Every month it happens. Aunt Flow comes to visit. It’s THAT time of the month. You’re on the rag. It’s Shark Week. It’s the red wedding. The euphemisms are endless. No matter what you call it, you can’t run from it. Every month, unless you’re pregnant, you get your period.
Your period is the beginning of your menstrual cycle. This cycle is ongoing and is driven by your hormones—the body’s “chemical messengers.” Understanding your menstrual cycle and how it affects your mood, energy level, libido, and athletic performance can be paramount in living your happiest, healthiest life.
Your cycle is approximately 28 days or 4 weeks. It occurs in three phases: follicular, ovulatory and luteal. The first half of the cycle is known as the follicular phase and the second half of the cycle is considered the luteal phase. Each day, your hormones fluctuate, triggering different processes in your body. Let’s break it down by week.
Week 1: Menstruation
You get your period. At the start of your period, the follicle stimulating hormone rises, telling your body to start preparing an egg. The other hormones involved in this process are stagnant at this time.
You may feel fatigued at first because estrogen and progesterone levels are low.
After your period ends, estrogen starts to increase. This can lead to a spike in energy.
Week 3: Ovulation
Rising estrogen levels stimulate the luteinizing hormone. Increased estrogen leads to ovulation and increased progesterone.
This typically occurs at day 14 of your cycle.
Week 4: PMS
In the absence of fertilization, estrogen and progesterone drop. This is when all things unpleasant occur—cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, lethargy, headaches, acne flare-ups, diarrhea, constipation, depressed mood, anxiety, insomnia…The drop in hormones leads to menstruation, which starts the cycle all over.
With each spike and drop in hormones, your energy levels and moods change. If you’ve ever felt that your ability to workout waxes and wanes, you’re right. And your hormones are responsible for it.
Knowing your menstrual cycle and how your body responds to it can allow you to control your exercise routine, rather than allowing your moods and energy levels to control you.
The first week of your menstrual cycle can be trying for those who suffer from cramps, pain, and discomfort in the lower abdominal area. The last thing most women want to do is workout, but recent studies have shown that the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle is the best time to make strength gains.
Research at Umea University in Sweden suggests that training concentrated in the first two weeks of the cycle has more of an effect on muscular strength, power, and muscle mass.
59 women participated in a four-month leg resistance training program. One group completed a leg strengthening program 5 times per week during the first 2 weeks of their cycle. The other half completed the same training program during the second half of their menstrual cycle. The results showed that the group who completed the program during the first 2 weeks of their menstrual cycle saw a larger effect than the group who underwent the same training program for the latter two weeks of the menstrual cycle. There was no noticeable difference for women taking birth control pills and those who did not.
This is the time to embrace your workouts and really push yourself. Your go to workouts during the first two weeks of your cycle are high intensity interval training (HIIT), interval running, high intensity sports, and weight lifting.
After ovulation starts and you enter week three, your body is a stew of hormones, which can cause you to feel sluggish. Your go to exercise is…drum roll, please…
Anything that keeps you moving. Pick moderate, less stressful workouts that you enjoy: trail runs, long walks, flat bike rides, easy swims, or yoga. You should be able to hold a conversation while completing these workouts.
Research has shown that during the luteal phase (weeks 3-4), a woman’s body has difficulty with temperature regulation. Women need to be cautious performing prolonged exercise in hot conditions. This deficit in temperature regulation can make it more difficult to run long distances, hike long distances, and work out for long periods of time because of increased strain on the cardiovascular system.
Plan ahead for drops in motivation. It’s totally normal if you find it harder to motivate yourself and reach your fitness goals during this time. So, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you fall off the horse, get back on. Chances are, you’ll feel more motivated as your menstrual cycle continues.
If you don’t track your cycle, start now. The more in tune you are with your body, the better you will feel and train. Tracking your cycle is key.