Feel good and train better by putting on the moves when it’s right for you.
If you are like me, you have tried all the trendy new workouts and intense workout classes but still don’t see the results you are looking for. Did you know that you can exercise according to your cycle and actually do less and achieve more? This could be the key to getting the results that you want. Our female physiology changes week over week due to our hormonal cycle, so our workouts should too. I have worked in the fitness industry and the motto has always been, “go hard or go home”. Little did I know, all of the intense workouts I had been putting myself through were actually working against my hormones. Once I realized I could sync my eating patterns and my workout routines to my cycle, I started listening to my body’s cues which increased my energy levels and also allowed me to gain lean muscle.
Just because a workout program is popular doesn’t mean it is right for you. Most exercise studies have been conducted on men or post-menopausal women.
Therefore, most of the expert advice we receive on working out is not tailored to our unique biochemistry, but geared towards male performance.
While men have a 24-hour hormonal cycle, women have a 28-day cycle. We as women need our workout programs to work alongside our hormonal phases. Our bodies are not designed to follow the same routine over and over again because our metabolism, cortisol and calories need to change throughout our cycle. I could write endless pages about hormones, discussing topics on how our hormones work and how we can support them, however to save some time I’m going to provide you with a little guidance so you can start to make these changes to support your hormones now.
I grew up on the idea that we have two phases, the bleeding and the not bleeding phase. I also thought that periods were supposed to be painful, but let me tell you ladies, they are not supposed to be!! The truth is that we go through four phases that are called: Menstrual, Follicular, Ovulatory, and Luteal. Note that women that take birth control don’t actually go through these four phases, however there is a way you can track your cycle with a method called Moon Cycle Syncing. In the future, I will tackle what hormonal birth control really does to your cycle, but for now let’s look at the four phases of our cycle. Something else important to know is that not all women go through 28 day-cycles and can vary in length.
Menstrual – Phase 1:
- Duration 3-7 days
- This phase is when the bleeding starts.
- Estrogen and testosterone levels decline quickly.
- Progesterone drops causing your uterine lining to shed (aka your period)
- Energy decreases. It’s time to take care of yourself!
- During this phase of your cycle you should be taking it easy. Any sort of HIIT workout could backfire turning on the fat-storage eating away at your muscles. It’s totally okay to take a nap as your workout at the beginning of your menstrual phase.
- If you have more energy consider lighter movement like yin yoga, walking, foam rolling, stretching, napping, and taking a bath.
Follicular Phase 2:
- Duration: 7 to 10 days
- The follicular phase can overlap with the menstrual phase while we shed excess blood. This is the reason why we might have a boost of energy while we are still bleeding.
- In this phase your hormones are at low levels and slowly starting to increase. The pituitary gland releases FSH or follicle-stimulating-hormone to help your eggs mature in the ovary and your estrogen starts to rise, getting your body ready for the next cycle.
- Better mood, libido, brain function. Your energy begins to increase.
- Concentrate on cardio focused movement. Use that new energy to your advantage but be patient since you are coming out of the slowest phase of your cycle (menstrual phase).
- Halfway through your follicular phase is when your body will be able to handle more intense workouts like that cardio class that you love!
- Movement: Cardio-focused classes, boxing, spinning, running, hiking, dance cardio, etc.
Ovulatory Phase 3:
- Duration: 3-4 days
- We experience a big rise on estrogen that causes the thickening of the uterine lining and luteinizing hormone (LH) which stimulates the follicle to release an egg.
- Testosterone begins to surge making you feel confident and increasing your libido. We also feel more social during this phase.
- Heads up! We are the most fertile during our Ovulatory phase.
- Concentrate on High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts. You have the energy to go crush that awesome bootcamp class!
- Movement: HIIT, boxing, kickboxing, power yoga, yoga sculpt, etc.
Luteal Phase 4:
- Duration: 10-14 days
- Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone reach their peak and they begin to drop to their lowest levels right before bleeding starts.
- Estrogen thickens the uterine lining
- Progesterone or “feel good hormone” keeps the uterine lining in place in case there is a fertilized embryo.
- First half of this phase you have more energy and the second half you should focus on self-care.
- PMS often happens in the Luteal phase. Note that Premenstrual Syndrome is common but it’s not normal.
- It’s common to feel subtle shifts in mood and energy but shouldn’t feel like crying with every puppy commercial!
- It’s common to feel cravings and bigger appetite since our metabolism speeds up.
- During the first half of the Luteal phase concentrate on low intensity strength training! You can maximize lean muscle gain, and focus on the intention of the movement not the intensity. Start to phase out those HIIT workouts.
- During the second phase as we feel a decline on energy concentrate on low intensity workouts like pilates, barre, yoga, walks, restorative yoga and stretching. HIIT workouts could backfire by turning on the fat-storage and wasting your muscle gains!
- Quick tip! Ditch the morning workouts and give yourself the time to rest! Snooze, snooze, snooze!
Feeling overwhelmed from all of this information? Don’t stress! When I first started learning about this, I felt the same way when I realized that I was working against my own biology. In each phase we experience different hormonal changes, this is why we as women we can feel so drastically different from one week to the next. Now that you are more familiar with the phases of your cycle, does it make sense that one week you are crushing your favorite boxing class and the next week the only thing you want to do is take a nap? From personal experience, as soon as I started to have a deeper understanding of my cycle and learned how I should exercise to support my unique biochemistry, I started to notice a huge improvement not only in my physical body but also on my overall wellness.
Do you want to learn more about this topic? I recommend the following books: “In the FLO and Woman Code by Alissa Vitti” and “Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden ND” and of course keep an eye on Hormone University.
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