Hi, friends! After my posts on eating for your menstrual cycle and seed cycling, training for your menstrual cycle is one of my most requested posts.
If you missed the post on eating with your menstrual cycle I recommend going back to read that first; I’m going to be referencing that post quite frequently. I touched on many of these points in my last post, but I’m going to clarify and give a bit more detail in this post.
Before we get into today’s topic, please note:
I am not a doctor, although I am a personal trainer and Dietitian this is general advice only. I’m not able to review your history with you and determine what is safe/unsafe. Make sure you discuss any changes to your fitness routine with a doctor.
Week 1 – Your Period
Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of your period. Contrary to how many of us feel during our period, this is one of the best times to exercise.
Exercise will help promote circulation and increase endorphin production, the bodies natural painkiller chemicals. Training during this time can help decrease some of your period-related symptoms such as:
If you feel like crap during this point, so you don’t want to jump in full force. Although your body is better able to tolerate pain this week, you’ll want to take it easy until symptoms are manageable. Just think about ramping up your workouts this week. Next week will be a high load week, so you want to be priming your body for that. Lots of warm up, some stability training, and begin ramping up your intervals as your energy allows.
As always, check with your doctor before beginning exercise anytime but during your period as well. Make sure to go through any conditions you might have and get the go-ahead for whatever type of activity you want to do.
Week 2 – Loading Week
Week 2, the week to KILL IT in the gym.
You want your exercise to be as high intensity and as glycolytic (sugar burning) in nature as possible. It’s the best time for HIIT workouts, heavy lifting, sprints, plyometrics, etc. There are a few reasons for this:
- Your hormones are low – lowering your metabolic rate. High-intensity workouts help make up for this.
- Your body better processes carbs during this part of your cycle. Higher insulin sensitivity = more muscle growth, better recovery, life is good.
Go for a PR this week, try to get faster, if you can schedule a race this week of your cycle that would be the idea time for any competition.
Contrary to popular websites, ovulation does not just occur on day 14 of a woman’s cycle. Anyone who has ever told you that that rhythm method or Natural Family Planning (NFP) failed them was probably unaware of this fact (not always but very often.) I recommend Taking charge of Your Fertility to help you determine when you ovulate.
In reality, women can ovulate at ANY time in their cycle. Yes, anytime.
If you track your cycle, you will notice when you “usually” ovulate, and it may be between days 10-19. Yep, from woman to woman it can have that much variation.
Any kind of stress including but not limited to life stress, emotional stress, physical stress, could delay your ovulation. Ever had a late period the month you traveled or moved? When high levels of stress occur, ovulation can be delayed.
Why does this matter for training purposes? Two reasons:
First, you women are more susceptible to injury during the 1-2 days before and on the day you ovulate.
Second, because ovulation marks the shift to the second half of your cycle.
Week 3 Hit the Cardio
While your time to ovulation might vary, your time from ovulation to your period usually stays pretty consistent. So if yours is typically 14 days (average is 12-18), it will be 14 days whether you ovulated on day 12 or day 21.
At this point, progesterone joins the party which is good and bad. Progesterone does a few things that change the optimal exercise:
- increases your metabolic rate overall
- increases your core temperature
- increases your fat burn/fat utilization
If you remember, before ovulation you were burning carbs like a champ. However, now the body is burning fat preferentially. So the ideal situation would be to focus on to exercise that preferentially utilizes fat as its fuel source.
LISS cardio and longer less intense workouts overall will use more fat as a fuel source. Long runs, bike rides, etc. whatever you are into for steady state cardio will do the trick. Even circuit training (minus the ten rounds of burpees in between) is an excellent choice as well.
Week 4 Deload
When you start to de-load depends on when your PMS symptoms set in, and how severe. You will continue this part of your training until your period symptoms let up. So it may look like something from halfway through week 4 to halfway through week 1.
Best options here would be things like yoga, low-intensity pilates, sauna time, long walks, swimming, etc.
Why? Because those symptoms are no joke and everyone needs a recovery week every 4-6 weeks anyway. You are just optimizing yours to work with your cycle, neat huh?
For me, if I attempt a hardcore workout, I get cramping in my uterus and GI tract. I do much better with light weight lifting and light workouts during this time.
What if you are on birth control?
It depends on what kind of birth control.
Birth control pills and hormonal IUDs usually work by suppressing ovulation, and therefore you are not getting the variation in progesterone levels. Therefore changing what your eating or how your training probably won’t matter that much. I still supplemented with some basic supplements like Kratom when I needed energy. I got my kratom online here. You could still take a down week right before and at the beginning of your period though.
Nonhormonal IUDs and progesterone only IUDs often allow you to continue to ovulate. They work by creating an “inhospitable womb environment” for sperm and fertilized egg. So, sometimes hormones are still fluctuating, potentially normally, it’s the physical presence of the IUD changing the bodies environment. In this case, the training strategies may benefit you.
Barrier methods will not change your hormone levels, and you will still benefit from these training strategies.