Working Out According to Your Menstrual Cycle Stages

by Carla Henderson

Feeling out of sync with your body and not exactly sure why? Some days workouts go well, yet the very next day, something might seem off. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. The reason you notice fluctuations in your workout routine may be because of your menstruation cycle.

So how can having — and not having — your period affect your workout performance? The answer has to do with hormone levels and energy fluctuating throughout your cycle. “The idea of focusing workouts on a 28-day cycle based on the body’s hormonal fluctuations can prove beneficial to connecting both the body and mind on a variety of levels,” says Dr. Diana L. Bitner, OB-GYN and resident sexual health expert for Urban You for Me , who specializes in hormone levels and helping patients learn the ins and outs of their bodies.

There are four phases throughout the menstruation cycle: menstruation, follicular, ovulation and luteal. Each phase has its process in managing hormones and energy levels. With these fluctuations, our bodies can benefit from synced fitness routines to match each of our menstruation cycle stages. Read on to learn about the menstruation cycle and which types of workouts to consider during each stage. 

Yoga flow (Photo: GettyImages)

The Menstruation Phase

This phase starts on Day 1 of a period, otherwise known as the start of your menstrual cycle, and typically lasts for five to seven days. “During menstruation, estrogen levels are lower and sleep might be off,” Bitner says. 

Workouts for the Menstruation Phase 

“At this point in your cycle, a workout that incorporates focused strength training, like flow yoga, can be beneficial for mood, sleep and body,” Bitner says. Light walking or jogging for workouts during menstruation also can be ideal because your estrogen levels start to come back after days 3 and 4 and your body gets more energy.

If you choose yoga during your menstruation stage, your best bet is to focus on more restorative poses — especially if you’re tired and achy.

“Part of a healthy yoga practice is the art of learning to listen to your body,” says yoga instructor Buffy McCoy Kelly . “Child’s Pose, Half Pigeon and Bound Angle are the go-to postures I recommend to help alleviate menstrual symptoms like cramps, bloating, constipation and headache.” She says engaging in forward-folding yoga postures can stimulate the “rest and reset” parasympathetic nervous system response, while hip-opening postures are perfect for soothing lower back pain . Try adding a pillow for resting your forehead and a warm towel for your lower back to help ease tension and allow your body to soften.

HIIT Workout

The Follicular Phase

The follicular phase, otherwise known as the pre-ovulatory stage, overlaps the menstruation phase, as they both start the first day of your period. However, the follicular phase can last on average 11 to 16 days after the first day of your cycle. Here, the body starts producing a hormone called FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone. During this stage, a new egg matures from housed follicles in the ovaries. 

Workouts for the Follicular Phase

During this phase, there’s a massive surge of estrogen (particularly around Day 7). With the pumping of this hormone into the body, energy levels rise, as well. “This phase is the first of the cycle while estrogen levels are rising, often a time of recovery from menstruation and any sleep or mood changes that occurred, or from lower iron levels due to a heavy period,” Bitner explains. “As your follicular phase progresses and your energy level rises, stay tuned in with your body to see when and how to evolve your workouts. Around Day 6 or 7, the body’s surge of energy can be exactly what you need to take on a strong HIIT routine.” This may be the perfect time to try a 20-minute interval workout incorporating weights, or work on speed training or other high-intensity interval training workouts.

  The Ovulation Phase 

Ovulation takes place, on average, between days 12 and 21 of your cycle and consists of the body’s egg releasing from the ovaries to the uterus. During this phase, the body continues to have higher levels of estrogen and FSH, and it begins to produce luteinizing hormone (LH) to assist in ovulation. 

Workouts for the Ovulation Phase 

“Before and during ovulation, your estrogen levels are high, you are likely sleeping well, have more energy, as well as an increased sex drive” Bitner says. “For this reason, it might be beneficial to incorporate higher-intensity cardio around this phase of your cycle.” 

Given your high energy, and increased level of confidence, now’s the time to participate in a cardio dance or Zumba class. Moving and getting into your body while simultaneously getting your heart rate up is a great combination for those in their ovulation phase. “Ovulation can also be a time to engage in Pilates or a Pilates reformer class, as you’re able to get extra length out of your muscle and you have the ability to be a bit more aggressive about hamstrings and hip flexors,” Bitner says. 

Light Jog (Photo: GettyImages)

 The Luteal Phase

Occurring, on average, between days 21 and 28, the luteal phase is the last phase of the menstrual cycle. Here, the body may feel a tad exhausted and depleted of energy as the body starts to produce more progesterone levels. As your body is preparing for menstruation and for the cycle to repeat itself, your body’s temperature will also begin to rise. 

Workouts for the Luteal Phase

Because your body may be feeling drowsy and even a tad ornery, and your body temperature is naturally higher, it may be harder to carry out high-intensity cardio workouts. “Some women will need longer, moderate workouts to cope with irritability or feeling off,” Bitner says. “Alone time can be good to do some reflection and self-care, best served with a long run or bike ride and followed by mindful stretching to maintain the flexibility you may have gained during your ovulation workouts.” 

This phase of your menstrual cycle is also when the intense sugar cravings may occur. “It is very important to keep your blood sugar stable during this phase of the cycle,” Bitner advises. “As your estrogen level is low and depleting, you may be more prone to insulin resistance, which can result in cravings. Instead of picking up a brownie or cookie, stick to complex [carbs].” By keeping your blood sugar in check and eating complex carbs, you’re enabling your body to go on those longer runs or bike rides and setting your body up for success as you repeat your cycle over again.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s body is different, which means your cycle could land on other days or your energy may shift differently from phase to phase — and that’s OK. Try journaling through your process, making notes on days when you feel the effects of your menstrual phase (your energy, mood and how your body feels) so you can plan accordingly throughout the month.