What Happened When I Let My Menstrual Cycle Dictate My Workouts
One writer synced her workouts to her menstrual cycle and (spoiler alert) the results were amazing.
Bloating. Cramps. Sore boobs. Feeling hot, bothered and cranky. Gym? No thank you, I’ll take a Ben & Jerry’s ‘Wich and another re-watch of Queer Eye on Netflix.
We all know that periods can wreak havoc with our mental and physical health, but have we ever thought about listening to our bodies instead of powering through with our schedules? And that doesn’t necessarily mean skipping a workout. We’ve just got to be smart with it.
Find out if these period myths are real or fake!
There are now a buttload of studies that tell us when we’ll be at peak performance and when we should maybe dial things back and take it easy.
The general consensus is that from the day you start your period until the day you ovulate, you’ll be at your strongest and most energetic, due to low levels of oestrogen and progesterone.
Then, once you hit ovulation, your body temperature spikes, hormones go a bit mad, and your motivation is likely to hit rock bottom. During the week before your period strikes, muscle recovery is fairly pathetic, so if you do train hard, you’ll feel sore and stiff.
That’s the theory, anyway. But should you actually plan your workout schedule around your menstrual cycle or just grit your teeth and do the damn squat? I decided to give it a go.
I started this little experiment on the first day of my period. It should be noted that I’m not on any form of hormonal contraception – so every aspect of my cycle is au naturel.
I thought I’d jump in at the deep end (and take advantage of the light flow on day one – no one wants to be doing plyo lunges with all that going on) with the highest intensity class I could think of. It’s the first time I’ve done Grit Cardio (a Les Mills class that is, essentially, 30 minutes of invigorating torture) and not flopped out of the burpee challenge. So far, so good.
The next day, it seemed only right to give some strength training a go, seeing as I’d apparently be flooded with superhuman strength. Sure enough, I squatted 95% of my one-rep max easily – just a week before, I’d collapsed onto the safety bars of the squat rack like ‘what just happened?’
Hmm. Maybe there is something in this theory. This was going great!
Tell you what’s not so great – hip thrusts, when your entire hip region is burning. A heavy barbell resting across your ‘area’ when you’ve got period pains and lower back ache really isn’t the one.
Even so, resisting the urge to close the curtains and nap and instead opting for some tough resistance training proved to be worth the effort.
Then, a couple of weeks later, the inevitable slump arrived. I always know ovulation’s here because I bloat like no one’s business and basically want to spend all day sitting down. I found that a challenging hot yoga class was best here, especially because everything felt sore from the previous weeks’ heavy lifting.
When I did go anywhere near the free weights room, it was for higher volume, lighter weight training – I’m talking 15 plus goblet squats to get the heart rate going.
In the week before my actual period, I felt every bit of that increase in body temperature – hot yoga felt way too hot so I stuck my running trainers on and went out jogging. My least favourite exercise. For the first time in a long time, though, my pace was consistent, and I found that being outside in the great outdoors worked wonders for my mood (that mood being cranky, snappy and a bit sad).
Tell you what – I’m absolutely converted. The reason I’ve come to hate exercise while I’m on my period is just because I’ve been doing the wrong exercises. Chuck out your existing workout schedule. This is the one.
Words by Daisy Jackson