Do you want to get more out of your training? Cycle synchronization may be the answer

When it comes to coach, many trainers, influencers, and fitness programs will try to convince you that there’s one right way to do it—and a million wrong ways. But as with almost all areas of health and wellness, the best solution is the one that works best for you.

As an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, a Pilates/Lagree instructor, and a wellness enthusiast who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition Science, she dives deep into the details of fitness routines and foods that help you feel your best is always top of mind for me. The current health issue I’m considering? Understand how to train your period.

Of course with menstrual symptoms many of us find that working out on your period can sound less than ideal. But after reading four different books, listening to countless podcasts, and going down endless rabbit holes, I’ve come up with answers that provide insight into gentle and effective ways to train your period and feel your best.

Selected image of Riley Reed.

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The difference between male and female hormones

When it comes to working out on your period, there’s an obvious but crucial point that can’t be skipped: “women are not little men,” says Dr. Stacy Sims, an exercise physiologist. Unfortunately, the opposite still affects many parts of the health and fitness world today.

Every day, men wake up with relatively the same amount of testosterone. This results in a generally consistent mood and energy level. It must be nice, right? Women, on the other hand, specifically those who don’t use birth controldo not have a consistent “drip” of hormones.

Whether we like it or not, the female body is preparation for a potential pregnancy every month. Every day is different and the levels of estrogenprogesterone and even testosterone vary depending on the phase of our menstrual cycle.

Why is there a gender gap in research studies?

Our male-centered healthcare is one of the main reasons why women have been intentionally left out most scientific research. Fortunately, there are efforts to close this gap and more is being done to highlight the importance of properly representing women in medical studies.

Alyson J. McGregor talks about the dangers of our historically male-focused approach in his book, Sex matters. In it, she shares a story of how a female patient almost walked out of the hospital while having a heart attack. Because her symptoms were different from the classic ones male-centered model, she was rejected by cardiologists and her symptoms were classified as “anxiety”. McGregor fought this assessment, which led to the discovery of an occlusion in the patient’s main artery. The patient was immediately administered a life-saving procedure.

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The benefits of exercising on your period

There are certain points in our menstrual cycle when women exhibit top performance, develop the muscles more effectively and experience less soreness after a workout. Even us burn more calories in the later stages of our cycle!

Many athletic teams, such as the US women’s soccer team, have applied these revolutionary results in training their athletes to work with their cycle and not against it.

‘We could see what [menstrual cycle] stage a player was in and what some of their symptoms were,” Scott said. “I would just text or say to a player, ‘Hey, you’re in stage three and we know you’re having disturbed sleep, so make sure you do x, y and z.’

– Dawn Scott, talking about training of the USWNT

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Tips for training your period

Let’s clear the air: If you move your body in any way, you’re an athlete—and you can learn how to use your menstrual cycle to optimize athletic performance. Below I dive into each phase of menstrual cyclehow to train your period and how our hormones affect our mood, motivation and energy level.

A quick reminder: every body and person is different. These recommendations come from the latest scientific research, but there is still much to be uncovered.

The menstrual phase (days 1-5)

Your menstrual cycle begins on the first day of your period. Although many people think it is best not to exercise on this day, it is actually OK and safe to do so. Fun fact: British long-distance runner, Paula Radcliffe allegedly broke the world record during her period – cramps and all. Compared to other phases of our cycle, our energy and performance dips a bit during the menstrual phase, but exercise can help boost our mood and relieve PMS symptoms.

Hormones at play: Low estrogen and progesterone

How they affect us: Low energy and PMS symptoms

The best exercise for this phase: Gentle movements such as walking, yoga or pilates. If you want more intense training, strength training and HIIT are recommended.

The follicular phase (days 6-13)

The follicular phase is a good time to plan intense exercise such as strength training and to focus on building muscle. According to The Female Factor: The Whole Body Health Bible for Women, “estrogen helps boost energy levels, encourages muscle building and improves recovery, including reducing next-day muscle soreness and swelling.” Estrogen also acts as an appetite suppressant, so cravings are not as prevalent.

Hormones at play: An increase in estrogen and testosterone

How they affect us: Increased energy and motivation, decreased appetite, high pain threshold and high spatial cognition. It’s also easier to build muscle and recover faster.

The best exercise for this phase: Any kind of movement. This is the time to push yourself with new and challenging workouts. If building muscle is your goal, focus on weight training and HIIT.

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The ovulation phase (day 14)

Lasting only 36 hours, this is the shortest phase of our cycle. However, due to high levels of estrogen and testosterone, we experience maximum energy, motivation and physical strength during the ovulation phase.

Hormones at play: High levels of estrogen and a surge of testosterone

How they affect us: Increased pain tolerance and increased social skills, motivation, energy, confidence and levels of dopamine.

The best exercise for this phase: The physical performance reaches its peak. Running, spinning, weight lifting and high impact exercise are all good ways to move during this phase.

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Luteal phase (days 15-28)

Right after ovulation, estrogen drops and progesterone begins to rise. Our body is working hard and studies have found that we require more energy (calories) during this phase, leading to cravings and increased appetite.

IN Fix your periodNicole Jardim, a certified women’s health coach, writes:

“This is the time in your cycle when the decks are cleared (you no longer have the estrogen blinders on) and you begin to examine what is and isn’t working in your life. How is your work going? What about your relationships, or even certain friendships? […] Take a moment to reflect on the deeper reasons for your feelings.”

Early luteal phase

Hormones at play: High progesterone, low estrogen and testosterone

How they affect us: Increased focus, low oxytocin levels, improved aerobic performance, increase in body temperature, fluid retention, bloating, reduced coordination and reaction time, unstable blood sugar and low blood sodium.

The best exercise for this phase: Moderate intensity, cardio (kickboxing, running and spinning), longer workouts due to increased endurance in this phase.

Late luteal phase

Hormones at play: High progesterone, low estrogen and testosterone

How they affect us: Similar effects to the early luteal phase; oxytocin is at its lowest, low energy levels, high irritability and sleep disturbances.

The best exercise for this phase: Prioritize recovery and choose low-intensity exercise such as walking, swimming, hiking and yoga.

Why tracking your menstrual cycle is important

When I hear about period tracking, it’s usually because a friend wants to get pregnant or avoid getting pregnant. So I was intrigued to learn that period tracking can improve physical fitness. After delving into the research, I am now convinced that tracking your menstrual cycle is imperative for all menstruating people. Not just for pregnancy or physical fitness, but to live in harmony with our bodies.

Unfortunately, this is not something we learned from a young age. But many doctors and health professionals are calling the menstrual cycle “the fifth vital sign,” and more research, conversations, and movements within this space are becoming more inclusive in scope.

How to track your menstrual cycle

There are many ways to track your cycle, and as with all areas of health and wellness (I can’t help but repeat that!), the best option is one that supports you. There is no shortage of highly recommended apps. That FitrWoman app is my personal favorite because it was developed by the leading researchers in the field (the same team that consults the US women’s soccer team!). If it’s good enough for them, it is definitely good enough for me.

There are of course many other methods. Planned Parenthood offers an in-depth guide to use the calendar method, where you track the length of your menstrual cycle over several months. For more resources, contact your healthcare provider to connect you with an option that works best for you.

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What’s next?

Track your cycle, journal your results, and continue learning about your menstrual cycle. The more awareness and intention you bring to your menstrual cycle, the more you can understand what works for you and what doesn’t. I’m already planning to overhaul the way I approach not only my workouts, but also big work projects, social events, and even date nights. This is just the beginning, and I’m so excited to continue learning—and unlearning—how to harness the power of my cycle.

For further reading

This list below is a good place to start if you’re curious to learn more, but there are many more resources out there. Drop your favorites in the comments for me and other readers to check out!

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, and is not intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.

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