Leverage your cycle to get better workouts

 Woman in Workout Attire Stretching Arms by Placing Them on Wall.

If you menstruate* you can optimize a workout schedule around it. A predictable menstrual cycle has phases, and phases mean you can plan around your hormonal shifts. And who doesn’t like an easy, effective exercise plan? Marie Kondo that sh*t too. 

To understand this concept, let’s break it into 3 phases:

  • The “making an egg” phase (your bleed plus some days),
  • The “drop the egg” phase (the few days around ovulation, usually 12-14 days after you start bleeding), and
  • The “build the nest” phase (5-14ish days before you bleed again). Studies show that when we measure factors of cardio fitness, they vary predictably along the egg-to-nest pattern. 

The “make-the-egg” phase is your bleeding days plus some. Let’s just rephrase that: You are shedding part of your body by bleeding. That takes energy!! Your estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest when your bleed begins and slowly begin to rise over the next two weeks. While exercise is important to relieve pain and discomfort, it is important to take stock of how energetic you actually feel.   Over 75% of folks will reduce the frequency or intensity of their exercise routine when on their periods. The majority of people on periods already know - this is the time to move your body in a graduated way. As each day passes from “Day 1 of bleed”, you could expect a little more endurance and pep from your body. Sprints and jumps might not be what you feel like doing because that’s a whole lotta oomph at one go. it may surprise you that this is a perfect endurance-building phase. Slow and steady wins the race. 

The “drop-the-egg” phase is when you have lots of estrogen. Do you know what the word estrogen is derived from? Estrus - the mammalian feeling of being excited. It is the time for energy and feeling good. Now granted, some folks don’t feel great around ovulation due to pain or inflammation, and that’s something to watch out for (ie; don’t let us tell you that you’ve got energy when you don’t!), but for many the ovulation hump is exactly when to push yourself in physical activity. Your capacity to do more, for longer, and recover well is likely in top form. Higher intensity might feel good, but mostly it’s the time to do more, faster, stronger, longer. In hey freya’s opinion, we have heard enough of pushing women to “be better”, we know you are amazing and that pushing yourself is an all too familiar concept. But if you wanted to know WHY you feel like you could run around the block or reorganize the garage (but you could also just relax on the porch knowing you could, while saying hell no to the former), perhaps it’s because your new egg just dropped. 

As you might expect, the “build-the-nest” phase is time to cool it down. Body temperature rises slightly during this phase and it turns out hot, humid conditions and endurance exercise don’t match. This is the phase to focus on cooling, slower paces, and dialing back on the endurance work. (Jumping and sprinting, if you are into that, seem to fare better - it’s really that while you build a nest, your body doesn’t want you to turn toward anything that takes energy for an extended time). 

*Menstruation = ovulation which ends in bleeding. Bleeding on most oral contraceptives does not have these phases associated with them. 


Running, stress and menstrual phase 

Endurance exercise and mid luteal phase 

Endurance vs sprint in two phases of menstruation

Strava study on exercising during a period** 

** note it is unclear about whether these people were on an oral contraceptive pill during their tracking, an oft-made assumption in health tracking is that a period bleed and a pill bleed are the same. They are not!
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