best workout for each phase of menstrual cycle

Did you know that intense workouts during certain parts of your cycle can actually make you GAIN weight?!

Yip, you read that right.

The idea that different kinds of exercise are best in certain phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle is nothing new. I kind of knew this vaguely, but since my mentality has always been a bit “go hard or go home”, I brushed this info aside. You want results, you gotta push for them – 100% of the time, right? As it turns out, maybe not…

Ever since going off the pill late last year, I’ve really struggled to get my cycles back regularly, so I’ve been doing a bit of research (thank you Angelique from @thegoodroots for pointing me to @floliving! Seriously, go check this app and page out).

READ MORE: Orthorexia and Me: What It’s Like To Have A ‘Healthy’ Eating Disorder

One of the (many, many) things I’ve discovered on my travels is the idea of “cycle-syncing” your workouts.

Here’s a quote from functional nutritionist and women’s hormone expert Alisa Vitti, that sums it up: “When women do high-intensity interval training in the second half of their cycle – the luteal and menstrual phase – you turn on fat storage and you increase muscle wasting.”

WHAAAAT? I know right.

She goes on, “If you’re doing that same workout each week of the cycle, all the good work and weight loss and the muscle that you created in the first half of the cycle – you’re undoing that in the second half.”

And get this: intense workouts during these phases can disrupt your cycle. Now, this is something I also kind of knew, but believed it to be only be true for super-athletes: the ones that run marathons and have abs you can grate cheese on and a body fat percentage of like 2.

Hell, when I stopped having periods for OVER A YEAR when I first started training my gynae actually said, “Oh, you’re only working out for an hour a day? That should be fine. I don’t think your exercise is causing it.”

And yet, countless studies have proved this to be the case – in both competitive and “recreational” exercisers (that’s me), especially when women are in a calorie deficit at the time (like I was in my orthorexic phase).

A 2010 study by Penn State University found “approximately half of exercising women experience subtle menstrual disturbances, i.e. LPD (luteal phase deficiency) and anovulation, and that one third of exercising women may be amenorrheic”.

In English: half the women they studied who worked out regularly had menstrual problems like erratic ovulation, and 33% of them didn’t have periods.

OK – why is this not freaking common knowledge?

So obviously this doesn’t mean that you need to lie on the couch to protect your fragile hormones, but rather, be mindful of them. Simply put, it’s not the exercise that’s the problem, it’s the energy deficit that’s likely coming with it.

READ MORE: Beating Orthorexia: Coming Back To Myself

The right kind of exercise for each phase

So, back to the idea of “cycle-syncing” for your workouts.

During the first two phases of your cycle, the follicular and ovulatory phases, your body has the energy to tackle more intense workouts.

According to Alissa, the rise in hormones during the follicular and ovulatory phase means you have energy to burn.

The follicular phase (which starts as soon as your period is over) “is a great time to start a new class,” she writes on FloLiving.com. “You’ll have the energy and the motivation to take on a different style of workout and give it your all.”

And during the ovulatory phase (which usually starts about 2 weeks after your period ends), you can dial things up a bit more.

“Your body can take on strenuous exercise now like running and weight lifting,” she writes. “You’ll also be yearning to socialize and meet new people, which means group classes for spinning or dancing will be fun and enjoyable.”

After this, it’s time to wind down.

During the luteal phase, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone hit their peak, and then begin to fall to their lowest levels right before your period begins. And you’ll feel your energy starting to flag.

“Pick up on some walking, vinyasa yoga and pilates to go easier on your body,” she recommends.

And no prizes for guess what’s best during your menstrual phase. “A time for rest and recovery with no guilt!” Alisa says.

It’s worth mentioning here that you’ll get the most out of this little guide if you’re not on birth control – the bleed you have while on the pill is actually not a period. It’s a withdrawal bleed that happens because you’ve started taking the placebo pills of the pack – so the levels of hormones you’re taking drop.

“Stretch a little, walk, do some light yoga to keep moving, but let your body take a few days to repair and reset. You’ll have more to give mentally and physically in your next cycle if you allow for this short break.”

Heavens, permission to take a rest! How magical is that?

If you’d like more info on the idea of cycle-syncing, going off the pill or more on training for your cycle, I’d definitely check out Alisa Vitti’s book, Woman Code. She gives a great broad overview in this episode of Almost 30’s podcast.

Little disclaimer: I’m obviously not a scientist or medical professional and I’ve tried to explain this all to the best of my understanding. If I’ve misinterpreted or over-simplified something, please feel free to get in touch via info@itsmekirsti.com

Hi, I’m Kirsti and this is my little blog. Tell me what you think in the comments section below!

Hi, I’m Kirsti and this is my little blog. Tell me what you think in the comments section below!

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