It’s got to be said, finding the motivation to workout can fluctuate at different stages of my cycle. Instead of pushing my body through, I have learned to listen to my cycle. By tracking physical, mental and emotional changes during my cycle, I am able to workout at my optimum levels during different stages of the month, in order to gain better results.
Believe it or not, menstrual cycle workout plans can really help the effectiveness of our workouts and the results we achieve. This is due to the different hormones that rise and fall throughout the month, which we need to be mindful of if we are to really gain from our efforts. Taking note of our cycle can have huge benefits. Understanding your optimal levels can help you train harder, more efficiently and also help with weight loss.
Days 1-14 Follicular phase:
Generally, at the start of my cycle I feel lacklustre. Cramps, joint and muscle pain, headaches and low energy levels can all be caused by a change in hormones plus often iron levels can be affected. Depending on your menstrual cycle, some may feel this more than others. I combat this by eating a nutritious diet and really importantly, aim to get enough sleep. Sometimes I may add to my iron levels by taking an iron supplement for 3-4 days. But like many, as my cravings lessen during this stage and I am naturally more inclined to eat a balanced diet.
In terms of exercise during the first few days, physical performance can be disrupted by all of the above. This is the time where I might do shorter and lower intensity workouts and look to focus more on Pilates based workouts, concentrating on mobility and strength. The good news is, that most of us see a decrease in period pains after a workout. Studies have also shown resistance training during your follicular phase will result in more strength gains. Using your own body weight or light weights is a great option here.
Once the worst of my period has past, this is the time when like many, I feel my best. A rise in hormone levels in anticipation for ovulation increases our energy stores and strength. Studies show when training during this time, we witness an increase in muscle strength and development, compared with any other time in the month. BUT taking care and being mindful of our technique is essential more than ever. Statistic show women are three to six times more likely than men to suffer musculoskeletal injuries in this phase leading up to ovulation, particularly tendon and anterior cruciate ligament injuries, when oestrogen levels are high.
Around day 12-16 most of us are firing off all cylinders. I really notice an increase in vibrancy and an urge to work out and train hard. Energy levels are at their highest and now is the time to push yourself physically. We often now have additional endurance due to low progesterone and a higher level of oestrogen, which increases our pain tolerance and builds muscle, allowing us to work out even harder – so make the most of this window, as it doesn’t last long!
Days 14-28 (or more) Luteal phase
Once we enter the luteal phase of our cycle, hormones begin to shift and this is when cravings can kick in, premenstrual tension is at its highest and energy levels can drop. I definitely see a drop in my stamina and ability to reach previously achieved goals. Our heart rate increases during the luteal phase which means our workouts may feel harder. Coordination can be affected too and our metabolic rate increases which can lead to those all too familiar cravings and drop in energy levels. I resist reaching for the naughty snacks by filling my fridge with healthy options, but I do allow myself a sweet treat once in a while!
It’s important to remember this happens to us all and to not be disheartened. Instead, schedule this phase into your schedule. This will be when I look to have more rest days but focus on cardio workouts rather than strength. This doesn’t mean you have to change your training but by modifying your intensity appropriately, you can still enjoy a HIIT or Pilates class but perhaps at a slightly pared back pace.
Staying hydrated is always important but more so during the luteal phase when an increase in fluid retention can occur from a peak in oestrogen and progesterone from ovulation onwards. Fluid redistributes throughout your body, creating a drop in plasma volume, which can compromise the amount of oxygen delivered to the muscles. This drop reduces sweat and since sweat helps the body cool down, it can also result in an increase in body temperature. Our bodies temperature naturally increases at this stage so by keeping hydrated we can help with bloating, water retention and stabilising our overall temperature.
Although our cycle can dictate how we feel and therefore our physical output, it’s worth remembering that exercise throughout your cycle makes us all feel better. So, there should be no excuses not to exercise! Maximising on the different stages of our cycle means we are able to continuously exercise through our cycle but tailor workouts to make sure we get the best results.