As menstruating women, our bodies and minds don’t stay the same every single day; we are in a constant state of flux. Each month, as we go through the different phases of our menstrual cycle, we experience changes in hormones, energy levels, mood, and mental function. Because of these cyclical fluctuations, the same type of exercise isn’t best for our bodies every day.
Our bodies crave variety to honor these natural shifts, and trying to stick to a rigid workout schedule that doesn’t vary leaves many women exhausted, depleted, and not seeing the results they desire. Syncing your workouts to your menstrual cycle can benefit your hormones as well as your mood, your energy, and your results. It can make your daily movement feel more fluid and graceful, and less like a struggle or obligation.
Listening to and honoring your body, regardless of where you’re at during your cycle, is so important for overall health and balance. Tune into your body and intuition throughout the month and see what feels best for you. If you’re getting a very strong internal voice or feeling that something is not the best for you – it likely isn’t.
A helpful way to tune into your body is to take a second to pause and do a body scan. Close your eyes for just a moment and feel into your current energy state. Often, your body will send you messages. For example, you may be ready for a run but just need a bit of rest and a gentle walk. Listening to your body will prevent you from overworking yourself and help to regulate your hormones, which also helps to alleviate common issues like chronic fatigue and adrenal burnout.
This tends to also be important when you are partaking in group exercise classes. The teacher could be telling you to “go harder” or “push to your max or beyond,” but it’s ultimately up to you to take a moment and tune in to yourself for what feels right. There is an important difference between elevating your workouts to challenge yourself and pushing past your max to complete burnout.
Above all else, listen to and respect your body and choose the form of movement that feels best for your mood, energy level, and body.
Supportive Exercise for Each Cycle Phase
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long. If you track your cycle (apps like MyFlo or Clue are helpful for this), use this as a general guideline. It’s useful to be able to reference what’s happening with your cycle to support hormonal balance and regulation throughout the month.
Phase 1: Menstruation (day 1-5)
At the time of your period, it is most beneficial to slow down and rest. The first couple of days, your body will be calling for calm. As your energy begins to rise, focus on gentle movement. After the first day or two of menstruation, gentle exercises such as stretching, light yoga (yin yoga is great), and walking will keep the body moving while allowing for repair and rest.
Phase 2: Follicular phase (day 1-13)
This phase, which begins on the first day of menstruation and continues for a week or so after menstruation, is when energy and motivation increase as estrogen and progesterone begin to increase. After the first days of your menstruation (see above), this is a great time to ease into moderately-intense exercise such as hiking, light jogging, and flow yoga.
Phase 3: Ovulation (day 14-16)
This is a short phase lasting only 1-3 days in the middle of the cycle. This is the time in your cycle when the body has the most energy and stamina, as estrogen peaks and testosterone + progesterone rise. The body can generally take on strenuous exercise at this time as it has more energy and stamina than at any other cycle phase (due to high levels of testosterone). Exercise such as strength training, interval training, kickboxing, barre, spin classes, and dance classes are perfect during this phase.
Phase 4: Luteal phase (day 15-28)
This is the phase leading up to menstruation. During the first half of the phase, you’ll likely have more energy for movement. Listen to your body and tone down your workouts later in the phase as your energy may start to decline. Rest when needed. During the first half of this phase, you can stick with more intense exercise (like the ones mentioned above for the ovulation phase), if it feels good to you. The second half of this phase is a good time to scale back on the intensity with workouts such as walking, hiking, flow yoga, swimming, and pilates.