I used to be a TOTAL gym rat. I lived for 60+ minute HIIT / Bootcamp style workouts and am such a sucker for closing those rings on my apple watch. The more calories I would burn, and the higher my heart rate climbed, the more I felt I was doing my body “good”.
Until I learned that it wasn’t doing my body good. But guess what? This is the beautiful thing about learning how to be better advocates for our body. We get to grow and evolve and change how we do things! I learned that those intense workouts were wreaking havoc on my adrenals, thanks to the big spikes in cortisol (our fight or flight stress hormone). As a result, I had very irregular periods.
If you’re new to understanding your monthly cycle and fertility hormones, I highly recommend Alisa Vitti as a great place to start. She is a functional nutrition and hormone expert, her books Woman Code and Flo Living have been so helpful in understanding how the female body is inherently designed and ways to troubleshoot various hormonal struggles. I wish I would have discovered her when I was much younger!
I’m a huge fan of exercise, it’s one of my favorite ways to manage my anxiety and stress, and I find that when I exercise I make better choices on how I eat, I sleep better, and have more energy. It’s been fun to learn what exercises I should do throughout my monthly cycle.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
Menstrual Phase (lasts 3-7 days)
This is the time in which the uterus is shedding its lining. Progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest levels during this time, which typically impacts your energy. This is a time in which you are likely feeling more tired and less energetic.
Exercises to try: This is a great time to focus on more restorative movements such as walking, yoga or stretching.
Follicular Phase (lasts 7-10 days)
After your period is over, hormone levels start to rise. You’ll see a rise in estrogen levels, which can impact muscle and joint movement. “High estrogen levels have been linked to both a reduced muscle stretch reflex and more pliable hamstring muscles: more pliable muscles may make women more vulnerable to knee injuries, as the muscles absorb less force from the joints.” (1).
Exercises to try: Many women experience an increase in creativity, a willingness to try new things during this time. This might be a great time to try a new workout or body movement. Be sure to warm up properly and do proper stretches before and after working out to avoid injury.
Ovulation phase (lasts 3-5 days)
Our hormones are at their peak during this time as the body is gearing up to to release an egg for fertilization. This is the time in my cycle when I feel most energetic, and crave being around people.
Exercises to try: You’ll likely experience more energy, take advantage of that. This is a great time to go for a run/jog, do a HIIT workout, spin class, dance class, or a more vigorous yoga class.
Luteal Phase (lasts 10-14 days)
Estrogen levels start to dip after the body ovulates, and then you’ll experience a rise in progesterone. Towards the end of the luteal phase some women will start to feel more tired and perhaps experience some PMS symptoms. The hormonal ups and downs during this time can make you feel a bit more sluggish/slow too.
Exercises to try: I find that in the beginning of the luteal phase I still have decent energy and will do shorter HIIT workouts. Weight lifting or a moderate style yoga class is a great choice during this time. As you get closer to your monthly period, give yourself permission to rest or do more restorative exercises.