Your period cycle increases and decreases hormones at different times within the cycle, meaning that certain exercises are more suited for certain days. I found these websites: Sweat , Byrdie, Fatherly, and Healthline really useful for understanding the different phases and workouts.
The menstrual phase – week 1
This phase is the week of your actual period. This is when blood flow, hormones, and pain are most common and typically last between 3 and 7 days. Day 1 is when your oestrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest throughout the entire cycle, along with the sudden loss of blood, these contribute to making you feel more tired than usual. A lot of the time no one wants to partake in vigorous exercise when they’re fatigued so taking it easy on the workout intensity around this time is the best strategy. It’s also advised to take a couple days break from exercise altogether during this week as periods are tiring enough already, and the body needs time to relax. With that being said, here are a few gentle exercises that will keep you up and moving without breaking a sweat!
Yoga is perfect for de-stressing the mind and relaxing the body, as well as helping to improve strength and flexibility. A lot of people really struggle with back pain during this time, so slow and steady movements are great in warming up muscles and increasing blood flow to aid in easing the pain.
Child’s Pose: probably the most relaxing pose and requires minimal effort. Simply kneel on the floor with your toes together and knees apart, then lower your torso close to the floor and stretch your arms forward. Breathe deeply in and out with each movement and remember to release built up tension in your body.
Half Moon: perfect for increasing fresh oxygen flow to the bloodstream. Start by standing with your feet together and your hands together stretching upwards. Slowly lean over to one side while keeping your hands and feet together to form a moon shape. Breathe deeply and repeat on the other side. This move extends your whole body and allows you to stretch hard to reach areas.
One of the easiest ways to get exercise into your routine without breaking a sweat. Simple walks around your town, park, or beach are excellent in keeping you moving and exercising but don’t require any skill or intensity. And if long walks aren’t your thing, a quick walk to the shops to get your favourite snacks is still encouraged!
The follicular phase – week 2
Although the follicular phase actually starts as soon as your period starts, let’s focus on the days once the period has finished. This phase typically starts at day one and ends at day 11 which is around the beginning of ovulation. The hormone follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH for short) is created by the body, which signals the ovaries to create eggs just in time for ovulation. This causes the body to prepare for releasing an egg and boosts up oestrogen levels, whilst continuing to increase them throughout the next phase. Energy is at one of its highest levels around this time so intense workouts are ideal.
HIIT (high intensity interval training):
This is the perfect time to start some HIIT workouts as they require a lot of energy. They typically include fast-paced bursts of exercise that require you to work with maximum effort, commonly adding weights, cool-downs, and going beyond your limit, as well as making you very out of breath! For beginners, it’s recommended to start at a 20-minute workout to prevent passing out, and working your way up to 45–60-minute workouts over time. Always start with a warm-up by stretching or jogging just to get the blood and body moving. Then start the core of the workout. It depends on which exercises you like to do, but here are some common ones:
Mountain Climbers: start in a plank position and bend one knee to meet the chest, repeat with the other knee, and repeat at a fast pace.
Squat Jumps: start by bending your knees and holding your hands together with your elbows bent. Bend your legs into a squat position and come back up, extend your arms and legs to jump, then follow back into a squat and repeat.
Jump Lunge: start in a deep lunge with one knee bent in front of you and the other bent behind you, jump off the floor and switch legs so your feet are on opposite sides to when you started and continue into a deep lunge to repeat the process.
The ovulation phase – week 3
This phase usually lasts for up to 5 days and is between day 12 and 17 of your cycle. The high levels of oestrogen are carried through to this phase and are at their peak during these days, as well as having increasing levels of the luteinising hormone (LH), which triggers the body to start ovulating. The ovulation phase and the follicular phase are pretty similar as they both have high energy levels and the body is able to take in more intense workouts. As they’re so similar, you can continue with HIIT workouts, but there are some other exercises which are effective for this time too:
Powerlifting can sound scary at first but all it is increasing your body’s all-over strength typically by using gym equipment, like weights or resistance bands. This form of exercise is usually very tiring and takes high amounts of energy, as well as being very challenging on the body. But if you’re a fan of the challenge this is the best time to do it! In addition, if you’re a feminine presenting person and worry about your safety but don’t know self-defence, powerlifting and strength training are good alternatives as they build up your strength enough to fight back and get to safety. You’ll need a gym for powerlifting as most exercises involve heavy equipment that will be too expensive to have at home. There are five main exercises in powerlifting: bench press, deadlift, squats, shoulder press, and pull-up. If you’re a beginner it’s a good idea to bring someone along with you to the gym who can teach you how to use the equipment safely.
The luteal phase – week 4
Finally, we have the luteal phase. This is the last phase of your cycle before it starts again at the menstrual phase and is the longest duration ranging around 12 to 14 days. Oestrogen will start decreasing at this time and progesterone levels will start rising, making people feel a lot more tired. As the menstruation phase is approaching, energy levels will be decreasing making it harder to continue with previous workouts so it’s best to start reducing the intensity of your workouts and lean into more chilled and relaxed exercises such as:
Pilates are great for increasing overall strength and releasing built up muscle tension. It’s a bit more intense than yoga but nowhere near as intense as HIIT, it mainly focuses on specific muscles to help strengthen and refine them.
Shoulder bridge: lie on your back with your knees bent and feet apart and flat on the floor. Keep your arms and shoulders on the floor and push up with your stomach, creating a bridge shape. Repeat 5 times.
Leg lifts: similarly, lie on your back with your knees bent, bring one leg close to your chest, then the other, then place both back on the floor. Repeat 5 times.
Side bend: lay on one side with your arm extended and your hand on the floor to support you and straighten the other arm upwards. Use your hips to push your body off the floor and come back down. Repeat 8 times on both sides.
Although different phases can help different exercises, this is only a guide and you should stick to whichever routine suits you best. Everyone has unique routines and cycles so if you’re a beginner try alternating your workout for certain days and find what you like the most, although you’ll never know if you don’t track your cycle! You can use apps like Clue, Flo, and My Calendar.