Your cycle & exercise: How your cycle plays a role when it comes to adapting your workouts
Last week you energetically ran several kilometers in the park and it wasn’t even difficult for you? Today you almost couldn’t reach the 5 km mark? This is not at all unusual and is often related to your cycle. In this article, we’ll explain how your cycle and your physical performance are connected.
Exercise and a woman's cycle?
Women have 4 cycle phases and in each of these phases, you perform very differently. This is due to the hormones, more accurately the natural fluctuations in hormones. Hormones rise and fall in different phases of the cycle and this is what changes our mood and: our physical performance. Not least, of course, when it comes to your workouts. Therefore, exercising in harmony with your cycle is always advisable. In this article, we will tell you how to plan your workouts optimally. For now, we would like to introduce you to the basics and the science behind it.
Exercise during your period?
Who hasn’t heard the phrase from their classmates that they can’t take part in gym class because of their period? But is it really true that you shouldn’t move your body during menstruation, or was it just an excuse to get out of gym class? Well, there is no ‘one fit for all’ answer to that, because most women experience their periods very differently and many women report that the way they feel about their periods changes from their teenage years to when they reach menopause. Exercising during menstruation should therefore always be considered individually and should be approached according to your own feelings. If you feel good, have lots of energy, and want to exercise, that’s just as okay. It’s also okay if your only exercise during your period is taking short walks or not moving at all.
Exercise for period pain
Honestly, you should do whatever makes you feel good. However, studies show that light but continuous exercise can help relieve period pain. It makes sense: Improved blood circulation in the body can help with period pain. That’s because the uterus keeps expanding and contracting before and during your period to help shed the uterine lining. The increased blood flow to the uterus that comes with exercise can make this work a bit more smoothly. Especially if you do a gentle full-body workout. Yoga or pilates are wonderful ways to move the whole body while also connecting to your breath. By the way, this doesn’t only work during your period, but it also works wonderfully to relieve PMS symptoms.
Exercise during heavy periods
All this being said, some women still find it particularly difficult to exercise because of the intensity of their periods. Especially at the beginning of their period and particularly for women with a copper or gold IUD, the bleeding is usually very heavy. Many women even report that they have to change their tampon or menstrual cup every hour and this would be even worse with exercise. If you suffer from such heavy bleeding, you can still roll out your mat at home and do some light exercise or stretching.
Exercise in the different cycle phases
As you probably know by now, the female cycle consists of 4 different phases. We’ll tell you exactly when and how you can adjust your workout plan to the different phases of the cycle.
The menstrual phase: Feeling exhausted during your period?
This is the phase that marks the beginning of the female cycle. The first day of your cycle is the first day of your period. The production of progesterone stops and the lining of the uterus is shed. This is what gives rise to menstruation. As described above, the length of the menstrual phase is very individual and it also feels different for every woman. If you have no menstrual pain and feel well, you already have an increase in performance compared to the phase before. However, if you do experience pain and feel unwell, we recommend taking it easy in terms of exercise. We recommend keeping your workouts low-impact, even if you’re not feeling any major discomfort. Think: Gentle yoga or stretching and walks. An evening stroll can also be the perfect way to get some simple movement.
The follicular phase - time in the cycle for training to build muscle
In the follicular phase, you can feel a shift because you are now getting into the phases where you feel better, stronger, and more attractive. In this phase of the cycle, you can plan more intense endurance training sessions. The effect from your workouts is highest in this phase. You should use this phase for long, endurance sports such as long runs, ski tours, spinning, and high-intensity training. We recommend working out mid-day – since your estrogen will be low and your cortisol levels will be optimal for a challenging cardio workout.
The ovulation phase
This phase is all about: your ovulation. Shortly before ovulation you feel strong, full of power, and can train hard. Then comes ovulation itself, which is the peak of this phase and also of your workouts within the cycle. High-intensity interval training or bodyweight circuits will feel really good during this phase. We recommend exercising early in the morning. Your testosterone is higher during this phase, so feel free to go all out. Afterward, the hormone estradiol, which is responsible for how powerful you feel in this phase, flattens out and so does your power.
Exercising during ovulation
Exercise during ovulation should take place according to how you feel because eventually, the time comes when the estradiol drops and your energy level drops sharply. This is the time when mood swings can set in. Many women know this or only notice that they are suddenly annoyed by virtually everything. This is due to the hormone flattening out. As soon as you notice that fatigue and exhaustion set in, you know that you are already post-ovulation and you’ve entered the luteal phase.
The luteal phase - exercising after ovulation
After ovulation, the hormone progesterone kicks in. It is often accompanied by PMS symptoms, exhaustion, bloating, mood swings, and feeling uncomfortable in your body. Beware: It’s not just your feelings that suffer at this point, your coordination and fine motor skills are affected during this phase as well. For this reason, we recommend taking things much more slowly during this phase. Once you start to experience PMS symptoms, it’s really time to tone it down and switch to pilates or strength training in the early evening. Restorative yoga before bed can also be very helpful in combating symptoms like moodiness and bloating. You can also try light jogging and cycling. Note that you will not have an increase in performance during this phase. The aim here is to maintain and then build muscle and increase performance in the follicular phase.
Does exercise influence menstruation or can it even influence the entire cycle?
The question is not always whether you can exercise despite of your period, but rather whether sport can influence your period in general. It has been proven that many women who train too hard lose their period, especially at a young age. You might think that not having a period is much more pleasant but we can assure you that you are wrong. In fact, not menstruating during your reproductive years is a sign that your body is not healthy. Causes for this can range from too much stress, nutrient deficiencies to too much intensive training. In medical jargon, this is called hypothalamic amenorrhoea. As a result, no eggs mature because the intense exercise puts too much strain on the body. This is not only problematic with regard to pregnancy but also entails other risks. For example, the risk of osteoporosis, a metabolic disease of the bones, increases. For this reason, it is important to get amenorrhoea under control. Fortunately, it is treatable and doctors recommend starting treatment after 6 months of amenorrhoea. From this point on, you should take action. The most important thing is to reduce stress and exercise and increase calorie intake. From this point on, you should no longer push yourself to the limit, but put your ambition to the side and try to live a very balanced lifestyle. You should also work on a plan with a doctor. Usually, by implementing these changes, a healthy cycle can be restored relatively quickly.
Hormones and exercise
Your hormones play a major role in the menstrual cycle and your physical performance, as they are responsible for the various levels of performance throughout the entire cycle. The most important sex hormones are estrogen and progesterone. In the first half of the cycle, it is mainly estrogen that makes us feel so good and able to perform well. Then after ovulation, estrogen drops and we feel weaker, more exhausted, and less attractive again. During this phase, progesterone comes into play and is produced during the luteal phase until the menstrual phase. There, progesterone production comes to a halt again and the uterine lining is shed. This leads to menstruation.
Cycle and diet
Nutrition during the different phases of the cycle also plays a major role and should be included in addition to adapted training. Living in sync with your cycle in all areas of your life can greatly enhance your health and well-being. Read more about this in this article.
Exercise and the pill
One issue that often affects your performance is taking the birth control pill. The question is how and whether or not the pill reduces your training success. Unfortunately, there is no general answer to this question, because not every pill is the same. There are lighter and stronger pills and they offset the hormone balance to varying degrees. It is important to understand what happens in the body when you take the pill. Several processes are triggered in the body. For one thing, egg maturation is prevented and ovulation, therefore, does not take place at all. It also prevents sperm from entering the cervix and, last but not least, it suppresses the lining of the uterus. In summary, you can say that your body is fooled into thinking you are pregnant. This happens month after month. In addition, a common side effect of the pill is that the male sex hormones such as testosterone are weakened. Testosterone is, however, significantly responsible for building muscle. This explains, for example, why men, who have a higher testosterone level, gain muscle size more quickly and easily. Studies have shown that the reduced testosterone levels in women can also lead to a lessened build-up in muscle mass.
Exercise and the morning-after pill
The morning-after pill is used very rarely in most cases and should be the last resort, so to speak, if the condom has burst or you have forgotten to use another form of contraceptive. In any case, it is not healthy, because the side effects are often considerably stronger due to the high hormonal load. It is not advisable to exercise immediately after taking the pill, as it can lead to dizziness and, in the worst case, vomiting. And then the effectiveness of the morning-after pill would no longer be assured. At this point, we would like to recommend that even though the morning-after pill is available without a prescription, you should still go to a doctor to take it under supervision.
The copper IUD and exercise
In general, the copper IUD is a non-hormonal contraceptive. This means that the cycle is the same as it would be without it. The body is not fooled into thinking it is pregnant, but the copper ensures that sperm is rejected and thus provides protection against becoming pregnant. For this reason, copper or gold IUD should have no effect on athletic performance. However: Many women report longer, more intense bleeding, which is also accompanied by stronger PMS symptoms and period pain. Not to mention increased blood loss. As a result, your willingness to perform could drop sharply shortly before and during menstruation. If this happens to you, it’s a good idea to take it slow and move your body gently rather than committing to intense workouts when you’re not feeling well.
Exercise immediately after IUD insertion
We strongly advise against exercising immediately after IUD insertion, as many women report severe pain due to cramping in the uterus. In most cases, there is also dizziness and bleeding immediately after insertion. It is therefore advisable to take it easy for a few days and only start exercising again when you feel back to normal.