Not sure if working out while having your period is good for you? We get it. When you have really bad menstrual cramps and feeling low on energy, cosying up on the sofa trumps hitting the gym.
But what if we told you that working out during your period can relieve some of the period symptoms you’re struggling with and is also beneficial for overall health.
Exercising during your period can combat mood swings and help with PMS, and it might also be the solution to a menstrual block and help to regulate irregular periods naturally.
Find out how you can best reap the benefits of doing exercise during your period in this blog post. (Spoiler: once you see how working out during your period increases your well-being, you’ll be wondering how you survived your periods before.)
- Are there any health risks of exercising on your period?
- 1) Boost your mood and combat PMS
- 2) Enhance blood circulation and ease menstrual cramps
- 3) Exercising beats fatigue and headaches
- 4) Regulate irregular periods naturally
- What exercise is best during your period?
- Is there any exercise you should avoid during menstruation?
- Exercise during your period: 2 extra tips for a pleasant experience
- Can You Exercise on Your Period?
- Here’s why your workouts suck right around your period, according to experts
- But if you’re noticing some days where you’re feeling uncoordinated, unmotivated, and flat out exhausted, where you are in your monthly cycle might be to blame.
- When you’re at the very end of your cycle, and your period is approaching, you’ll feel that tiredness in spades.
- As for when you will feel the strongest, both doctors agree that mid-cycle is your exercise sweet spot.
- But if you’re struggling to get through that spin class or eke out those last few reps in the weight room, you’re probably in that last phase of your cycle, meaning your period is on its way.
- These hormonal changes can “lead to fatigue, emotional swings, bloating, and increased muscle aches,” which “make recovery more difficult in addition to the lack of energy or motivation to exercise,” said Dr. DeLucia.
- The most important lesson, as all three experts advise, is to simply listen to your body.
- In fact, during your period is when you’re at the highest risk for injury, so you’ll want to be extra careful when you’re getting your fitness on during this time.
- When You Have Your Period (Days 1–7)
- The Week After Your Period (Days 8–14)
- The Third Week of Your Cycle (Days 15–21)
- The Week Before Your Period (Days 22–28)
- 5 Things to Know About Exercising During Your Period
- 6 Things to Know About Working Out On Your Period
- Here’s How Your Period May Affect Your Workouts
- Four Phases of the Female Menstrual Cycle
- Exercise can help beat fatigue and improve mood.
- Your workout performance may vary during this time.
- Which workouts are best?
- Do you burn more calories on your period?
- If we don’t burn more calories, why do we feel hungrier?
- How to optimise your exercise for your menstrual cycle
- Tips for dealing with period hunger
- Week One – Days 1 to 7 – Raring to go
- What exercises to do:
- Week Two – Days 7 to 14 – Hitting peak performance
- Week three – Days 14 to 21 – Down to earth with a bump
- Week Four- Days 23 to 28 – Your period’s arrived
Are there any health risks of exercising on your period?
No study has ever found negative effects or health risks from working out during your period. In fact, a study done at the Umeå University, Sweden, has shown that training the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle (each cycle starts with the first day of your period) actually optimizes your results: “Training during the first two weeks of the cycle is more beneficial to optimize resistance training, than the last two weeks.”
Now that that doubt is off the table, let’s take a closer look at the four biggest benefits of exercising during your period:
1) Boost your mood and combat PMS
Not everyone experiences PMS or mood swings the days before their period starts. Some of us with a uterus might not even feel any mood changes, whereas others might have an inexplicable feeling of being down the days before or during the first days of their period.
No matter if you have extreme PMS or not, get your body moving and some endorphins flowing. The endorphins released during and after a workout trigger a positive feeling in the body, “similar to that of morphine”.
Studies have investigated the link between mental health and the positive benefits of physical activity and have found that exercising decreases levels of depression and boosts the mood. So why not apply that to the battle plan against the pre-period blues?
2) Enhance blood circulation and ease menstrual cramps
The endorphins released during workouts reduce the perception of pain and moving your body gets your blood circulation going which helps reduce menstrual cramps.
Exercising is also known for reducing your levels of stress and anxiety, which can then decrease the severity of your menstrual cramps. It’s all connected.
3) Exercising beats fatigue and headaches
When you feel particularly low on energy, that’s when you should definitely go to the gym, a yoga class or take a walk in the park. Sounds like a contradiction, but it works.
The first 10 minutes will be hard, but once you get moving it will increase blood circulation and activate your heart muscles. This will result in higher energy levels and help you beat the tiredness.
Especially during the first days of your period, your body needs more rest and sleep. So make sure that you combine exercising with enough time for your body to rest.
4) Regulate irregular periods naturally
If you have irregular periods or your period is overdue, physical activity can help your menstrual cycle get back on track. Being active the days before you expect your period to come and pairing it with a healthy diet, will support your period to be regular. There are some fruits and herbs that act as emmenagogues and can help kickstart a late or irregular period. Try to eat some pineapples, papaya and parsley.
What exercise is best during your period?
It doesn’t have to be a hardcore cardio workout to experience the benefits of working out during your period. A simple walk in the park while listening to a podcast or doing a couple of jumping jacks in your living room are also fine.
The key to get exercise when you least feel like it is to do something you actually enjoy. If you’ve got particularly strong menstrual cramps or are feeling down, it’s not very likely you’ll have the mental and physical strength to push yourself through a 15k run. Try some yin yoga instead. Be realistic with yourself and listen to your body. You’ll know if you feel like running a couple of miles or much rather need some menstrual cramp-relieving yoga stretches.
Be realistic with yourself and listen to your body. You’ll know if you feel like running a couple of miles or much rather need some menstrual cramp-relieving yoga stretches.
Here are 3 types of exercises you can choose from that are recommended to do during your period:
Light cardio workout
Do anything from taking a walk to a relaxed jog around the park. Choose one of your favourite exercises.
And hey, let’s not forget that sex is also physical activity and can do wonders in releasing menstrual cramps.
Easy exercises you can do at home
You might not feel like going to the gym during your period, but don’t let that stop you from exercising. Youtube is full of easy 10-minute workout videos that will energize you, release tension and you can do them in the comfort of your living room. Even just a short workout will boost your mood and leave you feeling proud and happy that you managed to complete a workout session.
Yin yoga, also known as restorative yoga comes is a popular yoga style on a heavy-flow and bad-cramp day. There are many yoga poses to release tension from the abdomen.
Is there any exercise you should avoid during menstruation?
There are no negative consequences when working out during your period.
But there is a constant debate going on about inverted yoga poses and menstruation. The party arguing against inverted yoga poses during your period believe that standing on your head may engorge your blood vessels in your uterus, which can lead to more period flow and more cramps.
Recent studies have shown that there is no grounds to back up any theories of negative effects. Listen to your body and go with the flow (pun intended).
Moreover, some yoga teachers will treat you like a queen if you mention you’re on your period and if you’re lucky, they’ll bring you an extra warm blanket during the last savasana.
Exercise during your period: 2 extra tips for a pleasant experience
1. Use a menstrual product that makes you feel comfortable
Have you ever thought about the fact that it might be the period product you’re using that’s stopping you from doing what you want to do during your period?
Let’s look at exercising with a pad, for instance. There’s the rash you’re very likely to get from the chafing of the pad wings against your inner thighs or the unpleasant smell from a full pad mixed with sweat. Heck, now that doesn’t make exercising on your period any easier, does it?
Maybe you’re also afraid of a leaking (sweating + heavy periods is almost a guarantee for stains) because the pad or tampon is not enough to get you through an hour of workouts in the gym. That’s why menstrual cups are so great! There’s no smell as the period blood is collected inside the body and doesn’t come into contact with oxygen. Plus, the period cup will stay in place (as opposed to doing squats with tampons…) and holds 4-5x the capacity of a regular tampon.
Some menstrual cup users are so comfortable with their cup in, they say they even forget they’re wearing one. Imagine you’d be able to completely forget about your period because you trust your menstrual product so much. Your active lifestyle wouldn’t have to stop just because of your period.
2. Work with your menstrual cycle
You can’t go full power every day of the month. Your menstrual cycle simply won’t let you. But that doesn’t mean that you’re missing out or have to suffer from it. Much rather use the different phases for different activities.
For instance, go full power and try new workout routines around ovulation and remember to go slow the days before and during your period.
To best adjust your exercise to your menstrual cycle, start tracking your period.
If you feel like working out during your period there is nothing that should stop you. Use physical activity to combat period problems such as PMS, menstrual cramps or tiredness.
You don’t need to go for a hardcore cardio workout, the key is to simply get moving and release some endorphins that will increase your well-being.
Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a medical or health professional. The purpose of this blog is informative and to share an experience – not to give health or medical advice. You should always do your own research when it comes to your health.
Crazy back pain and dramatic breakouts are just a couple of the woes that can plague women during their monthly cycle, and make it feel damn near impossible to get a workout in. But it may be worth putting down the Halo Top and hot water pad and dragging yourself the gym, because new research exercise can actually help with period symptoms.
A team of researchers in England analyzed responses from over 14,000 Strava female athletes, and found that 78% of them reported that exercise “reduced the discomfort of their period.” Almost half of these women (47%, to be exact), felt that “moderate intensity exercise”—which means you’re breathing hard, but still able to hold a conversation—was the most effective for helping with things like stomach cramps, breast pain, mood changes, fatigue and cravings.
And not only can working out during your period help you feel better, but it can actually potentially lead to a PR: According to Meg Takacs, a New York City-based CrossFit and Aaptiv trainer, it’s the (ahem!) period when some women might achieve their most goal-crushing workouts.
“Yeah, periods suck. But your workouts don’t have to,” the trainer captioned a recent Instagram post. Can I get a hallelujah? While your luteal phase (the week before your flow starts) might spell more sluggish sweat sessions, the week when you’re menstruating comes with the ideal hormonal conditions to kick your usual mileage up a notch.” Schedule races, HIIT workouts, and sprint workouts” during this time, recommends the trainer.
The biological reason behind this supercharged time of month is pretty cool, too. “It’s because at this time in the cycle, the female hormonal cycle is resetting and getting ready for the upcoming month,” explains Adeeti Gupta, MD, founder of Walk In GYN Care in New York City. “The estrogen has started to rise at this point and the other hormones are at a stable baseline. The hormonal symphony is a complicated topic, but essentially a woman’s energy and libido is primed during or just after the period.”
Sure, the symptoms associated with your period can create barrier to entry when it comes to sprinting on the treadmill. But Dr. Gupta points to preliminary evidence that suggests breaking a sweat might help to alleviate even the worst cramps.
“Although there are no clear studies to prove this, the theory for why exercise helps —which we know by clinical experience that it does—is two-fold. With exercise, the pelvic muscles get warm and relaxed and this relieves the pain happening from the spasm of the pelvic muscle which may be the culprit for many women with painful periods. It also increases blood flow to the pelvic organs,” she explains.
Tia Guster, MD, an OB/GYN at Piedmont Healthcare, adds that raising your body temperature and releasing endorphins also helps soothe your uterus. “If you have very heavy periods or have other medical conditions that make your periods very painful and heavy, then just take it easy,” advises Dr. Gupta. You know your body best, but should you feel the need for speed, don’t deny yourself your superwoman-esque time of the month.
Here’s even more intel on pounding the pavement during your period. Plus, what to do if (*gasp*) your menstrual cup gets stuck.
Don’t let Aunt Flo derail those workout plans When it comes to exercising during your period, it’s always best to listen to your body. If the cramping and bloating has rendered you bedridden, give the day’s sweat session a miss. But if you feel up to it, here are seven workouts that you can do. Psst, the endorphin boost post-exercise will lift your mood! 1. Walking Photo: B?a?ej ?yjak / www.123rf.com Walking is perfect if you don’t feel like doing anything too hard core. Lace up your favourite sneakers and hit the road for a stroll or a brisk walk around your estate. Even though it’s not an intense workout, you can still clock steps and torch calories by walking. (Also Read: 4 Reasons Why Walking Is Great for Weight Loss) 2. Running Photo: ammentorp / www.123rf.com If you’ve passed the worst of the cycle’s cramps, try upping the intensity of your workouts with a jog. Make sure you stay hydrated, and go slow or take a break if you start to feel light-headed or giddy. 3. Pilates Photo: ANTONIO BALAGUER SOLER / www.123rf.com Pilates moves target specific muscle groups, so you can tailor your workout to suit your need. For example, if you’re suffering from lower back pain during your period, try roll-downs to stretch your spine and back. 4. Yoga Photo: Dean Drobot / www.123rf.com Many yoga poses also help to increase blood flow and circulation, and this can help to prevent clotting. As a precaution, it’s best to avoid inversions as some experts think it could lead to endometriosis. (Also Read: 8 Yoga Poses to Reduce Stress & Anxiety) 5. Swimming Photo: Nils Weymann / www.123rf.com This is probably a foreign concept to many girls, but swimming is actually a good exercise option even while you have your period. The low-impact sport is relaxing, and you won’t bleed out if your flow is light thanks to the counter-pressure of the water. (Also Read: Yes, You CAN Swim During Your Period) 6. Stretching Photo: Pavel Ilyukhin / www.123rf.com If you can’t haul yourself to the gym, why not try doing some simple stretches at home? Focus on lengthening your muscles and taking deep breaths to ease cramps and aches. 7. Dancing Photo: dolgachov / www.123rf.com Sign yourself up for a Zumba or Kpop dance class if you’re up for it. The fun workout will lift your mood, plus you’ll be torching serious calories at the same time!
Can You Exercise on Your Period?
The physical and mental benefits of exercise don’t stop just because you have your period. In fact, sticking with a routine can actually help ease some of the common complaints that accompany menstruation.
According to Dr. Christopher Holligsworth, the period is a complex time from a hormonal standpoint. “Both progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest during the entire length of the period phase of the menstrual cycle, which can make people feel tired and less energetic,” he explained.
With that said, avoiding exercise isn’t going to save energy or make you feel better. Instead of ceasing all activity during your period, use this week as an opportunity to try some new workouts. Here are five benefits of exercising during your period.
Decrease PMS symptoms
If you experience fatigue and mood swings in the days leading up to your period and during your cycle, regular aerobic exercise may lessen these symptoms.
Tap into your endorphins
Because exercise gives you a natural endorphin high, it can elevate your mood and actually make you feel better. Brandon Marcello, PhD, believes one of the main benefits of exercise while on your period is the endorphin release and workout “high.” He also said that since endorphins are a natural painkiller, when they release during exercise, you may feel relief from uncomfortable periods.
Experience more strength and power
One study found that the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle (day one being the first day of your period) may allow you to experience greater gains in strength and power due to low levels of female hormones.
Enhance your mood
Strength and conditioning coach and founder and CEO of BIRTHFIT, Dr. Lindsey Mathews, said exercising at this time will enhance your mood and increase circulation. Exercise also tends to alleviate cramps, headache, or back pain associated with your period.
Combat painful periods
If you experience painful periods, also called dysmenorrhea, you know all too well how uncomfortable this time of the month can be. The good news is that exercises such as light walking may help you decrease these symptoms.
Here’s why your workouts suck right around your period, according to experts
- When you’ve got your period, you probably want to spend your days curled up on the couch with your favorite feel-good snacks and movies until the pain goes away.
- But working out throughout the month can actually help ease symptoms, if you tackle your workouts the right way.
- INSIDER spoke with two gynecologists and a certified fitness trainer to find out how your workouts are impacted by your menstrual cycle, and how you can crush it in the gym all month long.
If you’ve ever found yourself slogging through your workout when you normally crush it in the gym, you might wonder what the heck is going on with your body. Maybe you’re feeling super fatigued or can’t churn out the same amount of reps you tackled with ease just a few days ago.
There’s a good chance your dip in performance has nothing to do with your exercise habits and everything to do with your period. It turns out that the body’s hormonal fluctuations throughout your menstrual cycle do more than just gift you with monthly cramps, bleeding, and a varying assortment of fun physical and emotional ailments.
It all depends on your cycle.
INSIDER spoke with two gynecologists and a certified fitness trainer who gave us the scoop on how exercising during your period can affect your performance, and why your workout will sometimes feel extra tough depending on where you are during your cycle.
For people that have periods, they generally fall under a 28-day cycle, with some wiggle room, because some people’s cycles can range from 23 to 35 days. But generally speaking, the first day of your period begins your menstrual cycle, with the next 28 days until you begin your next period counting as a complete cycle.
As each day passes, your body goes through four stages, with the first stage being your period. Many times throughout your cycle, your body is just doing its thing, and you’re going about your life as you normally do.
But if you’re noticing some days where you’re feeling uncoordinated, unmotivated, and flat out exhausted, where you are in your monthly cycle might be to blame.
It’s different for everybody. Daniel_Dash/
New York-based OBGYN and RealSelf Contributor Dr. Carolyn DeLucia shared how hormones are at play in our cycles, explaining that “we have two major hormones involved in our menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone. These hormones fluctuate throughout the month.”
She added, “The first half of the month is estrogen dominant and the second half is progesterone dominant, and the effects of these hormones can influence our energy levels.”
It’s not just the reproductive hormones that can affect energy levels, with Dr. DeLucia adding “Also, serotonin, the hormone is involved. Once we ovulate , serotonin takes a nosedive. When we are progesterone high and serotonin low, we will feel less energetic, more emotionally labile, and lack of desire to work out as much.”
When you’re at the very end of your cycle, and your period is approaching, you’ll feel that tiredness in spades.
It’s not all bad news. 20th Television
As gynecologist Dr. Prudence Hall, founder and medical director of The Hall Center told INSIDER, “Before cycle, can be more tired and have less energy for their workouts, due to the progesterone created from ovulation.”
Still, these fluctuations aren’t all bad, with Dr. Hall telling INSIDER, “On the upside, mid-cycle , we have very high estrogen levels, which can promote muscle-building. Also, progesterone can increase flexibility of the muscles,” which is a good thing no matter what your workout of choice is, from cardio to strength training and everything in between.
As for when you will feel the strongest, both doctors agree that mid-cycle is your exercise sweet spot.
There’s a prime time for workouts during your period.
“The most energetic time is mid-cycle when we are just about to ovulate,” Dr. DeLucia explained.“The week or so leading up to ovulation with estrogen surging will be our most energetic,” with a bonus surge in our libido, as she notes that’s when we’re generally “most interested in sex.”
But if you’re struggling to get through that spin class or eke out those last few reps in the weight room, you’re probably in that last phase of your cycle, meaning your period is on its way.
Dr. DeLucia pointed out, “The week or so before our period or right when it starts will be the time we are less interested in just about anything,” adding, “The onset of our period occurs from an abrupt drop in both estrogen and progesterone, causing physiological changes in our uterus that leads to the shedding of our lining — our menstrual flow. That time when we have the drastic drop in our hormones will be the lowest point in our energy levels.”
“Thankfully most of us don’t feel too much of a slump for longer than a day or two,” she said, noting that “for some people this can last a week.”
Other things that can happen in the days leading up to your period include a rise in core body temperature by about 1 degree Fahrenheit, leaving you extra sweaty. Your sleep can also be disturbed, and muscles may feel extra achy, with recovery after your workout taking even longer than usual.
These hormonal changes can “lead to fatigue, emotional swings, bloating, and increased muscle aches,” which “make recovery more difficult in addition to the lack of energy or motivation to exercise,” said Dr. DeLucia.
Light workouts are still a good idea. Africa Studio/
And once you get your period, you’ll definitely feel these effects, with Dr. Hall noting, “During the menstrual cycle, we feel the most run down, because the progesterone is high and estrogen is low.”
Though this ickiness can last throughout your period, both doctors recommend sticking to light workouts if at all possible. As Dr. Hall told INSIDER, “I think that we need recovery days, so it’s fine to modify your exercise to restorative yoga or gentle weight lifting. When we are exhausted, we don’t want to do a full on exercise.”
If you’ve got the energy to go full-impact with high intensity interval training, rigorous cardio, or otherwise, feel free to go for it. But if you need to rest, that’s perfectly OK too.
People who have their periods “should always listen to their bodies,” said Dr. DeLucia. “If they are feeling sluggish then they should take it easy. A mild workout may still get endorphins going and sweat out some emotional tension, but never over push yourself at this time. Our bodies always signal what they can handle,” and it’s perfectly fine if what your body needs is a light stroll or, well, an evening spent under the blankets with Netflix and your heating pad.
Gentle stretching is always an option…but some yoga moves might not be great. Daisy Daisy/
“It totally depends on each person and their related pain when it comes to menses or their period cycle,” says Jenay Rose, a Los Angeles-based certified yoga trainer and wellness coach. She emphasized that while some people feel totally fine until their period begins, others “may have horrible cramping a couple of days before they even start. This is why it’s crucial to get in touch with what you feel is right for your body during that time, and let your own internal knowledge and body awareness guide you.”
Rose recommended gentle stretching, especially during those first days of your cycle when you’re likely feeling the worst. From day two, Rose recommended “more dynamic stretching to release hamstrings, low back, and outer hips,” which is where she feels the most pain during her period.
One thing to avoid? Inverted yoga positions, including handstands, shoulder stands, or legs on the wall, which can encourage blood flow to the opposite direction of where it’s supposed to go.
The good news is, regular exercise can actually alleviate your worst period symptoms. Dr. Hall told us, “Exercise is extremely beneficial to decrease menstrual cramps it increases blood flow,” moving the blood from where you’re feeling pain.
The most important lesson, as all three experts advise, is to simply listen to your body.
Everyone’s body is different…listen to yours. Marcos Mesa and Sam Wordley/
As Rose says, “Your body has this incredible level of intelligence, that, coupled with your internal guide or intuition, will keep you safe as long as you can listen and follow your body’s cues.”
“If you have a known hormone imbalance, intense exercise can actually exacerbate the problem in the short term,” she added. “Rest and sleep become more important, at least during the balancing phase, so focus on relaxing exercises like swimming, stretching, and light yoga, and avoid running, cardio,” or other intense exercises.
In fact, during your period is when you’re at the highest risk for injury, so you’ll want to be extra careful when you’re getting your fitness on during this time.
“Of course, we all feel our worst during the start of our period often times through the midpoint of our period,” says Rose. “Injury during our period is linked to fluctuating hormone levels that affect our muscles and ligaments. During menstruation, women are at higher risk of an injury as are tissues are more vulnerable, specifically through the midway point of our cycle, but it can differ for women based on the length and intensity of their periods.”
Getting enough sleep is also crucial, according to Rose. “If you do not get enough sleep (at least seven hours, depending on other factors), your hormones most likely won’t be balanced. So give your body the time it needs to heal itself.”
The pill might change this pattern up. Image Point Fr/
And if you’re on the pill, you might be impacted differently, thanks to the synthetic hormones in oral contraceptives. As Dr. DeLucia noted, oral contraceptives “put women in a pseudo pregnancy state with mostly constant levels of synthetic estrogen and progesterone.” She added, “If you are experiencing fatigue and bloating on the pill, you may opt for non-hormonal methods of birth control such as condoms, diaphragms, or low-dose IUDs.”
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While pro athletes rarely complain aloud about competing on their periods — Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui really broke the seal when she spoke about being on her period during the 2016 Games — hormone fluctuations throughout your cycle really can affect your fitness. Your energy levels, strength, stamina, likelihood of injury, and how your body responds to exercise can change during your period, all of which can really suck for anyone working toward a fitness goal or simply trying to stay healthy.
While existing research on the topic has been critiqued as “woefully inadequate,” any woman who’s ever tried to break a sweat on day one of her period will tell you that hormones can strike out your best efforts to exercise. That said, everyone responds differently to their hormonal changes — you can’t stop living because of them. If you want to max out on the benefits of exercise, listen to your body and sync your workouts to your cycle. You may just end up feeling better.
When You Have Your Period (Days 1–7)
Getty Images / Krystalina Tom
Your cycle begins on the first day of your period. Because your body kicks things off with cramping and bleeding, the first few days can be the hardest time to train.
There’s no science-backed reason to skip a workout when you have your period, says gynecologist Lauren Streicher, an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University and author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever. Physically, “you can do the same thing you do every other day,” she says — “unless you don’t feel like working out.” Which is a perfectly good excuse, especially because cramps and midnight tampon changes can mess with your sleep and make you extra tired.
If you feel perfectly fine, proceed with your scheduled workout. But if you’re particularly uncomfortable, you might want to skip your cardio dance class or long-distance run. Research suggests your lungs work better later on in your cycle, when you have more stamina for endurance exercise.
Still, there’s no reason to put your feet up until your period passes. (Take a weeklong break every month, and it’ll take you that much longer to reach your fitness goals.) Push yourself to do some low-key yoga or a light-cardio workout, like walking or an easy bike ride. Surprisingly, swimming is another good option: Very little water gets into the vagina when you swim without a tampon, and the same goes for swimming with one, Dr. Streicher says.
If you’re working out on your own, include some exercises that entail lying facedown, which can alleviate cramping and give you a gentle lower belly massage. (A disposable heating pad can also help — just apply it before you hit the gym.)
Another smart move: Drink a little extra water. Women with heavy periods lose extra fluids, which can make you feel light-headed when you stand up quickly, like during a yoga vinyasa. So take your time.
The Week After Your Period (Days 8–14)
Getty Images / Krystalina Tom
When your period lets up, your testosterone and estrogen levels begin to rise. Because testosterone can help you sculpt lean muscle mass and estrogen builds connective tissues that bind your muscles to your bones, this is the ideal time for you to tone up, according to Dr. Robert Kominiarek, an Ohio-based physician who specializes in hormone optimization.
Because oral contraceptives can interfere with testosterone, the effects might not be as pronounced if you’re on the pill. But for everyone else: Science confirms that women gain more strength and muscle from strength-training during the first half of their cycle than the second half, so this is your chance to shine.
To that end, if there’s ever a time to treat yo’self to a fancy boutique fitness class, now’s the time. Unlike the week of your period, when you’re tired and less likely to perform at your peak, you’ll really reap the benefits of that $30-plus class fee. Try a hardcore workout like indoor cycling, high-intensity interval training, or boot camp. Rowing? CrossFit? Cardio kickbox? Anything is fair game.
The Third Week of Your Cycle (Days 15–21)
Getty Images / Krystalina Tom
After day 14, estrogen levels tank — and the same goes for your energy. This can make any workout feel even more strenuous, and could make you extra susceptible to ligament and tendon tears and other injuries, Dr. Kominiarek says. While there’s conflicting research on whether your cycle can significantly increase your injury risk, it’s smart to play it safe with supervised floor-based workouts like barre or Pilates instead of high-risk, high-impact sports like skiing or a first go at CrossFit.
If you typically hit up fitness classes, slow things down with a self-paced solo workout. Because stamina is on your side this week, slow-and-steady cardio, like a long run or elliptical session, is also ideal. Or you can always play it safe with a couple rest days. (You’re welcome.)
The Week Before Your Period (Days 22–28)
Getty Images / Krystalina Tom
Your body is revving up for your period with a surge in progesterone and, for some, crazy cramps, along with moodiness, tender breasts, and fluid retention, all which make you feel markedly un-hot — even in your most flattering yoga pants. It can also boost your body temperature up to 1 degree, Dr. Kominiarek says — which isn’t enough to affect your performance but could help you break a sweat more quickly.
The best thing you can do is push through it — all the way to the gym. Because exercise gives you a natural endorphin high, it can elevate your mood and actually make you feel better. Another bonus: While PMS might make you feel bloaty, sweating can help you get rid of extra fluids.
Go for generally lighter exercises such as yoga, but take a more hardcore class like vinyasa or power yoga, which will get your heart rate up. And if you have the energy? An indoor cycling class can help you break a serious sweat. (If you get tired, you can always default to a time-tested excuse — PMS! — and plop down in the saddle.)
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Elizabeth Narins Senior fitness and health editor Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan.com, where she wrote about fitness, health, and more.
5 Things to Know About Exercising During Your Period
If you tend to ditch the gym during that time of the month, here’s something to think about: A woman named Kiran Gandhi recently made news for running the London Marathon during her period—without a tampon. She did it to raise awareness for women who lack access to feminine care products, and crossed the finish line with blood-soaked tights. So if she could run 26.2 miles bleeding freely, then the rest of us can probably handle a 45-minute Spin class, right? Yes, absolutely—in fact, multiple studies show menstruating women feel better when they get moving.
Here, everything you need to know about exercising on your period (your call whether you want to raise awareness about it).
RELATED: 10 Things That Mess With Your Period
It may seem like the last thing you want to do when you have your period, but working out can help relieve the symptoms that make getting your period so annoying in the first place.”The more active you are and more regular you are with your activity, the better your periods end up being—less cramping, less heavy flow,” explains Stacy Sims, PhD, an exercise physiologist for USA Cycling Women’s Track Endurance Program and co-founder of Osmo Nutrition.
Case in point: when you sweat, water leaves the body, which can relieve uncomfortable belly bloat. Exercise also releases mood-boosting endorphins, which anecdotal evidence suggests might at least take your mind off discomfort or pain. And, a recent study revealed a correlation between higher levels of physical fitness and fewer PMS symptoms.
RELATED: Is It Just Me or Is Sleeping in a Tampon a Bad Move?
It may be the best time to do HIIT
The best workout to do during your period? High-intensity interval training, Sims says. “When your period starts, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop. And because of this, women can access carbohydrate/glycogen easily, as compared to high-estrogen time periods rely more on the slow breakdown of fat.” In other words, this hormone shift makes fuel more accessible to your body, allowing you to push harder and get more out of short, fast-paced workouts than you would during other times of the month.
RELATED: 6 Things You Should Know About Having Sex During Your Period
It keeps you cool
Really. Turns out your body temperature is actually lower during your period, which is a low-hormone phase. “This increases time to fatigue, and allows the body to store more heat without hitting the tipping point of central nervous system fatigue,” Sims says. Not to mention, during this time we can tolerate hotter and more humid climates (hello, hot yoga!), Sims adds.
RELATED: 12 Things Every Woman Should Know About Her Period
You can make it more comfortable
Know your period is coming up? Don’t let the pain sneak up on you. It’s totally fine to take an over-the-counter NSAID pain reliever, like naproxen or ibuprofen, 24 to 48 hours before your period is due. This way, you can sidestep your symptoms before they keep you home from the gym. If you forget, be sure to take them at the first twinge of pain.
If you’re like Gandhi and find tampons uncomfortable during exercise, there’s no shortage of products to try: pads, liners, and now menstrual cups and even specialized period-proof underwear.
RELATED: The 5 Best Ways to Deal With Swollen and Achy Period Boobs, According to Ob-Gyns
It’s okay to give yourself a break
All this said, if you’re really just not feeling it, don’t beat yourself up for not going all out. Even just a gentle stroll counts as exercise, and it may help you feel better. “Your best bet is to do some light and easy movement that helps reduce inflammation via blood flow,” Sims says. “If you really feel terrible, it’s all right to take a day or two off.”
A final note, if you’re regularly sidelined by your periods, consider talking to your doctor; prescription remedies like the birth control pill might be helpful. Plus, it’s a good idea to have major aches and super heavy periods investigated because those could signal a health problem like endometriosis.
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6 Things to Know About Working Out On Your Period
Your period and all that comes along with it is enough to make you want to ditch the gym and stay in bed with a hot compress and a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips. But that bag of chips isn’t doing that belly bloat any favors—while a good sweat sesh can. Here’s what you need to know about working out on your period.
Working Out on Your Period? What Type of Exercise You Do Matters
Don’t get us wrong, you earn yourself a fist-bump just for getting your butt to the gym. Any exercise is better than none—especially when you’ve committed to working out on your period—but if you’re looking to get the most sweat-equity for your efforts, then make this workout a high-intensity one. “Higher-intensity exercise can release more endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals released in our brains when we exercise,” says Alyse Kelly-Jones, M.D., an ob-gyn at Novant Health Mintview OB/GYN. Endorphins help relieve pain and get rid of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that are produced during menstruation (and at other times, like when you get injured) that can cause inflammation, muscle contractions, pain, and fever. So the more endorphins you release, the less period pain you feel. (You’ll also score these eight major benefits of HIIT training at the same time.)
Another reason to go for box jumps over yoga? Sex hormones. Progesterone and estrogen levels are actually at their lowest point during menstruation, says Kelly-Jones, and that means your body is able to access carbohydrates and glycogen more easily than they can when estrogen is at an all-time high (the middle of your cycle). That means the fuel your body needs to power through an intense set is more readily available, and you can push harder to get the most out of short bursts of fast-paced movements.
Cardio Is Better Than Strength Training
If your goal is to alleviate PMS symptoms, then the week of your period is when you should focus more on the treadmill and less on the barbell. Research shows that there’s a direct correlation between aerobic capacity and the severity of PMS symptoms: When your aerobic exercise goes up, the PMS symptoms go down. But when the scientists looked to see if the same thing happened with anaerobic power—so, strength training—they found that there was no significant connection between the two variables.
Not to mention that your body temperature is actually lower when you’re on your period, thanks to the drop in hormones. This increases the amount of time it takes your body to tire, and you can store more heat without exhausting your central nervous system. What that means for you: Those sprint intervals are going to feel easier than they did mid-cycle. (Related: How to Make the Most of Sprint Interval Workouts)
Workout Out On Your Period Won’t Lighten Your Flow
The first few days, when your period is usually the heaviest, is when you’re probably least likely to book a TRX class. But if that’s part of your regular routine, then it could pay off to go anyway. Kelly-Jones says that regular, moderate exercise could reduce your flow each month, making it a solid preventative method. That’s because “estrogen is decreased when body fat is decreased, and estrogen stimulates growth of the uterus lining ,” she explains. Translation: Regular exercise (plus a healthy diet) can mean less body fat, which means less estrogen and a lighter menstrual flow.
Unfortunately, that TRX class won’t have an immediate impact on your flow, says Kelly-Jones. “Once the cycle starts, it’s going to be what it is,” she says. Since your uterus lining has already been thickened throughout the month, by the time you get your period it’s simply in the process of shedding it because you’re not pregnant. So working out on your period won’t change how heavy things are flowing right now. (Also worth noting: everything you need to know about having sex on your period.)
But It Can Help With Other Symptoms
Working out on your period can help with other symptoms, though, like that god-awful belly bloat. “As you sweat during exercise, your body is shedding water, which may relieve some bloating,” says Kelly-Jones. “There have been studies that connect a higher level of overall physical fitness with fewer PMS symptoms.” Case in point: Research published in the Crescent Journal of Medical and Biological Sciences shows that if you work out three times a week, specifically making time for moves that get your heart rate up, then symptoms like headache, fatigue, and breast pain can be lessened.
You’re Not More Likely to Get Injured
Yes, it’s a good idea to squeeze in a quality HIIT session when working out on your period. And no, there is no reason to worry about an increased risk of injury. “Adjusting your activity while you have your period is really a myth,” Kelly-Jones says. “Everything is fair game, unless you bleed very heavily and become anemic. Then you might feel more fatigued,” so you may not be able to go as hard as you normally do.
Research backs her up: While scientists have found that women are more likely to get ACL injuries at certain points of their cycle, that risk increases during the preovulatory phase, which is when hormones start being produced again, the ovaries are stimulated, and an ovarian follicle starts to mature. That typically occurs from days 9 to 14 of a 28-day cycle, so yeah, it’s after you get your period (the first day of your period is considered day one of your menstrual cycle, Kelly-Jones explains).
Not to mention that, even though a woman’s risk of injury is higher, research also shows that neuromuscular training can cut that risk in half. Researchers discovered that the risk increases because there’s a difference in the way women’s knees move during menstruation compared to ovulation. But Timothy E. Hewett, Ph.D. (who’s been studying the effect of the menstrual cycle on injury for more than 15 years), found that when athletes were taught how to reduce load on their knees and ankles and build up strength and coordination, the rate of ACL injury, ankle injury, and knee-cap pain fell by 50 to 60 percent. So simply strengthening and learning how to properly move your body while you work out can help—period or not. (Related: Does It Matter What Order You Perform Exercises In a Workout?)
In other words, have no fear and keep on busting reps like your badass self.
And Your Performance Will Still Rock When Working Out on Your Period
Unless you have extremely heavy bleeding, like Kelly-Jones mentioned above, it’s not likely that your performance will be impacted. After surveying 241 elite athletes about how their menstrual cycle affected their performance, researchers noted that about 62 percent of them thought their workout was just as good when they had their periods compared to when they didn’t. (Plus, 63 percent of them said their pain decreased during training and competition as opposed to recovery time.) And lest you think they’re simply better at powering through because they’re elite-level, know that that just isn’t so. Another study from West Virginia University found that, when analyzed during both the first and second half of their menstrual cycles, female runners still performed just as well on their periods as they did when off. So go on and grab those sneaks—it’s time to start sweating.
Here’s How Your Period May Affect Your Workouts
Back pain, nausea, and cramping are just a few of the well-known symptoms associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Finding healthy ways to alleviate the frustrating symptoms can be a challenge, especially when aspirin and comfort food are calling. And, while it may be the last thing you want to do when you have your period, exercise (especially with Aaptiv) is one of the best things you can do while on your period. “Working out can actually help relieve some period symptoms,” says Lori Shemek, Ph.D., author of How to Fight FATflammation. “Exercise can help reduce cramps and boost your mood.”
That said, your period brings more than cramps and cravings. The hormonal changes that women go through during their menstrual cycle can impact the body in various ways.
For example, you may experience headaches, diarrhea, cramping, vomiting, backaches, and nausea. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends at least 30 minutes of regular aerobic exercise most days of the week to combat these symptoms.
It’s important, though, to know exactly how your period and the hormonal changes that come with it might impact your workouts. Here, we break down how to adjust exercise to suit your period and how that exercise can help alleviate symptoms.
Four Phases of the Female Menstrual Cycle
First, it’s important to understand how your period comes and goes. Each phase of your menstrual cycle brings various physical and hormonal changes.
Phase 1: This is the start of your period when the uterine lining breaks down and sheds. This may cause cramping, along with depletion of energy, aches, and pains (this has shown to help pain).
Phase 2: After the last day of your period, the body prepares for ovulation and a mature egg. This process produces estrogen, which may cause you to have a better mood and more energy.
Phase 3: Ovulation takes place. The mature egg is released and travels to the uterus to be fertilized by the sperm if contact is made. Potential pregnancy occurs.
Phase 4: This last stage is known as the luteal phase. If the egg is not fertilized, estrogen and progesterone levels drop. The breakdown of uterine tissue and your period begin. In the second half of this phase, you may experience moods ranging from anxiety to depression. Possible cramping and breast tenderness can occur.
Exercise can help beat fatigue and improve mood.
Exercise affects periods by helping boost your mood and giving you a jolt of energy to beat fatigue. The body goes through a number of hormonal highs and lows during your cycle.
About ten days before your period, your body is preparing for fertilization. When that doesn’t occur, all the hormones that were helping to sustain the environment for fertilization are no longer needed, causing hormone levels to drop (phase four). These shifts cause exhaustion, but they’re part of the body’s natural cycle.
You may also feel irritable or depressed due to the imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, which can affect your serotonin level. This creation of emotions is a part of premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS. “Physical exercise can beat fatigue and headaches associated with premenstrual syndrome through releasing endorphins,” says Sarah G. Jamison, M.D., a board-certified emergency medicine physician. “Endorphins are chemicals that provide the body with a feeling of euphoria and energy, as well as decrease the amount of pain perceived by the brain.”
Aaptiv has the perfect workouts during your menstral cycle. Check out the stretching, yoga and other classes here on the Aaptiv app.
Your workout performance may vary during this time.
Even with all the cramping and bloating, the effectiveness of your workouts on your period remains the same, according to research on female athletes. Nonetheless, it can be hard to feel productive. “Many women feel that even if they do work out, the workout will not be as quality as when they are not on their periods,” Shemek says.
This concern is completely understandable. In some cases, you may not achieve the same type of workout you would days after your menstrual cycle has ended. Aaptiv Trainer Jaime McFaden says, “You may feel more fatigued than normal, and you can feel less motivated, but overall you’re still capable of what you would normally do.” You might not feel up to working out at your usual intensity, but your body is still equipped for whatever type of exercise you can handle.
It’s also important to bear in mind that the body’s relaxin hormone will increase, which softens the cervix to allow menstruation to occur. Relaxin also increases the flexibility of ligaments and tendons, making you more vulnerable to joint injury. So, opting for workouts you’re most comfortable with, or have used before in the Aaptiv app, is a good idea.
Overall, you shouldn’t see too much change in your workout performance. “Even though you may feel ‘blah,’ it was found that a trained individual has no change in aerobic performance or cardiovascular output throughout their monthly cycle,” says Dr. Jennifer Dour of Garden State Spinal Care. “They did find that lactate production decreases during luteal phase (after ovulation when you’re not menstruating). may correlate to quicker recovery at times without menstruation.” So, you actually may have better workouts directly after your period ends even if you’re still feeling a bit out of it.
Which workouts are best?
Sometimes all you need is a quick workout to alleviate cramps. Even if you can’t exercise at your highest intensity, the goal is to get moving. Once you start, you may feel fewer aches and cramps. McFaden recommends “HIIT, strength training, and stretching to help your body and mind to feel better during that time of the month.”
She goes on to suggest avoiding poses that may engorge the blood vessels in the uterus, such as handstands, which may lead to more cramping and even more bleeding. Calming workouts such as yoga and meditation can help with stress and even provide pain relief. High-energy workouts such as dance and cardio can encourage endorphin production to support a good mood.
Check out our yoga and meditation classes in app today!
Overall, listen to your body. It’s totally fine to sit out a day or two of exercise when your PMS or cramps feel out of control. But don’t put off exercise too long. It can make all the difference in alleviating your symptoms and helping your mood.
Working out during your period isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. After all, when you’re craving a heating pad and long nap, protein powder and leg day sound less than awesome.
Still, working out when Flo’s in town isn’t just a good idea, it’s a great one. Exercise is one of the best scientifically-backed ways to alleviate period-related woes, and can perk up your mood while soothing cramps, bloating, and even fatigue. And get this: According to some experts, you may actually be your strongest during shark week. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
But knowing something is good for you and actually doing it? Well, they are two different things, and motivating yourself to get your aching, bloated butt to the gym can be hard. The struggle is just as real for professional female athletes as it is for you. But, somehow, they do it. They’ve got to if they want to crush their goals.
We talked to eight female athletes about the challenges that they have had to overcome in the face of their periods, and all of the frustrations, worries, and even happiness, that comes along with it. Learn how they banish PMS, avoid leaks, push through the pain, exercise during periods, and, most importantly, feel confident in their bodies no matter what time of month it is. Get ready to revel in the awesomeness of women getting shit done. (And, if you decide to try out their tactics, just make sure to talk to your doc before turning to prescription or OTC meds.)
“People think that, because I am a dancer who is in shape, my periods are light and easy to tolerate. Not true at all! To be honest, dancing with my period is never fun. As a dancer, you need your core for everything, so feeling bloated while dancing is not ideal. I also suffer from very intense cramps for the first two or three days of my period. As a dancer, I have to use and stretch my body for hours at a time, and that combined with my period gives me pain in my abs, lower back, and headaches. Honestly, dancing is the best distraction from my pain, but I’ve also learned some tricks to deal with the cramps over the years. I love the ThermaCare heating pads and I’ll wear one under my leotard throughout the day—it lasts about eight hours and the warmth really helps. I also take ibuprofen if I have a full day of rehearsals. Afterward, I’ll drink a lot of ginger tea and take a hot bath in Epsom salts, both of which help alleviate cramps.” —Paige Fraser, professional dancer
(Dance your way fit with High-Intensity Dance Cardio, the first-ever socanomics DVD!)
“I’ve heard that during your period, athletes can be more prone to injury, so just to be safe I sometimes skip the sugar pills in my birth control pack to avoid having my period when I am coming up on a competition. Plus, not having a period during competition makes my life a little bit easier so I can focus on my training and preparing for competition. I do know that I tend to be more hungry and feel a bit more sluggish when I have my period. One thing I’ve found that always helps alleviate my period symptoms? Working out. Exercise always makes me feel better even if I’m not feeling it at first. I have also found that taking extra magnesium and calcium during that time of the month (I use USANA’s MagneCal) really helps. The combination helps me sleep better and kicks my period cramps.” —Devin Logan, team USA freeskier and Olympic silver medalist
Combat running pain and prevent injury with these exercises:
“Competitive pole dancing is probably one of the worst things to do while on your period. I feel crappy, irritable, and bloated, but instead of being able to chill with a tub of Neopolitan ice cream and a binge session of Grey’s Anatomy, I have to put on a tiny costume (that no longer fits right, thanks to bloating) and get up on a stage. Even worse, I get super paranoid of thrusting my legs open too wide during my performance and accidentally revealing my bits—not to mention raging hormones make my palms all sweaty, making it hard just to grip the pole.
“So when my period came two days before my performance at the International Pole Convention, I was a wreck. I went through several costumes, re-worked my entire routine so as not to include any audience-facing leg spreads, doubled up on pole grip, and started doing two-a-day practices. The day of my performance, I changed my tampon when the performer two spaces ahead of me went on and I practiced breathing deeply to calm my nerves. Knowing that I’d done everything I could to prepare helped a lot. By the time it was my turn to go, my adrenaline was pumping. I was still bloated and miserable, but when the music started playing I pushed past all of that. Despite feeling totally un-sexy five minutes earlier, Beyoncé’s ‘Partition’ came on and I was able to let my inner diva out.” —Jada Hudson, competitive pole dancer and founder of Curvy Girls Pole
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“Running during my period isn’t exactly fun, but I just put a tampon in and stick to my training schedule. I’m very ‘type A’ when it comes to my running, and I’m not going to let this get in my way. It’s the three to five days before my period when things get really bad. I get PMS cramps, bloating, and mood issues—getting my period is a relief! Even when my PMS is bad, I still push myself to exercise anyhow, though. I know that when I feel bad, whether due to my period or any other reason, I always feel better after a workout. I’ve made the decision to never let my period or PMS interrupt my training or racing.” —Pam Moore, competitive marathoner, two-time Ironman, and running coach
“I am a WNBF Pro Bikini athlete, meaning that I participate in bodybuilding competitions. Competing during my period in this sport is scary for many obvious reasons. First of all, you can’t hide much in our tiny competition bikinis! But I’ve learned that I can’t let being on my period affect my confidence. Instead of worrying about it, I choose to stay focused on what I’m there to accomplish on stage. If it does happen, I manage it just like any other day during the month because, athlete or not, as a woman, it’s just going to happen sometimes.
“The upside is that I’m super regular so at least I know when it is coming so I can be prepared even if I can’t change it. In fact, I got my period on the day of a show twice this year. The first time was when I was competing to get my pro card. This was a really important competition for me, so I just gritted my teeth, tucked that tampon string up, and put on my suit. My confidence paid off and I ended up winning my WNBF pro card. The second time it happened was at my very first WNBF pro show. At first, I was freaked out but I realized that this was something that could either defeat me or make me stronger. As a woman, I knew exactly what I needed to do to keep things in line. I kept my cool and aced my first pro show.” —Amber Beaver, pro bikini athlete, owner and CEO of Empower You Fitness
Related: What’s That On Your Hoo-Ha? 5 Vaginal Conditions You Need To Know About
“I was a competitive soccer player for Fordham University and also ran track and field. While soccer shorts aren’t too bad, track and field bloomers look and fit like underwear. Stepping up to the line on a track with your butt in the air and nothing but a flimsy pair of spandex bloomers separating a crowd of people from your crimson wave—that’s stress with a capital ‘S’! So whenever me or one of my teammates was on our period we were like, ‘Can you walk behind me and check to make sure nothing’s leaking or showing… and also in front, to the side, under, over, from 10 feet away. Okay, now with your eyes squinted, and maybe behind me again just one more time to be sure?’ This period anxiety definitely affected my pre-race routine, which basically consisted of me not trying to puke, pee, or poop all over myself before I had to hit the starting line. My period just made my body and mind feel out of whack, which really sucks when your job is to be physically controlled and mentally centered. Periods can make getting into the game-day zone that much harder.” —Maeve Roughton, head of content for THINX, former collegiate soccer player, and nationally-ranked high-school runner
“I started my period in fifth grade and by high school my period was really heavy with debilitating cramps, which had a serious effect on my ability to compete. My mom had to teach me how to use a tampon at the Junior Nationals competition so I wouldn’t bleed out in front of everyone. I ran as fast as I could, not only to win but to get to the finish line so I could change back into a pad! I finally decided to go on birth control, which has really helped control my period symptoms. So, now, as a college athlete, I’m much more confident. But I do feel as though being on my period does affect my performance to some degree. When I first start my period, I feel more sluggish and less confident about my abilities and my looks. Yes, even athletes have ‘fat days’! I also still get paranoid about leaks. Thankfully by the latter half of my period, all of that has resolved and I feel like I’m back to my old self again with more energy and confidence, and I’m able to really focus on my performance.” —Dior Hall, University of Southern California track member
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“I’m not going to sugarcoat it: As a professional and competitive dancer, my period can be very challenging for me on many levels. I have to consider costuming and keeping things clean and aesthetically acceptable. Swelling, bloating, and cramps are the biggest challenge as pain can take the joy out of competing and performing. If I’m working with my dance partner, I have to let him know as we have to make adjustments with the catches, throws, and lifts because if he places his hands too close to my ovaries or in certain sensitive places on my abdomen, I can become seriously injured. In spite of all that, I find that I generally perform better on my period and I push myself harder to compensate for it. During that week I take extra-special care of myself. I avoid really strenuous workouts and instead do a lot of yoga with asanas specifically designed to relieve cramping and regulate my flow. I also avoid taking aspirin to deal with my cramps as I learned the hard way (during a competition!) that it makes bleeding so much heavier.” —Noelle Rose Andressen, professional dancer-choreographer for Rubans Rouges Dance and producer of Awakenings & Beginnings Dance Festival
Yoga, hula hooping, light weight training… we’re told that exercise is great for when you’re on your period – and with good reason! Exercise balances your mood; beats bloating and helps ease menstrual cramps. But is the age-old myth true? Do we actually burn more calories while we’re on our period?
Do you burn more calories on your period?
Yes, and no…
During our period, our hormone levels reach their lowest points. Oestrogen and progesterone levels decrease, meaning our recovery rate during exercise is faster. This makes an extra set of reps or a post-work run much easier to handle, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll do the extra work or burn the extra calories.
If we don’t burn more calories, why do we feel hungrier?
Our menstrual cycles affect every area of our lives, including our metabolism. It turns out our bodies require 100 – 300 more calories during our luteal phase (the week before our period is due). This is because our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR – the number of daily calories needed to stay alive) during this time increases by 10-20%. It’s no wonder why we want to double up on the doses of pasta or slice that extra slither of cake…
While you don’t burn more calories when you’re on your period, exercising around the different phases of your menstrual cycle does affect your body during workouts.
Here’s how to make the most out of your training throughout your menstrual cycle, and what to be aware of.
How to optimise your exercise for your menstrual cycle
Phase 1: Menstrual Phase
Duration: 3-7 Days
Maybe the thought of spin classes or star jumps makes you groan, but your period – the menstrual phase – is the best time to do HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Your oestrogen and progesterone levels drop in the menstrual phase, which means HIIT will be the most effective exercise for burning fat. Not that we think you ever need an excuse but what better time to indulge on pasta and potatoes to keep you going throughout the day? Carbs are key for avoiding burn out.
Yoga can be great for easing period pains, but do take it easy. Avoid extreme stretching as ligaments and tendons are looser due to changing hormones in your body during this part of your cycle.
Phase 2: Follicular Phase
Duration: 7-10 Days
After your period, you’ll soon be feeling physically ship-shape again, thanks to your oestrogen increasing. Oestrogen helps with muscle building, higher tolerance for pain, faster recovery and more stamina. Make the most of the follicular phase and push yourself – swing some kettle bells and pump some iron; it’s time to make some new personal bests!
Phase 3: Ovulatory Phase
Duration: 3-4 Days
Right before you begin to experience PMS, your oestrogen is at its peak – the perfect time to get a sweat on. With your body fully prepared for fat burning, now is the prime time for medium weights and higher reps.
Feeling more energised means you might be feeling more social too. Why not book yourself onto some group exercise classes and let the social butterfly in you spread its wings?
Don’t forget to warm up for longer, stretch properly, and rest well. Your muscles are vulnerable – especially when you’ve worked hard – so you’ll need time to recover and avoid injury.
Phase 4: Luteal Phase
Duration: 10-14 Days
The hunger, the headaches, the bigger and sorer boobs…. welcome to the luteal phase. We all know that PMS time when our body starts preparing us for our periods again.
You might feel tired, bloated and a loss in motivation to hit the gym. Your base body temperature rises in the luteal phase, which can make working out feel uncomfortable with the extra body heat.
Fight the feeling of saying no and opt for more gentle exercise like swimming, yoga, or a morning jog… if you’re really struggling to bring yourself to it, even walking will be good for your mind and body.
Tips for dealing with period hunger
If one of your biggest PMS symptoms is hunger, don’t fight it! Follow these tips to handle the food cravings when they hit.
- Plan your meals and snacks to avoid reaching for the unhealthy treats
- Exercise can help reduce bloating and mood swings
- Eat smaller but more frequent meals to keep the hunger at bay
- Cut down on the caffeine (but not entirely!) as the crashes can make you crave the sugary stuff
- Just eat it! What a better time to treat yourself than when you’re PMSing, right?
Make sure you keep track of your cycle using a period tracker app to so you know where you are in your phases and adjust your workout routine accordingly!
WHY are there some days when you feel like running for miles on the treadmill – and others when you’re exhausted after lifting a couple of weights?
If you’re a woman, Tanith Carey says that the answer could lie in the ups and downs of your hormones over the course of the month.
8 Your period affects your energy levels and hormones – making some exercises more effective than othersCredit: Getty – Contributor
The ebb and flow of oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone, which govern your menstrual cycle, affect how full of energy you are.
This explains why sometimes you’re raring to go, and sometimes you struggle to leave the house.
They also influence what type of exercise you find easiest and how many calories you burn at different times.
Tanith looks at the latest research on how to bring your exercise programme into sync with your hormones – and get the best results.
8 Tanith Carey explains how your workout can be determined by your cycleCredit: Rex Features
Week One – Days 1 to 7 – Raring to go
Now your period is over, levels of the male sex hormone testosterone (which boosts energy) and the female sex hormone oestrogen (which lift mood) are soaring.
This is to get your body ready for the release of an egg ready to be fertilised, and the good news is that this powerful combination makes this by far the easiest time of the month to get down the gym.
On top of that, because testosterone helps build muscle, and oestrogen helps build the connective tissues that binds muscle to bone, this is the ideal time to tone up.
Scientists at Sweden’s Umea University found that women who use weights in the first two weeks of their cycle get the best results.
8 Testosterone levels at the start of your cycle mean that lifting weights will be easierCredit: Getty – Contributor
Gabrielle Lichterman, author of 28 Days – What your cycle reveals about your Love Life, Moods and Potential, says this really is a week to kick start your fitness regime because you’ll feel like eating less too.
Gabrielle says:”During the week after your period, rising oestrogen gives you more energy and stamina to do a workout, so you’ll find it easier to motivate yourself to exercise and push yourself harder.”
What exercises to do:
Make the most of those high testosterone levels by taking out your aggression on kick-boxing.
Studies have also found that a spike in testosterone improves women’s spatial awareness (the ability to judge distance), which will make you more skillful on the pitch – so try team ball games, like hockey, football or netball.
Rising testosterone levels improve muscle strength, pain tolerance and endurance too, so this week push yourself harder with some tougher work-outs or longer runs.
8 Team sports like netball is a great way to start your cycleCredit: Getty – Contributor
Week Two – Days 7 to 14 – Hitting peak performance
As levels of oestrogen and testosterone peak, this is the time to take part in endurance sports.
In one 2010 Sports Medicine study, female cyclists were found to be able to keep going longer during this phase due to the raised levels of these hormones, which helped them use their body’s energy more efficiently.
In a separate 2005 study, women were also found to be able to cycle slightly faster at this time in their cycle.
Also, Gabrielle says that because oestrogen dampens food cravings, you are more likely to resist temptation.
Oestrogen also makes you more chatty and sociable, so make the most of it by signing up for a Zumba or dance class.
Gabrielle says: “This is a great week to amp up your efforts by joining a support group or exercise class, or fitting in an extra workout.”
8 Fun classes are a great way to workout when you’re feeling more sociableCredit: Getty – Contributor
Week three – Days 14 to 21 – Down to earth with a bump
For the first two weeks you were raring to go, but the moment you ovulate, you are likely to find your energy levels falling through the floor.
The first thing that will make exercise more of an effort is that as soon egg is released about 14 days after your period starts, your temperature rises 0.5 to 1.5°F above your normal average.
This is to create a warmer, more fertile environment for implantation of the fertilised egg and the development of the embryo, but as a result, you may sweat more during exercise and find it harder to go the distance.
The good news is that you’ll burn up calories faster than at any other time – from 2.5 to 11 per cent more than usual.
However the drop of oestrogen (which gives strength to muscles and ligaments) means you will feel weaker, and levels of relaxin (a hormone to allow the cervix to begin to open) are rising, which causes the the ligaments to soften.
Researchers at London’s Portland Hospital have found this means that strains and joint injuries are more likely at this stage of your cycle because the joints are not as well supported.
At the same time you may be more tempted to give in to that bag of crisps or slice of chocolate cake.
8 Try to beat those cravings in the third week of your cycleCredit: Getty – Contributor
After ovulation, there’s a sudden spike in the hormone progesterone (which is released to thicken the womb lining), which is associated with a spike in insulin (the hormone which affects appetite), making you suffer hunger pangs.
Those cravings will be made worse by the sudden fall in the serotonin – the feel-good brain chemical – which is dropping off now, along with levels of oestrogen.
In one study published in the Journal Of Affective Disorders, 74.3% of women said they suffered food cravings in the week before their period, compared to 56.3% during menstruation and just 26.9% afterwards.
To add to your PMT, the cocktail of progesterone and oestrogen also encourage the body to hold onto water, resulting in your feeling bloated and constipated.
As falling oestrogen levels make you feel less sociable, try some steady aerobic exercises that you can do on your own, like a session on the step machine or gentle walk.
Eating small meals every two or three hours will also stabilise your spiking blood sugar levels.
Go for exercise that puts less strain on your joints, like cycling or using the elliptical trainer rather than the treadmill.
8 Cycling doesn’t put strain on your joints, so is a perfect workoutCredit: Getty – Contributor
Week Four- Days 23 to 28 – Your period’s arrived
Now your period has started, levels of calming progesterone are finally flat-lining so you will feel a bit more energetic.
Unfortunately, you will also be losing iron – a mineral in red blood cells that gives you energy – and that will sap your energy, according to a study in the Annals of Hematology.
However push on, because a study in The Journal of Woman’s Health found that women who did moderate exercise during their periods had less menstrual cramps – possibly because exercise triggers the release of feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins.
Personal trainer Daniel Wheeler, of Life Changing Fitness, suggests putting your calorie intake up to 2200 calories at this time of the month, compared to 1640 calories at ovulation when their bodies are under less strain.
He says: “Rather than expect women to have the same calorie goals every day, we suggest increasing the calories around the menstrual phase.”
“That’s because during menstruation the female body is under a lot of hormonal stress which can increase cravings. Then we balance calorie goals across the month.”
However if you’re doing yoga, hormone expert Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Natural
Solutions To PMS, says it’s wise to avoid any headstands.
She explains: “If you have a heavy flow, gravity could make the blood flow back into your womb where it could cause congestion.”
Rising levels of oestrogen and testosterone will mean you will gradually feel your energy return now, so try aerobic exercises like walking – or go for a jog as your joint strength is now back to normal.
If you wear tampons, swimming will also help ease cramps or back pain.
For more information on how hormones affect your life, go to http://hormonehoroscope.com.
8 Swimming is a great way to ease join painCredit: Getty – Contributor
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