The difference between how your body feels during your period versus, say, the week after your period, can be massive in terms of energy levels and mood. I mean, if you’ve ever tried to haul your ass to an intense workout class — of course you signed up weeks ago, and it just so happened to coincide with the first day of your period — then you know what I mean. The four stages of your menstrual cycle can affect your body in so many different ways, including how you exercise, which is why planning workouts for each stage of your period, though it may sound like a bit of a tall order, is actually a great strategy for tuning into and understanding your body’s needs and capabilities.
Tailoring your workouts to each stage of your period might sound like a strange concept, especially if you feel like you’re a bit fuzzy on what those stages even are (don’t worry, I’ll help you brush up). Ellen Barrett, author and fitness trainer with the online movement studio Mindful Movement, tells me that, in her experience, before she even became a trainer, the concept of adjusting your workout to where you were in your menstrual cycle just wasn’t really a thing. But when she started to train women herself, she says her clients would often openly talk about where they were in their cycle, because of how it would affect their bodies. Pretty soon, Barrett realized there was a real need to consider how these two things affect each other.
"It actually optimizes athletic performance to listen to your body and track the cycle," Barrett tells Elite Daily, "and helps to relieve symptoms like cramps and mood swings."
If you’re curious, why not give it a shot yourself? Here are some of Barrett’s recommendations for adjusting your workout schedule to your period.
Stage one: menstruation (Days 1-7)
The first stage of the 28-day menstrual cycle, as per Better Health Channel is — drumroll — your period! Simple enough, right?
As far as Barrett is concerned, on the first day of your period, at least, there’s no need to push yourself to work out. "Relax! Stay warm, and don’t beat yourself up about it," she says, adding that it’s really important to allow your body the time to just be. In her experience, she tells me, the more that women allow themselves to rest when they need to rest, the better their cycles tend to be overall.
By the second day of your flow, you might still be feeling funky, but if you’re really itching to move, Barrett suggests doing something super gentle, like taking a short walk outside or moving through a low-key yoga routine. By the end of the week, she says, you might be ready to do something like a light jog. But again, it’s all about nurturing movement and listening to your own body.
Barrett also points out that, during your period, your body’s already hard at work to regulate your cycle, "and your immune system is vulnerable as a result, so if you really push it, things can get out of whack." In other words, rest when you need to rest, my friend.
Stages two and three: The Follicular Phase and Ovulation (Days 8-21)
Technically, according to Better Health Channel, the second stage of your menstrual cycle, called the follicular phase, "starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation," so you’re basically experiencing this stage around the week or two after your period. It’s called the follicular phase because, during this time, your body releases something called follicle stimulating hormone, which "stimulates the ovary to produce around five to 20 follicles (tiny nodules or cysts)," wherein each follicle contains an immature egg, as per Better Health Channel. According to the online resource, the growth of these follicles is what causes the lining of your uterus to thicken in preparation for a potential pregnancy — or, you know, for your body to shed the entire lining during your period. Ovulation, the Better Health Channel explains, is when the ovary releases a mature egg, about two weeks or so before your period starts up again.
In general, says Barrett, you tend to have a lot more energy during the follicular phase of your period, as well as during ovulation, so this is typically the best time to really go for it in your workout routine. "During the week after your period, go for a hike, take HIIT classes, push yourself," she says. "That’s true of your ovulation, too. You have energy to really go for it."
Your metabolism usually starts to get stronger during this time, too, Barrett adds, which means you’re probably hungrier, so make sure your recovering from your workouts with lots of nutritious foods after that HIIT class.
Stage four: Luteal phase (Days 22-28)
The luteal phase is when all those lovely PMS symptoms begin to hit — cramps, nausea, mood swings, all that good (not) stuff. In terms of what’s happening in your body at this time, the Better Health Channel explains that this is basically when your uterus is more or less waiting for a fertilized egg to implant itself, and your body produces certain hormones to keep the lining of the uterus intact — until, of course, the body realizes there is no fertilized egg, and then it sheds the uterine lining, and voila, you’ve got a period, and the whole cycle begins again.
During the luteal phase, when PMS is at its peak, even if you feel like total crap, Barrett says breaking a sweat is still important because it can help with uncomfortable symptoms like bloating. She recommends trying some low-impact cardio during this part of your cycle, like cycling or Zumba, for about 45 minutes at a time.
Overall, Barrett says a good way to approach this workout strategy is to think of exercise like a form of medicine for your body. The more you nurture your cycle all month long, she explains, the less intense your symptoms might turn out to be.
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