We all know that our cycle affects absolutely everything from our mental health to our skin, our stress levels and sleep quality, our cravings, appetite and weight gain so it is so important to support the different stages of our cycle with a supportive movement – not one that will increase cortisol more at the various stages.
Of course, how you feel affects motivation to work out at different stages of the cycle also. Our bodies, once again are super clever and there is a reason why you feel motivated to do different types of movement depending on your cycle stage. When we tune in, this is the movement we need for optimum hormone balance.
Not everyone has a standard 28 day cycle of course and paying attention to how you feel across each phase of the cycle is important.
Estrogen levels have an effect on your insulin response, diminishing insulin resistance, and allowing your body to more easily use carbohydrates as fuel. For this reason, it may be beneficial to schedule your intense workouts around the times when your estrogen is highest, which is in the time just following your period through the week or so after ovulation — basically the middle of your cycle.
Estrogen is also associated with energy balance, so many women feel more energized when their estrogen is high. This is another reason to take advantage of high estrogen by doing in more challenging workouts.
Research shows the effects of strength training on women during their follicular phase vs. luteal phase and found that greater gains in muscle and strength were possible during the follicular phase so definitely add some strength training workouts during these days.
For this reason, strength training during the first phase of your cycle can help you optimize your body’s muscle-building potential.
Week 1 follicular stage:
During this first week, you’ll be bleeding and likely feel a bit more fatigued and less excited about getting moving. In addition, your ability to utilize oxygen is not optimized, so hardcore training may feel a lot more difficult. Yin and restorative yoga types, walking more beneficial here but as soon as you start to feel the symptoms of your period diminish, it’s great to get back into strength training.
- Light walking (30-45 minutes)
- Gentle yoga
Week 2 Follicular stage:
Estrogen levels begin to increase after your period starts, so by your second week, estrogen should be pretty high. This is a great time to hit the gym or push yourself to do more challenging workouts at home.
You’re also still in your optimal muscle synthesis window as mentioned, so there should be a focus on strength training during week two as well.
- HIIT (high-intensity interval training)
- Strength training and weight training
Research shows that during the second half of your cycle, you have a greater lung capacity than during the first half. This is particularly true when compared to the beginning of your follicular phase — when you’re bleeding. This may be one reason why going for a run when you first start your period feels harder than other stages of the cycle.
To take advantage of this shift in your body’s ability to utilize oxygen, you should focus on more intense aerobic training during the second half of your cycle. Or at least take the first week of your follicular phase off.
After ovulation, your core body temperature rises as you enter the luteal phase. Due to this increase in body temperature, research suggests that this is not the time to hit a hot yoga class, for example.
Week 3 luteal stage:
The beginning of this week should feel pretty good. However, as you get to the end of the week, you may begin to start feeling symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Take advantage of your enhanced breathing capacity during this week with some aerobic exercise. You may find that you have a burst of energy here before your progesterone and estrogen levels begin to drop off.
Some exercises to focus on during week three include:
- Bike Rides
Week 4 Luteal phase:
Symptoms of PMS may start to occur during this week. If you’re feeling more fatigue, cramps, breast pain, or any symptoms that make exercise difficult, this is the perfect time to rest. Even more so than when your period actually begins, the week before can feel like a struggle when it comes to getting active.
This also happens to be a very important time to keep your body moving in one way or another.
Some gentle exercises to focus on during your premenstrual phase are:
- Light walking
- Gentle yoga
You technically still have an increased ability to utilize oxygen during this phase, so if your body feels up for it, low impact aerobic exercise is also a great idea.
We are all different but use this as a guide and as long as you keep track of how you feel, your symptoms around your menses, and which exercises you focus on, you’ll be able to build a perfect program that suits your needs.
LIFE STAGES – PERIMENOPAUSE AND MENOPAUSE
Around perimenopause and into menopause, declining hormones can affect body composition. Low progesterone and estrogen tend to show up as weight gain around the abdomen. Sometimes, the scale doesn’t even shift for you to notice differences. Even if you maintain your weight, fat storage may shift from the lower body to the belly.
We just cannot exercise in the same way over 40 than before. Too much cardio at this stage can just amplify the changing hormones in terms of causing more stress on the adrenals / cortisol levels, throwing out your already changing hormones even more.
We may have been able to do lots of cardio when we are younger but particularly, if weight loss is a goal over 40 and in perimenopause and menopuase, we have to change it up. Minimizing cardio and more focus on mobility, balance, yoga, strength and HIIT trainings will be most beneficial.
Whether you use body weight, resistance bands, or weights, including strength training in your workout is vital. After age 30, you lose between 3–5% of muscle mass with each decade. Building muscle mass becomes a big help to keeping your metabolism high, minimizing weight gain, and maintaining bone density.
HIIT workouts, strength and weight training are great for fat loss, building muscle, increasing endurance, improving thyroid function, and promoting positive gene expression.
Studies have found that consistent yoga and meditation can boost estrogen levels in menopausal women and help with symptoms. Cortisol is higher and including some kind of yoga and meditation will be so important to keep stress levels balanced.
But, along with the more obvious benefit of flexibility, yoga helps with balance, which is a good way to improve strength and stability. Many yoga poses engage the abdomen and pelvic floor muscles, which naturally weaken as we age.
Cold sea swimming or cold showers can de-stress and help you balance your hormones because it reduces the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) that is in the body, which can have an impact on estrogen and progesterone.
Tune in – Work with your hormones, not against.
Nourish and flourish,
To your abundant health,