Exercises That Sync With Your Cycle
Exercising to the beat of your own cycle can be super beneficial, but what happens if you don't understand the cycles and when they arrive? Lets dive a little bit deeper into the phases and what they mean, so you can better understand your body and how to sync it with your lifestyle.
I'm sure you have heard the phrase "28 day cycle," but what does that mean? First, everyones cycle can differ by a few days. Second, it is calculated from the first day of one period until the first day of the next. Birth control can disrupt this cycle and cause a "typical" 28 day cycle to be all over the place. So, if you are like me and have been on some form of birth control for over 15 years, it is very likely you have not experienced a "regular" 28 day cycle in many years.
I made the decision a couple years ago to stop using birth control. I still wasn't ready for children, but the multiple periods a month, mood swings, and overall just wanting to see what my body functioned like on its own made me take the leap.
With anything there are pros and cons to any situation.
CONS: I lost weight and a bunch of it. I know for some this sounds great, but for me on my small frame losing 15 pounds in a couple weeks was dramatic and honestly a little traumatizing. I was able to count every rib and had completely lost my breasts and butt. Then I was hit with insane depression, like lay in the bed all day and sleep depression. I knew I had no reason to be sad, yet I couldn't find the strength to get up and move. Thankfully this lasted 6 months on and off before I felt like myself again and my mood swings have dropped tremendously. I also heard this from so many of you, six months seems like the magic number to feeling like yourself again. Something I am still struggling with though is acne. I have never had breakouts on my lower face before and now it was like every day I had a new outbreak. I still get acne depending on my cycle, but it isn't everyday anymore. I do have to be more mindful about washing my face, drinking alcohol, and what makeup I use.
PROS: The first two weeks off birth control were like heaven. Sex drive through the roof, no more vaginal dryness, I felt happy and motivated. Of course, then I went through the 6 months of hell, but I am happy to announce I'm on the other side of that and feel great. I can actually feel when I ovulate and I have become "regular," so counting my days has worked fine as a form of birth control. I'm really happy now allowing my body to run as it was naturally created to do and I wish I would have made the swap sooner.
Okay, enough about me, lets get back to the cycles and when they happen.
Exercise During Menstruation
Menstruation—when you have your period—is the phase of the menstrual cycle when you are actually shedding the lining of your uterus. So the time frame that you are actually bleeding. I personally think that exercising during this period relieves my cramps and makes my periods less painful. (sex can do this too) The problem is our progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest here. This can cause us to feel tired and less motivated.
So its one of those moments where you have to force yourself into it with will power, knowing after you will have relief. With stamina and endurance levels diminished during this phase, you may not feel up to fast-paced, cardio activities or workouts that rely on lifting heavy weights.
Phase #1 - Menstruation
Low Intensity Cardio
Casual Bike Ride
Exercise During the Follicular Phase
The follicular phase is actually concurrent with menstruation in the beginning, as it starts the same day as your period. However it continues past the bleeding stage, until ovulation. This phase includes the stimulation of multiple hormones, including follicle stimulating hormone, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, and luteinizing hormone.
Put more simply, it's called the Follicular phase because your pituitary glade releases a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) that stimulates the follicles in your ovaries to mature, or make an egg. This egg will be released in the next phase. In order for that egg to form properly and release, our estrogen levels rise and guess what that brings? ENERGY BABY. Time to start amping up the intensity or start that project you wanted to finish.
Phase #2 - Follicular
Exercise During Ovulation
The ovulation phase is a brief window, approximately three to five days in the middle of your overall cycle. Personally I allow seven days for mine, but what do I mean? The reason we have five days of a fertile window (time frame you can get pregnant) isn't because we release five eggs, or our eggs can even live for five days. It is because sperm can! So, the four days prior to your body releasing the egg and 24 hrs after is the scary baby making window, once our egg is released it can only live for 24 hrs before it passes and the fertile window is gone.
The egg travels from the ovary along the fallopian tube toward the uterus, where if it is not fertilized within approximately 24 hours, it disintegrates. Your energy and endurance levels during ovulation are likely to be close to those of the follicular phase as you’ll still be experiencing elevated levels of estrogen, and this is when I try to max out weight in the gym and still have the energy to clean the house after. I like to refer to this phase as what a man feels like every single day he wakes up.
Phase #3 - Ovulation
High Intensity Activities
Exercise During the Luteal Phase
This is the longest stage of the menstrual cycle, lasting approximately two weeks. During this phase you may still feel close to the peak energy levels of the follicular phase, but this will start to decline in the latter half. The increased progesterone may actually cause some people to feel fatigued. You will slowly start to become more worn down and tired.
Don't stress yourself if you can't "perform" well in this phase. Take it easy and allow your body a recovery time as you approach the end of the literal phase. The downhill energy slide comes on slowly for me. I'm known to make comments like, "I don't know why I'm so tired" or "I'm feeling lazy today." Just remember, you aren't lazy, it's literally science.
Phase #4 - Luteal
Ultimately, tracking your cycle has the potential to help you be more in touch with your body, which can guide your workout decisions. You may find that your hormone levels cause you to feel more energetic than expected during one phase, or more lethargic than usual during another phase, and you can plan your exercise regimen accordingly. I just find it really helpful to actually know what is happening inside of my body. I hope this helps you!