It’s safe to say none of us enjoy training on ‘the time of the month’, it’s uncomfortable, you feel bloated, and energy is lacking. This post discusses the pros of training on your period, but also when it’s a good time to listen to your body and rest.
The average day of a cycle is between 3-7 days. The follicular phase starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation. Ovulation happens about halfway through your cycle. During this time, your body releases an egg, causing estrogen and progesterone levels to drop. A shift in these hormones can lead to both physical and emotional symptoms. Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels also influence serotonin levels. This is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate your mood, sleep cycle, and appetite. Low levels of serotonin are linked to feelings of sadness and irritability, in addition to trouble sleeping and unusual food cravings — all common PMS symptoms.
Exercise during PMS can ease symptoms if stuck to a regime. Both progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest during the period phase of a menstrual cycle, which is why you feel so tired and less energetic. Avoiding exercise all together won’t make you feel much better, in fact it will reduce fatigue, mood swings in the days leading up to your cycle – that is due to the wonderful endorphins that are released, which elevates our mood and makes us feel good. Endorphins are also a natural pain killer and can make those cramps and headache ease off.
On day 1 of your cycle in (the follicular phase), you will actually have more strength and power than any other day of your period, because this is when you have the lowest number of female hormones in your body – you might actually find you are making personal bests and feeling mega-strong!! Some research has found that strength training during the follicular phase resulted in higher increases in muscle strength compared to training in the luteal phase (1–3). So, it might be worth paying some attention to your cycle phases and you might find your strength pays off the most during the follicular phase.
In the second part of your cycle, progesterone rises significantly. Your body temperature is also higher during this phase — body temp shoots up by at least 0.4 degrees after ovulation and stays high until menstruation. Your body is preparing for a potential pregnancy, should an egg have been fertilized at ovulation. As a result, you may find that you don't have as much endurance during your luteal phase. You may not be able to hit max lifts and may feel worse in training compared to the first part of your cycle. On these days it is best to incorporate some light walking, lower volume strength training, Pilates, or yoga – use this time as a de-load week or a few extra days rest. For example, during my follicular phase I could squat 90kg pretty smoothly, a week later I couldn’t shift it for 1 rep, I was even wondering if I imagined squatting 90kg the week before. So, you might want to schedule your rest days or de-load week during this phase, also known as luteal phase.
So, my top tips for exercising during your period are:
Incorporate lots of stretching into your routine. This can help to extend muscles that might feel tense during your cycle.
Pain relief. Taking ibuprofen and paracetamol before a session is always a good shout to prevent or reduce cramping.
Take some extra protection with you. Exercise can increase the level of ‘flow’ meaning bleeding quicker because exercise helps the blood exit the uterus faster (absolutely grim I know, but be prepared).
Wear dark clothing. Don’t really think this needs an explanation as to why.
Drink lots of water! Staying hydrated can reduce bloating on your period, and as body temperature rises you will need to be rehydrating more often.
Listen to your body! If you really are not feeling it then don’t worry. Rest is very important too, our body is going through a lot during a cycle – thank your body for working so wonderfully and put your feet up if you need to without feeling guilty.