How To Exercise During Each Phase Of Your Menstrual Cycle

During my usual evening TikTok scroll, I came across a video of a personal trainer explaining how a person's menstrual cycle can have a pretty interesting impact on how they exercise. Depending on which stage of your cycle you're in, you can either feel stronger and fitter or weaker and more lethargic, and going through ebbs and flows of both is totally normal.
The minute I heard that I thought back to my morning workout where for some unknown reason, I felt weaker than normal. I was lifting less, running slower and feeling like all the strength I'd felt in my body a week ago had disappeared. And suddenly, it made sense. I'd entered a new part of my cycle and was very much feeling the switch in hormone levels.
Curious to learn more about how to train in accordance with my menstrual cycle, especially given I was about to run a half marathon during the upcoming Nike Melbourne Marathon Festival, I reached out to Nike Run Coach Lydia O'Donnell, who gave me the low down on what's going down in my body.

As someone who menstruates, it is important to understand your body, says Lydia. "By tracking your menstrual cycle and understanding the hormonal fluctuations that happen throughout the cycle, you are able to adapt your training/exercise to these fluctuations and make the most of your female physiology."

She goes on to explain that by doing so, you are only giving your body what it needs when it needs it. This will allow you to take a holistic approach to your training which is the most beneficial way to build a sustainable relationship between your body and exercise.
And while everything you're about to read is sage advice, it's also important to be aware that every person who menstruates is different and take into consideration how you feel throughout the cycle alongside the suggested approach.

The Follicular Phase

It's highly likely that you feel the strongest and fittest during the follicular phase. The follicular phase is the first half of your menstrual cycle (day one is the first day of your period), and it goes from day one through to after ovulation (which, for a textbook 28-day cycle, is around day 14).
"The follicular phase is dominated by oestrogen and when our female sex hormone progesterone is at its lowest. Estrogen is anabolic, meaning it helps to build lean muscle and provides the body with the ability to store glycogen easier," explains Lydia.
This means you have more accessible energy to burn and your body will recover from your workouts quicker and easier. So it's likely the time of the month you'll feel like smashing all your exercise goals.

How should you exercise during the follicular phase?

During the follicular phase, Lydia recommends challenging yourself (if you're feeling up to it of course). "It's a great time to push the body relatively hard. With the rise in oestrogen during ovulation, we tend to encourage higher-intensity workouts that allow you to push your heart rate high." Think HIIT, AMRAP bodyweight sessions, speed runs and other higher-intensity workouts.
That said though, it's okay to challenge yourself during any phase of your cycle, as long as you're feeling both physically and mentally ready to go.
If you are facing any lingering menstrual symptoms during this phase, maintaining a light activity in these first days is still a great way to help alleviate cramps and improve period-related symptoms, explains Lydia.

The Ovulation Phase

The Ovulation Phase is where the good times kind of just keep rolling. Following the follicular phase, it's usually around days 12-15. Ovulation occurs when oestrogen peaks and an egg is released.
As Lydia explains, during this time, while oestrogen is peaking, we also have a small peak in testosterone. Both of these peaks help the body to build lean muscle and provide the body with the ability to store glycogen easier – similar to the follicular phase.

How should you exercise during the ovulation phase?

During the ovulatory phase, Lydia encourages higher-intensity workouts (HIIT and Tabata workouts). This phase is also beneficial for building strength, so if you're someone who loves lifting weights in the gym, it's a great time to focus on heavy lifting workouts like strength and conditioning.

The Luteal Phase

Out of all the phases, the luteal phase can be one of the trickiest to exercise throughout. This is because the luteal phase is dominated by our female sex hormone progesterone, which can make us feel a lot more run down than other parts of our cycle.
"Progesterone is catabolic, meaning it breaks down muscle vs building it up. Progesterone levels can vary up to six times between those who menstruate, and progesterone levels can impact how severe your premenstrual symptoms (PMS) can be," explains Lydia.
As Progesterone rises throughout this phase and drops off around day 25, this is where a lot of women may suffer fatigue, headaches, cramping and so on.

How should you exercise during the luteal phase?

Given this is the part of the menstrual cycle where most people feel the effects of PSM, it comes as no surprise that you don't feel very motivated to exercise.
Recovery is an important part of any training program, but it's particularly important during the luteal phase, explains Lydia. "As progesterone drops off, our energy levels may drop off too, and to get the most out of our body in the follicular phase, it is important to pull things back slightly in the luteal phase."
This isn’t to say you can’t train but focus more on lower-intensity workouts like pilates, walks and yoga.
As someone who's spent the last few months training for the Nike Melbourne Marathon in alignment with my menstrual cycle, I can confirm it's made such a difference. I've really enjoyed switching up my routine to align with my cycle. My body (and fitness level) have been much more responsive and I feel better at every stage of my cycle.
If you already track your cycle, it could be worth following the above recommendations to see how training with your menstrual cycle makes you feel.

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