Nicki is a pilates & fitness coach specialising in women’s health and is the founder of a rapidly growing fitness app, niix. Niix looks to support, educate & inspire women to create a health & fitness habit & lifestyle that lasts.
Training around your cycle
Did you know we can optimise workouts during different stages of our cycle? But is this really necessary and if so, what are the benefits?
Believe it or not, menstrual cycle workout plans can really help the effectiveness of our workouts and the results we achieve. This is due to the different hormones that rise and fall throughout the month, which we need to be mindful of if we are to really gain from our efforts. Taking note of our cycle can have huge benefits.
Understanding your optimal levels can help you train harder, more efficiently and also help with weight loss.
Although every woman’s cycle and experience differs, our hormones change and adapt throughout the month, so it’s not surprising our energy levels can alter dramatically. There are four different phases during our cycle (menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal), generally known as Follicular and Luteal phases.
Menstrual phase: Days 1-7
Generally, at the start of our cycle, we can feel lacklustre and bloated as our oestrogen and progesterone levels drop. Cramps, joint and muscle pain, and headaches can all be present, along with dips in iron levels causing fatigue. Depending on your menstrual cycle, some may feel this more than others but it generally lasts 3-7 days. This is a physical time of shedding our womb lining, so it’s not surprising we may not feel motivated to work out hard.
In terms of exercise during the first few days, physical performance can be disrupted by all of the above. High-intensity exercise can cause workout-induced inflammation and higher heart rates are more of a challenge to reach during your menstrual phase. It’s, therefore, best to opt for shorter and lower intensity workouts.
Studies have shown, however, that resistance training during your follicular phase will result in more strength gains. Using your own bodyweight or light weights is a great option here so something like Pilates can be advantageous, concentrating on mobility and overall strength.
The good news is, that most of us see a decrease in period pains after a workout. Higher heart rates are more of a challenge to reach during your menstrual phase.
As we reach the end of our period, we often feel our best. A rise in hormone levels in anticipation of ovulation increases our energy stores and strength. Studies show when training during this time, we witness an increase in muscle strength and development, compared with any other time in the month. BUT taking care and being mindful of our technique is essential here more than ever. Statistics show women are three to six times more likely than men to suffer musculoskeletal injuries in this phase leading up to ovulation, particularly tendon, and anterior cruciate ligament injuries when oestrogen levels are high.
Follicular Phase: Days 1-14
This phase runs alongside the start of our cycle and as we head towards ovulation. Oestrogen levels rise to thicken our uterine lining ready to receive the released egg and the Follicle-stimulating hormone tells our ovaries to release an egg, usually around day 14.
Around day 12-16, just before ovulation, testosterone peaks, making us feel like we are firing off all cylinders. You may notice an increase in vibrancy and an urge to work out and train hard.
Energy levels are at their highest and now is the time to push yourself physically. We often have additional endurance due to low progesterone and a higher level of oestrogen, which increases our pain tolerance and builds muscle, allowing us to work out even harder. High intensity and strength training are great for this time of our cycle but make the most of this window, as it doesn’t last long!
Ovulation Phase: Days 11-17
This is the point in our cycle where there are subtle physiological changes as we look to attract our mate! Oestrogen increases which provides a natural mood boost. Skin and hair may feel more vibrant and glowing, and our energy levels continue to stay high. Elevated levels of oestrogen along with luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone trigger the body to start ovulating.
Within this window, body temperature continues to stay consistent and our ability to digest and utilise carbohydrates is more efficient. So, continue to push yourself with harder sessions, include lifting slightly heavier weights, hitting personal bests, and really going for it in those HIIT sessions.
Luteal Phase: Days 14-28 (or more)
Once we enter the luteal phase, hormones begin to shift, progesterone levels start to rise and oestrogen levels fall. This is when cravings can kick in, premenstrual tension is at its highest, and energy levels can drop. In fact, progesterone is generally seen as a depressant, compared to the mood-elevating benefits of oestrogen, hence why we may become more irritable or emotional!
A drop in stamina and ability to reach previously achieved goals is common. Our heart rate increases during the luteal phase which means our workouts may feel harder. Coordination can be affected too, and our metabolic rate increases which can lead to those all too familiar cravings and drop in energy levels. You may want to drop the intensity of your workouts at this point as we often succumb to fatigue more quickly.
It’s important to remember this happens to us all and to not be disheartened. Instead, include this phase in your schedule.
Look to have more rest days but focus on mobility, cardio, and conditioning workouts rather than strength training. This doesn’t mean you have to change your training but by modifying your intensity appropriately, you can still enjoy a HIIT or Pilates class but perhaps at a slightly pared-back pace.
Eating a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol can help keep your energy levels up. Try to avoid added sugar & preservatives such as fizzy drinks, cakes & fast food. These can all cause your blood sugar to spike, followed by an energy crash.
Staying hydrated is always important but more so during the luteal phase when an increase in fluid retention can occur from a peak in oestrogen and progesterone – from ovulation onwards.
Fluid redistributes throughout your body, creating a drop in plasma volume, which can compromise the amount of oxygen delivered to the muscles. This drop reduces sweat and since sweat helps the body cool down, it can also result in an increase in body temperature.
Our body’s temperature naturally increases during the luteal phase so by keeping hydrated, we can help with bloating, water retention, and stabilising our overall temperature.
Eating a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol can help keep your energy levels up. Try to avoid added sugar and preservatives such as fizzy drinks, cakes, and fast food. These can all cause your blood sugar to spike, followed by an energy crash.
During your period, protein-based foods like pulses and vegetables along with iron-rich foods can help counteract blood loss which can result in low iron levels, (also a cause for fatigue).
Smaller but more frequent meals throughout the day will also help stop your body from slumping. Large portions mean your body is putting more energy into digesting – contributing to your tiredness.
As we all know, the better the quality, the better we feel. Sleep is essential to cell regeneration, helps to balance hormones, aids weight management, and improves our mental health and productivity. Understanding how our cycle can affect our sleep can therefore help improve sleep.
During our period we may feel physically uncomfortable with cramps and low mood which can lead to interrupted sleep. Again, around ovulation, the body temperature rises and can cause bouts of insomnia. However, following your period as hormones level off, we often get a better night’s sleep. This is because the body is more likely to respond to melatonin, a sleep hormone that is more available during this phase of the cycle.
Often our sleep is worse in the luteal phase as our hormone levels drop and our bodies prepare for menstruation. Don’t panic but instead, implement good sleep hygiene, like taking time to wind down, eating earlier, turning off screens, and having a window open, can all help with this change.
Although our cycle can dictate how we feel and therefore our physical output, it’s worth remembering that exercise throughout, makes us all feel better. There really is no excuse not to move our bodies! Instead, maximise on the different stages of the cycle to increase positive gains and performance when feeling at our peak and tailor workouts to those less energetic days, to make sure we get the best results and feel great.
To join niix head to the App Store or Google Play to download. Membership starts from £4.99 a month.
Written by Nicki Philips from niix
Nicki is Founder of niix Ltd, a health and fitness brand and fitness app, offering workouts, recipes, blogs, advice, and a supportive community group of like-minded women. niix looks to help build a fitness habit that creates strength, tone, power, and cardio fitness; encouraging healthy lifestyle habits that last.
niix is offering 20% off their Premium Membership for Frank readers. To join, download the niixAPP from the App Store or Google Play and use Frank20 at check out.