It’s Monday evening, your usual time to go to the gym. However, today you have your period and all the symptoms that come along with it — headache, cramps, and fatigue. In what feels like a choose your own adventure, you contemplate the following choices:
A) Nothing will stop me, I’m going to my normal workout, no excuses!!
B) Perhaps some light yoga? Moving is always a good thing.
C) Or, do I stay at home on the couch with my favorite Netflix show?
We’ve all been there. Or if you haven’t, perhaps you train with someone who has.
There’s actually a way to make this less of a guessing game. Your body is signaling to you exactly which decision to make. It’s called cycle syncing.
Through cycle syncing, you can learn to optimize your workout plan and have a great relationship with the ebbs and flows of your energy levels.
For those that are thinking, well my cycle is irregular or missing all together! Today we are also going to learn about how the relationship between exercise and cycle syncing can provide a natural way to help regulate your cycle.
Benefits of Exercise
To begin, if you are missing your period or experience irregular cycles, exercise has amazing benefits. A lot of issues related to irregular cycles lies in hormones and stress. The right amount of exercise helps manage stress and anxiety throughout your cycle. We’ll touch on what the right amount means further in this article.
If you’re someone who suffers from PMS symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, cramps, poor sleep quality, and low energy, exercise can help relieve these symptoms.
Once you become familiar with your cycle, cycle syncing is a way to train with your menstrual cycle and optimize your workouts so that you can take advantage of the changes your body experiences regularly.
Too much of a Good Thing
For those with missing periods or irregular cycles, too much of a good thing without proper recovery may be the root of the issue. Frequent intensive exercise, very low body fat, and improper nutritional recovery can cause your body to go into “starvation mode.” This can cause a shutdown of systems that aren’t essential for survival — like your reproductive system.
When your body is in this “fight or flight” mode, you may stop ovulating and therefore stop having periods. If you’ve missed three periods in a row, you may have a condition known as “amenorrhea” (the “absence of periods”).
No period? Sounds easier! Well, not so much. Amenorrhea comes with low estrogen levels, contributing to brittle bones (aka Osteoporosis).
More commonly, many women experience irregular cycles. If your body feels chronically stressed from overexercising without proper recovery, it triggers a release of stress hormones. These interfere with your body’s ability to release the hormones necessary for a normal menstrual cycle.
Developing an awareness of where you may be stretching yourself too far, where you are in your cycle, and when your energy levels fluctuate, all reveal a treasure map to your body. Let’s dive in deeper to develop that awareness by learning more about each cycle.
Cycle Syncing — The Cycles
1st Cycle — Bleeding
During the 1st cycle, the hormone progesterone dips, causing your uterine lining to shed. This is your period!
Typically this cycle, aka the period lasts 3–7 days. During menstruation energy levels are at their lowest. You might feel tired and more drawn inwards and experience poorer motor control, all leading to an increased chance of injury. Now’s the time to take a rest or recovery day, roll out a mat for some yin yoga, go for a leisurely walk, swim, or bike ride. Take this opportunity to do anything that helps you relax. It’s a great time to do some reflection and self-care.
If you have a big performance day such as a race or competition, having your period will not necessarily negatively impact your fitness performance. Many women make world records and win Olympic medals on their periods. While it may not impact your isolated performance in a single race, it’s important that you listen to your body’s messages and energy levels to optimize regular recovery.
2nd Cycle — Follicular Phase
During the 2nd Cycle, your pituitary gland releases a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), stimulating the follicles in your ovaries to mature. During this phase, Estrogen and Testosterone start to rise. You’ll feel a boost of energy, mood, brain function, and libido. Your body is more insulin sensitive due to the increase in Estrogen, so carbohydrates will be used more efficiently by the body. It’s prime time for sprints, strength training, and interval workouts. As your mood and energy levels rise and your libido brings out your extroversion and readiness to try new things, it’s a time to try out a class you’ve been keeping your eye on.
3rd Cycle — Ovulatory
It’s time for the egg to release from its follicle. Your egg survives for 12–24 hours. This is the time at which your estrogen, testosterone, and libido are at their highest levels all cycle. That means buzzing confidence and peak energy levels. This short cycle is your optimal time for maximum effort and power-centered workouts. It’s the perfect time to go for your PR (personal record).
4th Cycle — Luteal
The amazing benefits of the Ovulatory cycle aren’t over yet. The first 2–3 days of this cycle will continue those peak energy levels. But when your body starts to produce progesterone (an anti-anxiety hormone) and your estrogen and testosterone decline, your energy levels will start to chill down. This is when PMS symptoms kick in such bloating, headaches, anxiety and moodiness.
Your body becomes more insulin resistant as progesterone increases, which leads to more inefficient use of carbohydrates. In this case, since your body cannot access those glucose stores as easily, a steady-state exercise is most beneficial to your performance. This includes steady-state bike rides, trail runs, and moderate circuit style training.
All Cycle Considerations
Regardless of your current cycle, if you are experiencing issues around irregularity or missing periods, there a few things you should add to your workout plan:
- Rest & Recovery. Adequate nutrition, hydration, and sleep are just as important as your workout plan. Rest and recovery are essential for your body to repair and regenerate. Don’t believe me? “Recovery never stops ” according to Mike Mancias (super elite trainer for Lebron James, one of the most accomplished NBA players of all time). This is something you want in your wheelhouse at any level of your fitness journey.
2. Incorporate lower intensity days into your training plan. If your energy levels are low due to PMS or menstruation, please consider that your body is letting you know that it needs a few day hiatus from high-intensity workouts. Incorporating lower intensity days helps immensely with stress and cortisol levels, that directly interfere with your body’s ability to hormonally regulate for a healthy cycle.
3. Relax. I don’t just mean sit in front of the TV and watch re-runs of Friends (although I don’t judge you if you partake in that once in a while!), but actually training the mind alongside your body to relax and tune in. Our body has so many subtle ways of telling us what it needs if we can quiet our mind long enough to listen.