From the moment I became certified as a personal trainer, I started receiving requests to write an article regarding training throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. However, I always shied away from doing this – mostly because I found the subject too daunting or taboo at the time, but also because I was sure the correct information had to already be out there…right??
Whelp, after some considerable years of growth, (re: I’m no longer ashamed to discuss my period at length), and after some intense sessions of Googling – it turns out, the information is not only NOT out there, but the stuff that is is contradictory and confusing as all hell. Therefore, I feel it’s time for me to throw my hat into the ring and share my thoughts on the matter.
In gathering research for this post, I read about 12 different articles from well-regarded fitness blogs and health magazines, and I’m here to say that all 12 contradicted each other at one point or another. How is it that half the world’s population experiences this monthly visitor, and still there is so much we are playing guess work about? (Well, it’s because we exist in a society that has conditioned us to believe periods are gross or something to be ashamed of…but that’s a bigger topic for another day…moving on!)
One article says women are more prone to injury working out during their period. Another claims a woman is just shy of being a superhero when bleeding – practically indestructible, and therefore can workout even harder. One says your period is a time for rest and meditation, another suggests scheduling reflection time during ovulation. So on and so forth. I’m not gonna lie, after reading about 8 of the 12 articles, I had enough “data” to argue that there is actually NEVER a good time for a woman to workout…but I’m hoping that’s not the actual answer you’re looking for.
So I went after gathering other research. Through this Menstruation Renaissance I’m currently having (re: not being ashamed or shy about my body’s natural functions), I started talking to other women and gathering their own viewpoints of training throughout their cycles.
I talked to women who have such terrible PMS, that working out during their period is an absolute no-go. No amount of increased blood flow has ever made their symptoms improve. I talked to others who said it’s the week before that they are too exhausted to consider working out. Then to really shake things up, we threw in symptoms and side effects from birth control, and that just turned things even more on their heads. The one and only consistent?…everyone is different.
So here is my plan of attack for this article…I’m going to dive in and share with you how I train throughout my cycle. Total disclaimer – it’s 100% what works for me. If you try to pit my points against a science journal you discovered through Google, chances are it’s going to dispute whatever I say here and argue that the choices I’m making in my life are going to give me cancer. (#webMD, anyone?)
What I’m hoping this article does for you, while not offering precise answers on how to schedule your monthly workouts, is provide the space to begin a dialogue between yourself and your body. I suggest keeping a daily journal for a few months, tracking symptoms and recording variables. After a few cycles you should have enough data to start recognizing some patterns. I truly feel that you will know better than anyone else the answers to the questions of when to train, when to rest, and when to recover, simply because your body is already telling you. We all just need to be better listeners…
So let’s dive in to MY flow, shall we??
Phase 1: There Will Be Blood (Days 1-7)
When it comes to my actual period…I’m pretty lucky. It’s regular and consistent. I don’t get a lot of cravings, I don’t notice myself getting terribly irritable, and my cramping is minimal (that is as long as I’m not on a method of birth control…but again, that’s another discussion for another article).
What I do notice is an increase in appetite, and ok, maybe I’m a little quicker to tears than on any other given day. The other thing I notice…I am ready to KILL it in the gym. Whenever my period starts, my body CRAVES movement. For me, it helps to get things moving, and my body wants this business OUT! I will purposefully plan more cardio or HIIT circuits during these days to help get that blood flowing (pun intended??). What I will avoid during these days, however, are my strength training workouts. I find that the added tension required in these workouts causes stagnation and doesn’t allow things to flow as smoothly. Heavy lifting during this phase makes me feel stuck and irritable. I’m better off keeping the weights light and the movements quick.
Phase 2: Here Comes the Sun (Days 8-14)
This is my golden week. I hold on to the energy and drive from the days prior, but now I’m not having to worry myself with changing tampons or other equipment. My workouts go smoothly, and I can easily increase the weight on my exercises. My appetite regulates, and again I don’t deal with too many cravings. In short, I will write a love song to Phase 2 😉
Phase 3: Ovulation (Days 15-21)
Phase 3 is when things get interesting. For all of you that were cursing my name while I described the ease that is Phase 1…this one is for you.
For me, ovulation is far worse than anything I feel during my actual period. The official term is mittelschmerz, and I experience it every month. This is something that kicked up only a couple years ago – I like to joke that it’s my body informing me that I’m in my prime baby making years (not NOW body! I’m busy and not urging for any babies). I know when mittelschmerz is about to hit, because my appetite absolutely plummets. For the couple days prior, I have no interest in food. In fact, there’s even been a couple days when I’ve forgotten to eat until later in the evening. That’s when the dreaded 72 hours sets in. During these 3 days, working out is absolutely miserable for me. The intense pressure I have in my lower abdomen until that egg is released makes the thought of squatting or deadlifting downright nauseating. It’s also during these 3 days that my body is exhausted and craving every form of sugary carb it can think of. I’ve found, during this time, it’s better for me to prioritize sleep, recovery, or maybe the lightest of light yoga flows.
Phase 4: Journey’s End (Days 22-28)
Once that egg has passed, I’m back at my regular clip. This week often feels very similar to my Golden Week of Phase 2, but with just a dash less energy. Similar to right before ovulation, as I face the beginning of a new cycle, my appetite will drop. I figure it’s just my body balancing things out for the increased hunger during the week to come. Workouts during this time are very similar to Phase 2 – nothing is really off limits, so I go after whatever I happen to be training for (strength PRs, endurance, flexibility, etc).
So that’s me and my menstrual cycle. As I tried to make clear at the beginning of this article, there is a good chance this doesn’t even come close to resonating with you and your cycle. I’d love to discuss further with you if that’s the case. Reach out and share your symptoms with me. The more we are willing to step up and openly discuss these topics that have otherwise been considered taboo, the sooner we will have better answers at hand.
Looking forward to hearing from you beautiful ladies – remember to listen to your body’s cues, and get after it!