As women, our hormones are constantly changing and fluctuating. Some hormonal changes are due to environmental changes, and some are just hereditary and a part of our natural development. The question of how to adjust your training to align with your menstrual cycle has been contemplated with recent fitness trends, and the outcome is that we can and should be keeping our cycles in mind when aiming to optimise our workouts.
You may have noticed that at different times of the month, you feel energised for your workouts, but as little as a day later you may experience fatigue and mental strain when trying to complete your workouts. The patterns of how we feel throughout the month can be tracked with our ovulation cycle. Assessing at what point of your cycle you are is the easiest way to navigate how you feel and to train accordingly to ensure you feel your best.
Understanding the basics
First things first, you should have some basic knowledge of what cycles and processes happen to women’s bodies through their times of the month. These stages are compiled into four stages, the menstrual stage, the follicular stage, ovulation, and the luteal stage. At each stage of the cycle, there will be drops and rises of different hormones which we will discuss further when we zoom into each phase.
Track your cycle first
Before you try to follow someone else’s cycle tracking, you need to track your own. It is normal for women to have different lengths of time for their phases. Your menstruation cycle may extend to 31 days contrary to the stated average of 28 days, and that is okay. Track your period from the first day of menstruation to calculate what an average month would look like for you.
Take note of how you feel
On the back of this, note down how you feel and on which day you feel this way. If you are experiencing sudden breakouts of acne, write that down. If you can lift your heaviest in the gym or work your hardest, note it down. Keep a record of what your body is telling you, and this will give you an idea as to which stages are optimal for training and which times should be taken easier.
How to adapt your training
Once you have a better understanding of what your body experiences, take a look at our rough guide as to what happens within each stage. As mentioned before, we all experience shorter or longer periods for each phase so tailor them for you. The length of a menstrual cycle can vary, but on average, it lasts around 28 days.
This is the first stage of the menstrual cycle and typically lasts up to 3 to 7 days. It begins with the shedding of the uterine lining, resulting in menstrual bleeding. Your hormone levels are also lowest during this time, but you may still feel more energised than you felt in the lead-up to starting menstruation. Additionally, your immune system can be weaker during this time as your white blood cell count reduces, so take some time to care for your immune system.
This phase can be the hardest to manage your menstrual flow, cramps, and high levels of bloating. All of these things combined can put a spanner on your training routine but do not feel discouraged if you are not ready for optimal training. Take this time to do lighter workout sessions, including yoga and other exercises that focus on balance, strength, and flexibility rather than energetic, heavy compound movements. Drink lots of water, and aim to digest inflammatory foods such as salmon, nuts, and berries.
The follicular phase starts on the first day after menstrual bleeding stops and lasts until ovulation, usually around 7 to 10 days. During this phase, the pituitary gland releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the development of follicles in the ovaries. As the follicles mature, one dominant follicle is selected.
Your hormone levels are starting to rise within this stage, which can lead to higher energy and alertness. This means oestrogen and testosterone will be rising, therefore this is a good time to engage in high-intensity exercise and high-weighted strength sessions. Make sure that you have a sufficient warm-up before each session during this stage, as your body will need to build up its stamina again. Avoiding injury is essential during this time, and you can encourage your recovery by eating high levels of protein and reducing your sugar intake.
Ovulation generally occurs around the middle of the menstrual cycle, typically around day 14 in a 28-day cycle. The dominant follicle ruptures, releasing a mature egg into the fallopian tube, where it is available for fertilisation.
The ovulation phase is a great time to make use of your increasing willingness to work hard and show off. Energy for your workouts will be at an all-time high, so put your endurance and strength to the test by stepping outside of your comfort zone. Test out new workouts and set new records for your existing achievements. You should keep in mind that the body’s natural temperature is a lot higher during this stage, so make sure you stay hydrated.
The luteal phase follows ovulation and typically happens from day 22 to 28. After the egg is released, the ruptured follicle transforms into a structure called the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone. Progesterone prepares the uterus for the possible implantation of a fertilised egg. If fertilisation does not occur, hormone levels decline, leading to the shedding of the uterine lining in the next menstrual phase. During this stage, you will likely experience PMS (pre-menstrual stress), bloating, breast tenderness, and also fatigue.
It is normal to have abnormal mood swings during this stage, and perhaps not feel like training. Your cravings will also increase. When cravings increase and you opt for high-sugar and carb snacks, this can disrupt your training cycle. Opt for foods that are high in fiber and protein instead. Even though you might feel unmotivated, you can still hit your PBs within this stage. Do not push yourself too hard, listen to what your body is telling you and go with what feels most comfortable.
Everyone has a unique menstrual cycle that is tailored to them. How you choose to train throughout your cycles is entirely up to you, but hopefully having a base understanding of what happens during each stage will give you a better understanding of what your body is experiencing. In the early stages, take things easy. Focus on light workouts that do not put too much strain on your body. During the follicular phase, begin to build back your more intense workouts whilst promoting rest and recovery, and then during the ovulation phase put on your favourite womens gymwear and aim to work your hardest.