Training And Your Cycle - Work With It, Not Against It!
I am in no way, shape or form claiming to be in any way an expert in the field of the female reproductive system and I highly recommend that if you have any issues in this regard to seek medical advice from professionals.
I do, however, feel that there is still a wealth of information that women could benefit from by simply becoming more aware of our menstrual cycle and the impact each phase has on our training, mood, cravings, etc.!
Most of the time, your body knows what it needs better than you do!
Last week –
My energy levels were comparable to a sloth.
My appetite was comparable to an elephant.
My mood was comparable to a hungry tiger.
My sleep was comparable to a bullfrog (Apparently, bullfrogs do not go into a sleep state, but they do go into states of rest throughout the day)
Overall, just not wanting to slay life last week. I managed one resistance training session and the rest of the week opted for yoga and long walks – for mental reasons as much as physical ones. My poor housemates can vouch for that.
Now, if this was last year, I would have beat myself up over having such a ‘bad’ (for want of a better word) week. I didn’t listen to my body and expected it to perform consistently 'well' week on week, four weeks of the month, and twelve months of the year.
WOMEN ARE NOT LITTLE MEN and thus, cannot train like men.
There’s a fine line between making excuses and genuinely knowing when to honor your body and give it what it needs. As a dancer, I ABUSED my body for YEARS, not listening when it told me to slow down, and going to bed HUNGRY for fear of gaining a pound.
If I was my body and I could have punched my mind, I would have, quite a few times.
Over the past year and since becoming a qualified Personal Trainer who specializes in Female Fat Loss, I have become a lot more educated on the topic of the menstrual cycle. This has come from books and from actually slowing down and listening to my own body for the first time in thirty years. If you honor your body and treat it with the respect it deserves it will repay you tenfold. I am not talking about self-care Sundays or treating yourself to a holiday, I am talking about fueling your body with good, nutritious food, getting good QUALITY sleep, training in the RIGHT WAY at the RIGHT TIME (see below for examples of this) and overall, just looking after your body. You only get one, so make sure you aren’t waiting until the latter half of your life to take care of it!
These two things are worth mentioning before I dive into this:
If you are on the Pill or any form of contraception that inhibits ovulation, you DO NOT get a period, you get a withdrawal bleed-
The bleeding you get when you’re on the pill is not the same as a menstrual period.
Your period on the pill is technically called withdrawal bleeding, referring to the withdrawal of hormones in your pill, and in your body. The drop in hormone levels causes the lining of your uterus (the endometrium) to shed.
And with regards to ovulation-
If you take your pill consistently and correctly, you shouldn’t ovulate. This is the primary way the pill prevents pregnancy.
In a usual (no-pill) cycle, the body’s natural reproductive hormones fluctuate up and down, taking your body through a process of preparing an egg for release, releasing that egg, and preparing your uterus to accept a potentially fertilized egg.
The hormones in the contraceptive pill stop and prevent your ovaries from preparing and releasing eggs. They stop the usual hormonal “cycling”, including ovulation, the typical growth of the endometrium, and the natural period.
Some key points with regards to training and the menstrual cycle:
Days 1-14: Follicular Phase -
Estrogen rises throughout this phase leading to higher body satisfaction and increased energy levels. Recovery after training tends to be more optimal at this phase and so a focus on heavier strength-based training is recommended.
Days 15-28: Luteal Phase -
This phase usually sees an increase in cravings and appetite, a decrease in mood, bloating, and disrupted sleep. Recovery after exercise is reduced. It is important to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. People often feel so guilty for giving in to cravings and you shouldn’t! I’m not saying do the absolute dog on it just because your period is due, but listen to what it’s trying to tell you. With regards to training, sometimes reducing the load/stress on the body during this phase may actually work in your favor.
Work with your body – when energy levels are high, utilize that! Train hard, make your gains, but by all means, when energy levels are low, perhaps opting for some low-intensity exercises may benefit you in the long run! I am not recommending sitting on the couch all day (although those days are totally needed sometimes), it is so important to move! Especially at this moment in time where a lot of us are working from home and are very inactive but just listen to your body, it might surprise you!
1. Sulak PJ, Cressman BE, Waldrop E, Holleman S, Kuehl TJ. Extending the duration of active oral contraceptive pills to manage hormone withdrawal symptoms. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 1997 Feb 1;89(2):179-83.
2. Druet, Anna, 2019. Do you get your period on the pill? Pills, periods, and withdrawal bleeding. Bleeding while taking the hormonal birth control pill
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