Everything You Need to Know About Working Out on Your PeriodNov 27, 2023
Is this a cycle syncing post?
No! This is not a cycle syncing post, but I would not be being thorough if I did not address the topic. And if that’s your normal content that you consume, you may want to read on as I’m about to shed some new light on the topic.
When I first learned about cycle syncing, I loved the concept. As women, most of us are not taught about how our body operates. With time and more digging though, I found many flaws in the methodology behind typical cycle-syncing recommendations (for workouts, that is). But this isn’t to say you I dislike the concept.
It is important to listen to your body and respect different phases of your cycle. However, I have found most people who do cycle syncing treat it like another “diet” or way of life. They continue to ignore their body’s cues for the sake of being in a certain phase. In addition to this, like I said, many recommendations in the exercise realm of it all are flat out wrong and do not support muscle growth. Muscle is your body’s largest endocrine organ. If you aren’t supporting it and building it, you are not fully supporting hormones. It’s as simple as that.
What is cycle syncing and where is it flawed?
Cycle syncing is the act of aligning all things in your life with the phase of your menstrual cycle. In this post however, I’m speaking specifically of the exercise portion of it.
Most typical cycle syncing recommendations look something like this:
- Menstrual: light movement only, like walking, stretching, and restorative yoga
- Follicular: increase general activity and weightlifting
- Ovulatory: weightlifting and HIIT
- Luteal: pilates, yoga, walking, maybe light weights if you want
While I don’t want to discourage any movement, these guidelines simply are not enough to build muscle. Also, according to typical recommendations, you are “strongest during your ovulatory phase. This means it’s when you should hit PRs and lift your heaviest!
And while you may find yourself with more energy during this time, you may not be stronger. The hormone fluctuations during this time correspond to a higher cardiovascular capacity or the muscle’s ability to uptake oxygen into the cell. This means you may be better at higher rep work, NOT the opposite - lower rep work (strength training).
The opposite of ovulation is menstruation - the time when you’re supposedly not supposed to lift, but for many this is when they may hit strength PRs. It is for myself and many other cycling lifting women I speak with.
This can be hard to grasp as you many not feel strong during this time due to possibly being low energy. But this is how strength is different. Strength is largely neurological. You are capable of much more on your period than you think. And it is actually higher rep work that is more fatiguing for the nervous system. Heavy lifting is actually easier on your nervous system, which you will probably want during the menstrual phase.
Why don't some women want to lift on their period and is this helpful?
I have found most women who don’t want to lift heavy on their period don’t want to simply because of mental blocks and what they’ve been told. I fully understand if you haven’t done it before, then it might not seem like the best thing.
Most of us have been told we are weak and fragile on our period: that we need to lay down and take it easy. And while you might be less coordinated, have less power and endurance (not to be confused with strength), this does not mean you shouldn't lift heavy.
I’ve also observed many women using this as a time to feel bad for themselves because they simply don’t get the care they need during other time. If you use your period time as an excuse to finally relax and eat things you crave, I encourage you to tune in to how you're treating yourself during the other phases in your cycle.
Interestingly, as I write this I am on my period. I went to the gym yesterday and today and hit an all-time PR with my deadlift (260lb and it didn’t even feel hard.) Getting to the gym and using my body in this way also gave me energy and lifted my mood.
I'm fully aware I'm not the only woman in the world and other bodies may respond differently. I took the liberty of doing some own research to see how other women felt cycle syncing their workouts. Of the women I asked, 20% liked it and 80% did not. I asked the 80% why and they said because of cycle syncing they would intentionally avoid any kind of strenuous movement on their period even if they wanted it and they LOST MUSCLE MASS as well. For most people, cycle syncing guidelines for exercise are not just unsupportive, they are harmful.
What happens when you DO workout on your period?
Exercise releases endorphins that are a natural pain killer? Less movement on your period results in more fatigue and pain. If i’m going to experience pain on my period, it’s typically day 2 for me. And in the moment I might not FEEL like getting up and doing anything, but if I do I usually end up having a great workout and feeling better the rest of the day because of it. When I don’t, I feel tired and lethargic the whole day. Feelings in the moment are not often an indicator of the truth. How many times have you FELT that you wanted to eat 2 donuts or stay up to 2am? Would those choices have been supportive to your body?
"But aren’t workouts stressful? Shouldn’t we relieve our body of stress during this time?"
This question typically stems from a lack of understand around what stress is. There are different kinds of stress: distress and eustress. Distress is just a bad stress - no benefit is offered and it will not come back more resilient because of it. Eustress is good stress - your body will come back more resilient to other stressors (even the bad ones). What is often not talked about is how a lack of movement is stressful too. Your body was designed to move and exert itself EVERY DAY. Not doing that is a stressor for the body. Don’t be afraid to do hard things. It’s what you were made to do.
What adjustments might you want to make if you are low energy around your period?
I do not deny that you might need a little more care and recovery during this time. Here are a list of things you can do to support your body during your period:
- Go to bed early. Try to be asleep by 10, which means being in bed by 9:30 at the latest.
- Have more alone time. Your menstrual phase is a time for reflection.
- Legs up the wall after workouts and/or before sleep. This is an easy way to calm the nervous system.
- Nettle leaf tea. This tea is full of minerals and replenishes the body!
- Say no to extra social gatherings. Many women become more reclusive during this time - tune in to this as it's another element of recovery and preparation for the next phase.
- Use red lights in the evening. Red light promotes healing, cell regeneration, and calms the nervous system.
- No blue light after sundown. Improving your light hygiene is necessary for a healthy cycle.
What adjustments can you make to your workouts if you feel the need?
If you do feel adjustments are needed but are open to still lifting heavy, the number one recommendation I give my clients for during this time is to simply omit accessory movements. Just focus on your big lifts and leave the extra fancy stuff for the other weeks. To learn more about this read my post HERE about muscle-centric cycle syncing.
What groups might be exceptions to this?
There are EXTREME circumstances where heavy lifting might be too strenuous for someone on their period. But keep in mind, if heavy lifting is too strenuous during this time, so is endurance training. Heavy weight lifting is actually much easier on the body than doing light weight for a million reps.
Those who are under severe environmental conditions that they are not able to take control over, mold exposure for example, may result in fatigue beyond the point of being able to recover. Under these circumstances, more intense forms of exercise MIGHT TEMPORARILY be too much.
Those who experiencing very advanced metabolic conditions that they are not able to mitigate the stress of in other ways might find more intense forms of exercise to be to much for them.
Keep in mind, that this does not mean to not try lifting again, but to address the above, and then come back and do it. I firmly believe weightlifting is one of the best things you can do for your body. There is no other form of exercise that can elicit the same result.
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