**Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for medical advice. If you are suffering from extreme menstrual symptoms at any time during your menstrual cycle, please consult a doctor before beginning any fitness routine**
If you are someone who experiences a menstrual cycle, you know how much it can affect every aspect of your life—including your workout plan. Whether you just don’t feel up for a tough workout, or maybe you’re feeling particularly energized, the hormones that are released at different levels during your cycle are involved in how you feel and how your body responds to exercise.
These hormones (i.e., estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) play a vital role in various physiological functions such as changes in bone density, increasing muscle strength and size, and red blood cell production.5 Studies have also observed a faster time to recovery, longer time to fatigue, and lesser likelihood of injury as some positive effects during different menstrual phases. So, it’s no surprise that the menstrual cycle, where hormones fluctuate throughout this 28-day cycle, can impact the efficacy of your fitness program. Syncing your menstrual cycle to your workouts can be a great way to reap the maximum benefits from your workouts, while also combating some of the negative symptoms in the process!
Menstruation (Days 1-5):
Although it seems counterintuitive, the menstrual phase (aka your period), is the time of the month you might consider pushing yourself harder in your workouts. Due to lower levels of estrogen and progesterone during this phase, you might enjoy the benefit of a higher pain tolerance and a longer time to fatigue during workouts. Additionally, testosterone will be at a monthly high during this stage, which means it’s an excellent time to build strength and muscle.1
Try this 20-minute Strength Workout with Sunny Trainer Luis Cervantes to challenge yourself and make some fitness gains!
However, just because the hormone levels in your body are most conducive to building strength during this time, it doesn’t mean that you’re always feeling up to maxing out your squat or running your fastest 5k. And that’s okay! What’s more important is to be mindful of how your body is feeling during this time, and if it’s telling you that it needs more rest, then take it.
If some light movement is what you need, try this 15-minute mobility routine with Sunny Trainer Alexa. Some gentle stretching can help with symptoms like cramping if you are feeling low energy.
Follicular Phase (Days 6-14):
During this phase of your cycle, estrogen levels increase, which can provide you with a spike in energy and improved recovery after a workout. Take advantage of how good you feel and pick a workout that might challenge you more than usual.2 This might look like a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout, an interval training run, or a bootcamp style class.
Pick your favorite workout style and go for it!
Ovulation (Days 15-23):
During the ovulation phase, estrogen levels drop while progesterone levels rise. This fluctuation may cause you to feel more tired, and as a result you may not feel up for your usual routine. Additionally, research points to a possible increase in injury risk at this time, so choosing low-impact, moderate level workouts will be your best bet for this week.4
Luteal Phase (Days 24-28):
This phase is marked by a further increase in progesterone as your body prepares for your period. This week you might experience a constellation of symptoms including cramping, tender breasts, fluid retention, and bloating. Additionally, your energy levels dip during this phase so working out at your typical intensity level might feel a bit harder than usual. Understandably, these are all reasons you might want to nix your workout and stay curled up on the couch for a Netflix marathon. However, if you are up for it, pushing through the temporary discomfort will help you feel better overall. A recent study examining the effects of yoga on premenstrual symptoms demonstrated that participating in a regular yoga practice helped significantly reduce symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, breast tenderness, and cold sweats.3 Opt for yoga or Pilates workouts during this week, where you can scale exercise intensity up or down depending on your energy level that day.
Incorporate these 4 poses in your yoga flow during this phase. These poses gradually build strength and can be modified to be lower intensity if needed
Bridge Pose: This pose is great for building glute and posterior chain strength, while also providing a mild back bend. This might be especially helpful for those who suffer from lower back pain during their luteal phase.
- On the back, with knees bent and feet flat on the floor
- Push through the heels as you lift your hips up to the sky
- Tuck the chin slightly into the chest
- For a more restorative modification, place a block under the sacrum and relax your hips onto the block
Chair: This full-body asana is one of the more intense yoga poses and is wonderful for strengthening multiple muscle groups. Activating the core muscles in this pose sends blood flow to the abdominal muscles which may help relieve abdominal cramping. Include this pose if you are feeling up for a challenge but want to stay low impact.
- Sit the hips back, keep most of the weight in the heels
- Bend the knees as much or as little as is comfortable for you
- Arms extend overhead, abs are engaged
- For a gentler version, do not sit back quite as deep
High Lunge: Because this pose is a deep hip flexor stretch, it can be great for alleviating achy hips. Not only does it help with premenstrual symptoms, but it is also an excellent lower body strength builder.
- Front knee stacked over front ankle, back leg is long
- Hips are square to the front of the mat
- Abs are engaged
- Arms extend overhead
- For a more supported modification, drop the back knee down to the mat for Crescent Lunge
Upward facing dog: If you suffer from pesky abdominal cramping and low back pain, this is the pose for you. This backbend provides a nice abdominal stretch, while the extension in your low back combats low back achiness. Not to mention it also gently builds upper body and quad strength!
- Quads are engaged and lifted off the floor about an inch
- Push up out of the shoulders, not collapsing down
- Heart shines forward
- If Up dog is too intense, stay lower to the mat in Cobra
While hormones throughout the menstrual cycle change how your body responds to your workouts, the suggestions in this article should not overrule how you are feeling at any given time during your cycle. If you are not feeling up for a certain workout during any given phase, always listen to your body! No one knows your limits and what you need more than you do, so pay attention and be mindful of that throughout the month.
(1) Do You Burn More Calories on Your Period?, Runner’s World, Working Out on Period | Menstruation and Calorie Burn (runnersworld.com), 28 November, 2022
(2) Effects of Follicular versus Luteal Phase-Based Strength training in Young Women, Springer Plus, 2014, Effects of follicular versus luteal phase-based strength training in young women | SpringerPlus | Full Text (springeropen.com) 28 November, 2022
(3) Effects of Yoga Exercise on Premenstrual Symptoms Among Female Employees in Taiwan, Int J Environ Res Public Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4962262/, 29 November 2022
(4) The menstrual cycle and anterior cruciate ligament injury risk: implications of menstrual cycle variability, Sports Med, 2011, The menstrual cycle and anterior cruciate ligament injury risk: implications of menstrual cycle variability - PubMed (nih.gov), 28 November 2022
(5) Response of testosterone to prolonged aerobic exercise during different phases of the menstrual cycle, Eur J of Appl Physiol, 2013. Response-of-testosterone-to-prolonged-aerobic-exercise-during-different-phases-of-the-menstrual-cycle.pdf (researchgate.net), 28 November 2022