phase progresses, you will find your energy levels dropping, an increased tendency towards introversion and improved ability to “read” others, especially in a tactical way.

Exercise Tips For The Luteal Phase

This is a great time to:

  • move from cardio to more resistance-based exercises, such as yoga, pilates and weights

  • reduce intensity of the routine throughout the luteal phase

  • “read” your opponents or team members in games and become more tactical

  • become aware of your body’s energy levels and respond to them appropriately

Menstrual Phase

This is the one phase we all recognize as the drop in estrogen and progesterone triggers our periods. Your energy will be at its lowest, you will be in a state of self reflection and awareness but it is important to have some movement during this time.

During the last few days of the luteal phase and menstruation, your womb is at it’s most full and heaviest due which means the ligaments on either side are under the most strain, so during this time, you might want to avoid activity that can increase this further to avoid damage, strain, wear and tear.

Exercise Tips For The Menstrual Phase

This is a great time to:

  • do slow restorative exercise such as restorative or yin yoga or gentle stretching

  • go for a walk in nature and really enjoy taking in your surroundings

  • review any training plan or videos or prior performance

  • avoid inversions in yoga or gymnastic type exercises

  • avoid heavy lifting

  • avoid any activity that is jarring especially against a hard surface eg running

  • if you have to compete or take part in competitive exercise during this time, arrange support for all the things you can possibly outsource such as meal preparation, transport and childcare

If you aren’t familiar with your menstrual cycle, this is a great opportunity to start noting what is going on with your body and how you feel at different times throughout the month.

To find out more about your menstrual cycle and get a free cycle charting toolkit to monitor your own cycle, check out this article.