Finding the Rhythm: Working Out & Your Menstrual Cycle
Where we are in our menstrual cycles can definitely affect how we feel, but did you know that understanding your cycle can actually help you plan a smarter workout routine? Below, we'll dive into every phase of the cycle and what it means for your energy levels, workouts and day-to-day movements.
Cycle Day One
Your cycle begins on the first day of your period. Perhaps this isn’t the most energetic of days, but it’s a great time to listen to your body. Water retention is high during menstruation and in the days leading up to it, so make sure you keep drinking lots of water!
As your hormone levels dip, your body temperature also cools a little. If you’re working out in hot weather, this cooler temperature can help your performance. However, if you suffer with menstrual cramps or other cycle conditions that are worse during your period, now is a good time to take it easy. It’s not recommended to skip working out altogether though, some well-chosen movements can be really helpful in alleviating the physical and emotional stress that can come with your menstrual bleed.
The main sex hormone, estrogen, increases in the first half of your cycle. This is the follicular phase, leading up to ovulation. It’s during this point in your cycle when you feel your best, so it’s a good time to strive for peak performance. Our pain thresholds are highest at the time time in the month, and you might notice that your sex drive is also high! If you know your cycle well and can plan ahead, it’s a smart move to factor in crucial training in the run up to ovulation.
During the luteal phase
Ovulation happens quickly; in fact, the female egg cell is released and (if not fertilized) deteriorates within 24 hours. While you’re likely to still feel pretty peachy on the day of ovulation, some women experience mittelschmerz, or ovulation pain, a one-sided ache or sharp pain that corresponds to the ovary releasing an egg cell.
Ovulation marks the start of the luteal phase; this is the second half of the cycle. In this phase, your basal body temperature is higher than in the follicular phase and the levels of estrogen begin to decline as the end of your cycle approaches.
PMS is coming!
High levels of estrogen make us feel good, but as these decline and progesterone levels stay high, premenstrual syndrome comes knocking. For some of us PMS is a dreaded time of the month; for others it might just be business as usual. Now is the time to plan a routine that will complement the way you’re feeling. You’re likely to notice other physiological changes during this point in your cycle, you might feel bloated, and hormones can make you prone to breakouts. If that surge in progesterone is making you sluggish, you might want to adjust your diet or workout routine to combat premenstrual syndrome and its accompanying symptoms.
On the other hand, these can be a tricky few days, so don’t beat yourself up if your routine slips a bit. Instead, choose gentle movements. Or if you’re the kind of person who needs to really sweat it out, now is the time to lean into your workout. At the end of the day, you know your body best. Luckily PMS tends to ease once you get your period and a new cycle begins.
Cycle lengths and irregularity
While sources have traditionally stated the menstrual cycle to be 28-days long, a recent study found that the average cycle length is actually 29 days, with our cycles getting shorter as we age. Every woman will experience her cycles differently, and they are likely to vary in length for some more often than others.
If you have irregular cycles it can be difficult to know when to expect your period or if you’re likely to experience PMS symptoms soon. Tracking your cycles and noting symptoms is a really great way to get to learn more about the irregularities of your cycle and to find any patterns that you might have.
There’s also a link between stress and the menstrual cycle, so a lifestyle that promotes physical and emotional wellness can also keep your periods regular. However, we do all experience cycle irregularities from time to time and while changes to diet, stress or exercise can also affect the timing of your period, it can also cause anovulatory cycles. These are cycles when no egg cell is released from the ovary.
Why should I track my cycle?
If you don’t already do it, choosing to track your cycle is a really smart way to get to know your body better. With Natural Cycles, you can even go one step further, with an app and thermometer combination that predicts your ovulation and narrows down your fertile window, so you can use it as either a hormone-free birth control, or to plan a pregnancy, if and when you’re ready to start a family. Not only is Natural Cycles an FDA cleared medical device, but there’s so much you can learn about your body (and your workouts!) with tracking.
Pvolve members can now get 20% off an annual Natural Cycles subscription and a free thermometer upon signup here.