Exercise During Your Period & Each Stage Of Your Cycle
If you’re someone who menstruates, you’ve likely had days where your cycle has impacted your workout plans or had questions about how and when you should be exercising during your period.
While the most common question tends to focus on whether or not you should be working out when you have your period, research shows there’s so much more to it than that! Hormonal changes throughout your entire menstrual cycle can have a range of effects on energy levels and exercise performance, and particular forms of exercise may be better suited to each stage of your cycle.
When scheduling your workouts, it’s worth taking into account where you are in your cycle and how this might affect your training while also considering how your training can set you back or propel you forward.
The average menstrual cycle lasts for 28 days and has four main phases - menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. While the length of each phase and the full cycle can vary from person to person, this guide can help you better understand your body and choose different styles of training for every stage of your cycle — and could even help boost your performance.
Exercising during your period
It’s that time of the month — the menstrual phase. This is when you’re menstruating, or when you’re actually on your period. But what is actually happening during this time, and how can you best support your body?
During this phase, your uterus is shedding the lining it has built up throughout the month. The first day of your period is considered day one of your cycle, and this phase typically lasts between three and seven days. At the beginning of your period, your progesterone and oestrogen levels will be at their lowest, which along with the loss of blood may cause you to feel more tired than normal. As your period goes on, these hormone levels will gradually increase.
If you experience fatigue during the early days of your period, it’s perfectly okay if you don’t feel like doing much intense exercise. You may want to reschedule your workouts or opt for some gentle movement instead.
Sweat’s Head Trainer, Kayla Itsines, has spoken out about her own journey with endometriosis and openly talks about how she’s feeling during her period, highlighting that she doesn't put pressure on herself to train on days when she’s experiencing pain or feeling unwell.
However, if you do feel up to exercising, there is no medical reason to avoid training while you have your period. Listen to your body and do what feels right for you.
How should you exercise when you have your period?
You may have heard mixed messages about how you should exercise, or if you should work out at all while menstruating. There is also some evidence to suggest regular ongoing exercise could help decrease dysmenorrhea, also known as period pain.
A 2016 study from Kongyang University in Korea, found that following a yoga class for just 60 minutes once per week, for 12 weeks helped reduce menstrual cramps and distress in a group of undergraduate nursing students. This study had a small sample size, so more research is needed to determine the full extent of the benefits of exercise for people who experience period pain.
Ultimately, what you choose to do is up to you and how you feel. If you choose to exercise during your period and are feeling low in energy, it may be a good idea to reduce the intensity of your workouts. Want to stay active during your menstrual phase without doing anything too strenuous or tiring? Here are some suggestions.
Relaxing yoga poses or stretching
If a full, rigorous workout doesn’t feel right for you during this time, practicing some restorative yoga poses can be a great way to release tension, ease cramps and stress while calming your mind and body. Asanas such as child’s pose, reclined spinal twist, and cat-cow are all poses that can help to relieve tension in your lower back and pelvis.
Walking or light cardio
Walking is an incredibly beneficial form of exercise you can do at any stage of your cycle. If you’re used to running or power walking, it can be a good idea to reduce your cardio intensity during the menstrual phase by going for a gentle walk or a slower-paced jog. If you don’t feel like walking but still want to move your body, there are many other ways to have an active recovery day while on your period.
Lighter strength training
You can continue to do strength training during this phase, but it might be wise to reduce your weights. Due to increased fatigue, this phase is not the time to push yourself too hard — so try sticking to where you’re currently at or taking it easier than usual.
Exercising during the follicular phase
Your period is over — and you’re now in the follicular phase of your cycle. Let’s take a look at how you can best exercise during this time of the month.
The follicular phase actually begins on the first day of your period and continues until the beginning of ovulation. This is typically days one to 11 of your menstrual cycle. During the follicular phase, your body creates a hormone known as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This hormone signals to the ovaries to create eggs for the ovulation phase, each of which is housed inside a “follicle”. After menstruation is over, your oestrogen levels get a big boost as your body prepares to release an egg — which is usually associated with increased energy.
How should you exercise during the follicular phase?
Once your period has ended and your oestrogen and energy levels increase, the follicular phase is a good time to challenge yourself or try new things.
High intensity interval training
Whether High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is already a regular part of your routine or it’s entirely new for you, HIIT workouts are a great way to exercise when your energy levels are high! HIIT is fast-paced, fun, and has the physical benefits of increasing your VO2 max - a measure of aerobic fitness which refers to the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilise during exercise.
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If HIIT isn’t your vibe, the follicular phase is also the perfect time to push yourself a little more with your strength training. This could mean challenging yourself with heavier weights or trying push-ups on your toes instead of your knees. If you’re new to strength training, start with some bodyweight exercises to build your confidence and make the most out of this high-energy phase.
Exercising during the ovulation phase
The ovulation phase is just after the follicular phase and before the luteal phase. It typically lasts for three to five days between days 12 to 17 of your cycle. During this time, you’ll still have high levels of oestrogen from the follicular phase, while also having increased levels of luteinising hormone (LH) and FSH. LH is what triggers the body to start ovulating.
Similar to the follicular phase, ovulation tends to be a higher energy time. If that’s the case, you can make the most of this by getting some high-energy workouts in, but it’s important to pay attention to your body right now. Why? Research has shown the hormonal changes during this phase can decrease your neuromuscular control and increase your risk of injury.
How should you exercise during the ovulation phase?
For the most part, you can continue working out at the same intensity that you were during the follicular phase, but it may be best to stick to training styles or exercises you’re confident with. If your level of muscular control and spatial awareness is feeling different to usual, feel free to slow things down slightly or simplify your workouts.
Exercising during the luteal phase
The luteal phase is the last phase of your menstrual cycle before menstruation begins again. This typically lasts 12 to 14 days, between days 18-30, depending on your unique cycle.
During the first part of this phase, you’ll likely still have energy from ovulating, which will decrease the closer you get to menstruation. The last part of this phase is when you might experience symptoms associated with PMS (premenstrual syndrome) such as mood changes, tender breasts, breakouts, appetite changes or bloating.
The luteal phase is also characterised by a peak in progesterone levels — which can make some people feel drowsy. One 2003 research review by the University of Sydney, suggested that for women doing endurance training, the mid-luteal phase is associated with increased cardiovascular strain and decreased time to exhaustion in hot conditions, most likely due to an increase in body temperature at this part of the cycle. This is a consideration for women undertaking endurance training or planning races, particularly in hot, humid conditions.
Impaired running performance caused by an increase in core body temperature during the luteal phase was also observed by a small 2020 study by St Mary's University in the UK. This does not mean that you shouldn’t run or exercise during this phase, but it may feel more difficult than other phases of your cycle and knowing when to slow down is important.
How should you exercise during the luteal phase?
During the luteal phase, you can continue with your usual workout routine, but you may find it difficult to complete each session with your usual intensity or enthusiasm. Here are some exercises you might like to try during the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle.
Yoga or Pilates
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion, studied 72 participants over the course of a month, comparing the benefits of aerobic exercise to yoga for relieving premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. Although aerobic exercise was effective in reducing these symptoms, those who did yoga were found to have a more significant reduction in symptoms.
During the luteal phase when you are about to get your period and energy levels may be lower, this is a great time to practice yoga or Pilates — both of which gently increase overall strength while also releasing muscle tension. If you’re new to yoga, start with this guide to yoga for beginners.
In the same 2019 study, aerobic exercise was also found to be beneficial for relieving PMS symptoms when performed three times a week for 12 weeks. During the luteal phase, you may like to try low-intensity cardio training: this could be going for a long walk, swim or bike ride.
A small 2017 observational study by Saarland University in Germany found that during the mid-luteal cycle phase, there was a reduction in maximal endurance performance for sub-elite female soccer players.
Although more research is needed, the findings suggest pushing yourself to your absolute maximum cardio effort for a sustained period of time might not be possible during this phase. Try opting for low-intensity aerobic exercise instead or recognise it might not be your best workout!
Track your period to know your cycle
To know which phase of your cycle you are in, it’s important to track your period. You can do this the old-fashioned way using your calendar or diary, or use a period tracking app to monitor your menstrual cycle and symptoms.
Tracking your cycle can allow you to become more familiar with how your unique cycle works, and how the different phases of your cycle influence your energy levels, mood, and exercise performance.
Exercising during your period: do what’s right for you
While there is evidence that highlights how your hormones can affect your physical performance during each phase of your cycle, this doesn’t mean there is a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to exercising.
Everyone’s bodies and menstrual cycles are different, as are the ways you prefer to train.
You might find that you have lots of energy throughout your cycle and make only minor changes to your workout schedule. Similarly, your best friend might have significant dips in energy or feel discomfort during her period, and may choose to adjust her training significantly. This is all about listening to your own body!
Tracking your period is a great way to stay on top of your health and understand your hormonal changes, but it doesn’t need to determine what kind of exercise you do. Do what feels right for you, focus on building healthy habits, and remember any kind of exercise — even if it’s just a stretching session — is great for your health in the long run.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.