Each phase of your menstrual cycle is characterized by a specific energetic shift, desire, and inclination toward movement. Discover how to capitalize on exactly what your body, and your hormones, have to offer at each phase of your cycle…
Scroll down for a menstrual cycle workout plan from P.volve!
A period can make anyone feel like skipping exercise. You might even think that working out while menstruating is a complete waste of time. A recent global survey from Strava that shows 88 per cent of women believe their training performance is at its worst when they’re on their period.
Add to that a new survey from adidas which claims that one in four girls around the world drops out of sport in adolescence, citing fear of leakage while on their period as a key reason, and the odds against exercising on your period start stacking up.
But while cosying up under the safety of your duvet might seem preferable to a sweaty workout session, you could be missing a useful way of alleviating your symptoms of menstruation and optimising your training results if you choose the right kind of exercise.
Indeed, learning to work with your body, and not against it, by adapting your workouts to your menstrual cycle – a technique known as phase-based training – could empower you to perform at your full potential, whatever the time of the month.
And, with the right period-protecting kit to help you feel comfortable and secure, you’ll never want to skip another workout again…
How does the body change throughout the menstrual cycle?
Thankfully, this antiquated approach is changing, as emerging research shows hormonal fluctuations throughout the whole menstrual cycle can have a range of effects on everything from your energy levels, heart rate and body temperature to hydration, recovery and susceptibility to injury.
How do hormones affect our bodies?
If hormones are imbalanced, the wrong form of exercise can sometimes create more stress on the adrenal glands and metabolism. Barre, for example, can help manage anxiety, boost mood and prevent excessive cortisol being released, which will help with food cravings.’
When it comes to selecting appropriate types of exercise for different phases of your menstrual cycle, Alana Murrin, head of Ride at Psycle, admits she’s been in the dark until recently: ‘I’m in my mid-thirties and only just starting to learn about my period and how it affects my body.
‘That’s almost 25 years of not really understanding how I should be approaching my workouts. But it’s important also to acknowledge that there are women who suffer some very extreme symptoms,’ she adds.
‘If your workout puts you in pain or discomfort, then I really don’t think it’s a case of “powering through”. However, I think we all need to claim ownership over our own cycles and workouts in a way that honours our bodies.’
Which exercise is best for each cycle phase?
To hack the power of your hormones, you’ll need to start tracking your cycle. There are a range of free period-tracking apps available to help you understand and predict your cycle, including Flo, Clue and FitrWoman.
FitrWoman provides personalised training and nutritional suggestions tailored to your changing hormones. It was used by the US Women’s National Soccer Team to plan training around players’ periods in the lead up to the 2019 World Cup (which they won).
Next, you need to deepen your knowledge of the phases in your cycle so you can tailor your workouts accordingly. There are four phases in your cycle which, on average, last around 28 days:
Menstruation (Days 1-5)
‘During the menstrual phase, your uterus is shedding the lining it has built up throughout the month. Your progesterone and oestrogen levels will be at their lowest. This, along with the loss of blood, may cause you to feel low on energy,’ says Dr Ghazala Aziz-Scott from the Marion Gluck Clinic.
She, therefore, suggests trying restorative, low-intensity workouts such as yoga, Pilates and Barre. These provide a gentle but effective form of movement that will encourage the release of feel-good endorphins to help reduce pain and inflammation.
Follicular phase (Days 6-14)
‘In the follicular phase, oestrogen – a natural anti-inflammatory – levels are rising, so pain endurance and response to injury is improved.
In addition to this, higher levels of testosterone result in increased muscle and strength gains and higher energy levels. This is the perfect time to hit the weights or do some high-intensity training,’ adds Dr Aziz-Scott.
Ovulation (Days 15-23)
It all changes again at the beginning of ovulation. ‘You’ll experience a peak in oestrogen,’ explains Dr Aziz-Scott.
‘This can sometimes cause ligament laxity, meaning risk of injury could be higher, so it’s essential that you perform thorough warm-ups before exercise.’
Luteal phase (Days 24-28)
Finally, in the luteal phase, your body temperature increases so you may fatigue more quickly, meaning that shorter and less-intense workouts are best.
‘Progesterone also peaks, causing protein and muscle breakdown. So, it’s a good time to switch to moderate-intensity exercise. You should also prioritise recovery and eat more protein to enable the body to repair,’ concludes Dr Aziz-Scott.
Try a fitness service that incorporates your menstrual cycle
If you’re finding all of this slightly overwhelming, there is an easier alternative. Several fitness platforms are now leading the way with personalised workout programmes that work with your cycle and symptoms.
First up is the new clinically backed Phase & Function programme from movement specialists, P.volve ($19.99 a month), which combines movement, mind and meals.
The aim is to help you listen to your body and satisfy it with the exercise, nutrition and rest it’s craving, rather than a ‘go hard or go home’ mentality, which can stunt progress towards your goals. Scroll down for an exclusive workout from the P.volve Phase & Function programme!
Another service comes in the form of the Jennis Cyclemapping programme from Olympic athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill. This service is designed to improve hormone balance, increase energy levels, reduce PMT and provide more efficient fitness gains (£14.99 a month).
‘I’ve been in sport my whole life, but it was only towards the latter part of my career that the science of matching workouts to your menstrual cycle got touched upon. Even then, it felt taboo,’ says Ennis-Hill.
‘Making this knowledge accessible to everyone is something I’m really passionate about, so that women can train in line with their unique menstrual cycles, do what’s right for their bodies and feel amazing as a result.’
If athletes can do it, so can you
The final word about exercising on your period goes to GB long jumper, Jazmin Sawyers, who took part in the launch of adidas’ new TechFit Period Proof collection (from £35): ‘If we as athletes can do it, so can you. You can perform well in sports despite your period. It doesn’t define you, but you have to learn to adjust and manage it as best as you can.
‘Remember that the women you see playing sports, whether as amateurs or on a more professional level, have probably dealt with something similar and faced certain challenges that come from being athletes and people who menstruate.
‘But they’ve managed to find a way to do both by understanding what their bodies need and by leaning on others for support.’
Period-proof your workout
Experiencing uncomfortable symptoms and worrying about the possibility of leakage while exercising? There are positive steps you can take, including dressing for comfort and security.
‘Look for fabrics that are soft on your skin while still offering durability,’ says Katie Higginbotham, personal trainer and TrainFitness tutor. ‘Avoid tight, restrictive clothing around the tummy if you’re experiencing pain. Do choose high-waisted bottoms that stay in place or select styles with built-in protection.’
Most importantly, she adds, choose period products you’re comfortable with: ‘If you’re not used to wearing tampons, this isn’t the time to try them out. They can be painful and uncomfortable when not inserted correctly. And don’t forget you can combine products to prevent leakages. It’s simply a case of finding what works best for you.’
Best products and kit for cycle-syncing your workouts
Lumen (£299; lumen.me)
The hand-held device and app tracks your metabolism based on the CO2 concentration of a single breath. This helps you to understand whether you’re burning fats or carbs.
Its ground-breaking cycle-tracking feature lets you adapt your nutrition to the various phases of your cycle. This allows you to make the right nutritional decisions to restore iron levels, curb fatigue, regulate blood sugar, improve sleep and keep energy levels elevated.
Garmin Venu 2S Smart Watch (£349.99; garmin.com)
This GPS-tracking watch has a menstrual cycle tracking feature via the Garmin Connect app. Thanks to this feature, you can log physical and emotional symptoms and get exercise and nutrition advice, too!
Dame Reusable Period Pad (£10.99; wearedame.co)
This pad features bamboo fibres to wick moisture away from the skin, while a thin, liquid-proof membrane provides extra security against leaks. The innovative odour-free, airtight and watertight Dame Dry Bag (£9.99) allows you to change your pads on the go.
Thinx Apparel (from £48.35; shethinx.com)
Thinx has an amazing line of stylish activewear with built-in period protection, including leggings, shorts and leotards. The garments offer absorbency levels from two to five regular tampons.
Modibodi Swimwear Recycled One Piece (£65.50; modibodi.co.uk)
This swimsuit has a fast-absorbing lining that is perfect for spotting and lighter days. Alternatively, you can use it as extra protection on heavy days.
Wuka Perform Seamless Midi Briefs for Heavy Flows (£22.99; wuka.co.uk)
Available in sizes 2XS to 4XL, these VPL-free, full coverage briefs hold up to the equivalent of four tampons.
Elara (free; elara.care)
Female health app, Elara, provides women with personalised exercise, nutrition, sleep and mental wellness recommendations. There are also actionable tips tailored to your hormones and different phases of your menstrual cycle. This allows you to harness the unique power of your physiology.
Intimina Lily Cup One (£19.99; intimina.com)
This is perfect for first-time users, thanks to the secure loop that aids easy removal. It also has a compact, collapsible design that fits into a discrete case.
P.volve menstrual cycle workout plan
Looking for more inspiration? Try this menstrual cycle workout plan from P.volve’s new clinically backed Phase & Function programme.
Menstrual cycle workout plan: menstruation
Begin kneeling on a mat with your right foot planted and externally rotated.
Reach toward your foot as you stretch the opposite hip. Then, press away from the front foot as you reach in the opposite direction. Repeat 6 times on the right and 6 times on the left.
Why this exercise is good for this point in your menstrual cycle: Opening up the hips and gentle abdominal activation promote circulation during the menstrual phase to encourage release and detoxification throughout the bleed. Movement also increases endorphins which can relieve symptoms like irritability and mood swings.
Menstrual cycle workout plan: follicular phase
Using a light ankle band or your body’s resistance, stand with one foot outstretched and flexed, hovering above the floor.
Gently pull the knee up to bend and straighten while focusing on pulling the quadriceps up from the knee toward the hip. Repeat for 8 reps on both sides, slow and controlled.
Why you should try this move at this point in your cycle: During the end of the follicular phase, studies have shown women to be more susceptible to knee injury. It is paramount to focus on knee alignment and muscular activation around the joint during this phase.
Menstrual cycle workout plan: ovulation
Begin standing in a staggered position with runner’s arms.
Load the glute and explode to hop the standing leg off of the floor. Focus on landing by rolling through the foot toe, ball, heel and activating the glutes as you do so. Repeat for about 30 seconds at high intensity on both sides.
Why this exercise is good for this phase of your menstrual cycle: The ovulatory phase is marked by an energetic high and readiness to get up and go hard. Allow yourself the space to push further than you have during the rest of your cycle. Try interval training and harder, faster, sweatier workouts.
Menstrual cycle workout plan: luteal phase
Using a P.band, resistance band in hands, or your body’s resistance, begin with the feet flat and separated.
Squeeze the band and row your outside arm as you allow the hips to rotate open. Repeat on both sides, 8 reps each.
Why you should try this exercise during this phase: The luteal phase is marked by a decline in energy and PMS – but not for long. Using slow and controlled movement to open up the hips and activate big muscle groups will help to boost those feel-good hormones and prepare the body for your bleed to come. Allow yourself to turn inward and keep all workouts to 30 minutes during this phase!