January 29, 2023

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Masters of Health

This Menstrual Cycle Workout Plan Can Transform Your Fitness Game

Ah, the menstrual cycle. It can be rife with mood changes, energy dips, and sometimes the complete and utter lack of desire to exercise. On the flip side, it’s possible to experience bursts of energy a few weeks a month, which is why following a menstrual cycle workout plan could help you get the most out of each phase of your cycle.

Menstrual cycle workout routines have become a thing on FitTok: The hashtag has racked up over 696 million views on the platform and features videos of users raving about how these workout plans have helped their fitness game. As a form of cycle syncing, the goal is to map out your workouts based on where you are in your cycle. By doing so, it should be easier to make the most of your routine and stay in touch with your body, says Jenna Blake, a board-certified nurse practitioner and hormone specialist. That’s because workout effectiveness varies because of the different hormones that rise and fall throughout the month.

Blake notes that there are four completely unique phases within your cycle: the menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulatory phase, and luteal phase. As the month goes on, your hormones rise and fall. In the first half of the month, estrogen is on the rise, giving you extra energy and stamina. And in the second half of the cycle, estrogen drops and progesterone rises, which can lead to a dip in endurance — so don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t want to hit the gym, stick to your running schedule, or hop on your Peloton. Instead, you can sync accordingly.

If your fave cycling class falls on a lower estrogen day, it doesn’t mean you have to skip it just because of your menstrual cycle, says Helen Phelan, a fitness advisor for Moody Month, a mood and hormone tracking app. But it may feel better to focus on rest or recovery instead.

Want to try out this whole cycle-guided exercise routine thing? Here are some tips for exercising during the four stages of the menstrual cycle.

Menstruation: Walk, Stretch, Foam Roll

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During the menstrual phase, which starts on day one of your period, your progesterone drops to its lowest point during the cycle, says Dr. Sophia Yen, M.D., MPH, the co-founder and CEO of Pandia Health. “It’s common to feel tired, irritable, and moody,” she tells Bustle.

Low hormones can also equal a lack of motivation, which is why this is a great time to focus on active rest and recovery. The best workout for your period? Some restorative yoga, a good stretch, or a long walk, especially since a gentle stroll can soothe cramps by massaging the sacroiliac joint at the base of your spine, Blake says.

While you’re at it, a foam rolling session might also feel right. “If you feel back pain as a symptom, rolling out your glutes can be massively helpful in easing tension and discomfort,” Phelan says.

Follicular: Run, Strength Train, HIIT

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The follicular phase lasts from day six to day 12 of your cycle. “As you enter your follicular phase, estrogen and testosterone begin to rise and bring with them a lift in energy,” Blake notes. “You’re likely to feel more motivated to workout, and this is a great time to gradually increase workout intensity and add back in HIIT, high-repetition strength drills, or dance-based workouts.”

You’ll feel like going hard in your workout, and you can work this to your advantage. “You’ll be able to give it your all, so you’ll reap more rewards from a high-intensity workout like HIIT or plyometrics at this time than, say, your menstrual phase,” Phelan says. Just remember to warm up and cool down since you’ll be going so hard. Enjoy all that extra energy.

Ovulatory: LISS, Rock Climb, Group Classes

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Days 12 to 15 mark the ovulation phase of your cycle where your estrogen and testosterone reach their highest levels. “This means peak energy, motivation, and strength,” Blake says. “The ovulatory phase is a great time to lift heavy — thanks to testosterone, it’ll be easier to put on muscle — or try something new, like rock climbing or other group activities, since you’re also extra outgoing during this time of the month.”

That said, it’s important to listen to your body. If you’re craving LISS, or low-intensity steady-state cardio, Phelan suggests going with that. “Pilates or iyengar yoga both maintain a slow, deliberate pace but deliver a consistently difficult physical demand, as well as attention to detail and focus.” If you can take a group class or bring a friend along, even better.

Luteal: Yoga, Pilates, Naps

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During the luteal phase, your progesterone starts to build back up. It’s likely you’ll feel tired, irritable, or hungry due to PMS or premenstrual syndrome, Yen says. This is the last phase of your cycle and it extends from day 16 all the way up until the day before your period, which usually lands around day 28.

To match your workout to how you feel, it might help to gradually decrease exercise intensity, Blake says. Use this time of the month to tune in and pay attention to what you need. “Pilates and yoga are great options throughout the luteal phase as your body is more sensitive to stress,” she adds. “As you near menstruation, begin to focus on rest and recovery.”

If you have PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, all of your symptoms will likely be exacerbated and it can really throw a wrench in the works. If you need to nap, nap! But Phelan suggests trying yoga to help with PMS and cramping if you can, especially poses that include spinal rotations.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if and how you adjust your exercise to your cycle. But if you’re wondering why you have zero energy on a run or why you’re suddenly craving a stretchy yoga session, where you are in your cycle may explain why.

Studies referenced:

Allen, A. M. (2016). Determining Menstrual Phase in Human Biobehavioral Research: A Review with Recommendations. Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology, 24(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1037/pha0000057

Griggs RC. (1985). Effect of testosterone on muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1989 Jan;66(1):498-503. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1989.66.1.498. PMID: 2917954.

Johnson, WG. (1994). Energy regulation over the menstrual cycle. Physiol Behav. doi: 10.1016/0031-9384(94)90296-8.

Julian, R. (2017). The effects of menstrual cycle phase on physical performance in female soccer players. PLoS One. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173951.

Kim, SD. (2019). Yoga for menstrual pain in primary dysmenorrhea: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Complement Ther Clin Pract. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2019.06.006.

Li, SH. (2020). Physical and mental fatigue across the menstrual cycle in women with and without generalised anxiety disorder. Horm Behav. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2019.104667.

Schmalenberger, K. M. (2021). How to study the menstrual cycle: Practical tools and recommendations. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 123, 104895. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2020.104895

Sources:

Dr. Sophia Yen, MD, MPH, co-founder and CEO of Pandia Health

Helen Phelan, fitness advisor for Moody Month

Jenna Blake, board-certified nurse practitioner, hormone specialist

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