Written by Imane Dodo
Image by @skims
The human body (more so women’s bodies, let’s be real) is incredible. Throughout the menstrual cycle, the body works round the clock to regulate hormonal levels, and goes through a series of physical and physiological changes as result. These changes influence our fitness journey due to the impact on our mood, energy levels and ability to build muscle mass. Ladies, if you struggle to see results despite all the work you are putting in, syncing your workouts to your menstrual cycle could potentially be a solid solution.
As a refresher, a menstrual cycle lasts from the first day of your period to the first day of the next period. Cycles generally range from 21-35 days, with 28 days generally considered “normal”. Menstrual cycles have two main phases. The first phase, called follicular/proliferative phase (Day 1-14), prepares your body for ovulation. In this phase, the level of estrogen rises and the rich cocktail of growth-oriented hormones often lead one to feel godsent boosts of energy and good vibes. The second phase, also called luteal or secretory phase, generally lasts 14 days (Day 15-28) from ovulation to the first day of your period (if pregnancy has not occurred). In this phase, your progesterone levels rise along with estrogen. Both hormones are at their lowest a couple of days before your period, which often comes with pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS).
You kind of get the gist, but let’s get into syncing your workout plan with your cycle…
Ladies, your follicular phase is when you should be doing all the hard things you have ever dreamt of doing at the gym. Estrogens benefit bone and muscle mass building, increase level of focus, promote recovery, regulate blood sugar & cholesterol and enhance brain function. During the follicular phase, your body also uses carbs more optimally, which is the perfect time to do high impact, heavy lifting, power exercises. This is the time to perform exercises such as deadlifts and squats with heavier weights and low repetitions (5-8 reps), as well as power based exercises such as jumping squats. Estrogen and testosterone peak during ovulation – time to get after it before the second phase of your cycle kicks off.
Then comes the luteal phase, where the level of progesterone rises and gradually inhibits all the estrogen goodness outlined above. In this phase, one will generally find it more challenging to build muscle and workout at the same intensity. The change in hormonal balance yields increased feeling of fatigue, mood swings, irritability, appetite and drowsiness. In this phase, focus on decreasing the stress in your body, hydrate and nourish. Perform more cardio-based exercises to build endurance, reduce the weights and increase the number of repetitions (10-15) across exercises. Typical exercises to perform in this phase include push ups, squats, lunges and running. Consider the exercises performed in this phase as a gradual transition to the next phase – still challenging enough but lower impact.
The end of your cycle until the time leading to your period is time to tone it down, and double down on self care, depending on how aggressive your PMS are. Your iron levels are lowest during your period, leading to lower energy levels and sluggishness. Focus on regenerative, restorative low impact workouts such as yoga, long walks, stretches and Pilates. Double down on food rich in iron and vitamin B.
It is absolutely fine to train hard all through your cycle if your body permits. Everybody is unique and should be treated as such, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Ladies, actively listen to your body and adapt your movements accordingly throughout your menstrual cycle. It will not only make the journey more enjoyable but will also optimise your workouts. All workouts can yield substantial results; it is a matter of performing them at the right time to maximise gains.