Physical activity and our menstrual cycle

Like one Chinese herbal formula or one acupuncture point does not work for everyone, the one-size-fits-all exercise plans do not work for women. We are different than men. We need to tailor our exercise program to align with our menstrual cycle. Below is a rough outline of what is happening in our body during a cycle and how we can chose the best type of exercise for good health during our period.

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FOLLICULAR PHASE

The follicular phase of our cycle runs from our period (day 1 of bleeding) through to ovulation.

When bleeding occurs, keep in mind that our body is losing blood, so it’s important to rest when required. This is a good chance to have exercise rest days which in addition will improve overall training. If we feel up to it, we can do yin style exercise, such as yin yoga, tai chi or a gentle walk.

Based on a 28 day cycle (a normal cycle can range from 21-35 days), ovulation occurs on day 14. Our oestrogen and testosterone drop in the second half of our 28 day cycle causing us to fatigue faster during workout. So it’s best to do higher intensity workouts during our follicular phase, close to ovulation. Towards the end of this phase, as we ovulate, all hormones are high, including a rise in testosterone meaning this is the optimum time for training. It is the time to make some big gains in our muscle mass and strength if we are doing a weight training style of exercise. With high oestrogen (more yin in nature), we find ourselves with a positive outlook and good moods. Often more energy and strength is common during this phase.

Some research suggests that injuries are more likely to occur in the days leading up to ovulation, so it is a time to practice mindfulness when we are training leading up to ovulation. Perhaps start to track aches and pains in a period diary to see if they occur just before ovulation. We should always let our health care professional know of any regular patterns we note.

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LUTEAL PHASE

The luteal phase is the second half of our cycle, from ovulation until next period. This is almost always 2 weeks, so if our cycle is shorter or longer, the difference will be in the follicular phase.

Progesterone is more yang in nature compared to oestrogen which is considered yin. As progesterone rises, our body temperature rises which can sometimes lead to night sweats and some irritability. Night sweating is called “thief sweating” in Chinese medicine and is something to let our health care professional know.

As we become more in tune with our cycle, we notice that there might be less endurance and energy than in the previous phase. Research confirms that we fatigue faster during workout because oestrogen and testosterone drop and we need more time to recover. In the luteal phase, the body has released an egg. It is preoccupied with the possibility that there is a potential opportunity to grow life. So rest days are encouraged during this phase or changing our training regime to more a yin style.

During this phase, premenstrual symptoms (PMS) may start to present. It is important to remember PMS is common, however it is not normal. Bloating, cramping, lower back pain and other PMS can impact our ability to use our body. In particular, if we don’t use our core correctly (due to bloating, lower back pain or cramping), it may result in injury. We should mention any symptoms we notice in our next consultation with our health care professional.

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Happy training!

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