How to Cycle Sync Your Workout Routine Throughout the Month for Greater Wellbeing
There’s nothing worse than feeling bloated and sluggish when that time of the month rolls around. You can’t be bothered to do anything besides sit on the couch with a heat pack as you binge-watch your way through an entire TV series. Even the mere thought of going to the gym and pumping out a HIIT session makes you feel a little nauseous and dizzy.
But what if we told you that actually listening to your body and skipping that sweat sesh would actually work to your advantage?
Tailoring your exercise regime and diet to the various stages of the month has become increasingly popular over recent years, especially with the rise of period-tracking apps. Scientific studies have shown that we’re more prone to specific injuries, struggle with endurance training and thrive off weight training during certain times throughout the month.
This is what prompted Peaches Pilates founder Tori Clapham, to implement Period Pilates classes on her studio’s online weekly schedule. While we understand every woman is different when it comes to her period and hormones, we asked Clapham to share some general tips and tricks on how you can tailor your workout schedule according to your menstrual cycle.
How do your hormones fluctuate during your cycle?
“Many of us consider our menstrual cycle as simply the 4-7 days that we bleed, when in fact, you want to honour your cycle in its entirety,” Clapham tells Bed Threads Journal.
“The typical cycle lasts between 20-32 days and has its own phases which affect our hormones, moods, energy levels, sex drive and more.”
How do the different phases of your menstrual cycle affect exercise?
Phase 1: Menstruation
This happens on day 1 - 7. Our hormones drop to their lowest levels, causing our uterine lining to break down and start our bleed.
During this time you may experience low energy or pain, so it's important to rest and focus on gentle, restorative movement.
Phase 2: Follicular Phase
This phase usually lasts from a week to 10 days, and this is where we start to see our hormones begin to rise again. Many women experience great creativity in their follicular phase, as well as an increase in energy.
This is a great time to ramp up your exercise with whatever movement feels good.
Phase 3: Ovulation
This stage lasts between 3-5 days. Our estrogen rises, and the release of our luteinising hormone stimulates our follicles to release an egg. Your sex drive, energy levels and fertility are at an all-time high during this phase, so enjoy it.
Exercise-wise, you'll be feeling strong. Time to enjoy resistance, higher intensity workouts or whatever suits you.
Phase 4: Luteal Phase
This stage sees the end of our cycle. It lasts between 7-14 days, and see our estrogen, testosterone and progesterone first rise to their highest levels, then drop right before a new cycle - or period bleed - begins.
At the start of the Luteal phase you'll maintain good energy, so move your body. As it comes to a close, you may experience less energy or PMS symptoms, which is a good time to slow it down and think about restorative classes, long walks and meditation.
How does exercise negatively impact your menstrual cycle?
Clapham warns that too much exercise combined with restrictive dieting can lead to health problems, namely amenorrhea (when your period disappears).
“Problems with the hypothalamus or pituitary gland in the brain can cause an imbalance of hormones that can prevent periods from starting,” she explains. “Conditions such as eating disorders, excessive exercise, and extreme physical or psychological stress or a combination of these factors, can also disrupt the normal functioning of the hypothalamus or pituitary gland, delaying the onset of menstruation.”
Although this won’t happen to everyone, Clapham notes it’s something she sees quite regularly.
“It’s something we have seen a lot of in our studios, where young women feel intense pressure to diet or undergo intensive exercise regimes.”
The power of Pilates on regulating hormones
Clapham urges every woman to embrace the beauty of her menstrual cycle.
“Our cycles aren't going anywhere - they're a fact of life, and we're finally in an era where they can be openly discussed, respected and delved into, rather than being swept under the rug as an embarrassing bodily function.”
“Moreover, there’s so much pain that can be eased when you work with your cycle, rather than against it.”
Clapham’s biggest tip is to simply listen to your body - an easy task that many women often overlook.
“Everyone experiences their menstrual cycle differently, and trying to ignore pain or fatigue can be damaging,” she notes.
Additionally, Pilates has been proven to be the perfect workout for regulating healthy hormones. “Pilates is perfect for your cycle as it's one of the most modifiable forms of movement out there. We can cater to the difficult days in the lead up and start of your period, and then deliver a challenge as you progress.”
But the benefits of Pilates don’t stop there; not only will you see and feel an incredible difference in your body, but you’ll also experience improvements to your mental health.
“Our movements are a marriage of the body and the mind, so it provides a much needed break from a busy brain, and a chance to centre yourself.”
Tori Clapham is the founder of Peaches Pilates. Follow her on Instagram @toriclapham and head here to find out more about Flo Week (aka Period Pilates).
Don't have time to hit the gym? No worries! These are the 5 household chores that burn as many calories as a HIIT workout.