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Exercise during your period? How to harmonize your training & cycle

Do you want to make the most of your cycle phases for training and regeneration? In this article, you'll find out how exercise affects your period and which types of sport make sense in which phase of your cycle.

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Table of contents

The history of menstruation - explained without misunderstandings

To understand how training and cycle phases are connected, let's first look at the most important facts about a woman's menstrual cycle.

Duration: The cycle begins on the first day of the period and ends on the last day before the next menstruation. The duration is individual and varies between 21 and 35 days.

Procedure: At the beginning of a cycle, the uterine lining that has previously built up is shed and bleeding begins. At the same time, the next egg matures. Around halfway through the cycle, ovulation marks the start of the fertile phase. From now on there are two possibilities:

  • The egg is fertilized and implants in the uterus.
  • If fertilization does not occur, your menstruation begins with a delay.

Hormones: Various hormones are involved in the female cycle, above all progesterone and oestrogen. In the first half of the cycle, the rising oestrogen level in the blood ensures that the lining of the uterus is rebuilt after bleeding and the egg can mature in the ovary. In the second half of the cycle, oestrogen decreases with ovulation and progesterone increases. The mucous membrane continues to build up so that implantation or the next menstrual period is possible.

How does your training affect your cycle?

A worldwide survey of 14,184 active women shows: Exercise and a healthy lifestyle can have a positive influence on menstrual cramps. 82% of German women stated that sport reduces the symptoms of their menstruation. At the same time, however, 71% of those surveyed lacked the necessary information on the subject of sport and the menstrual cycle.

88% of the female athletes surveyed stated that their sporting performance deteriorates during their cycle - either in the phases before or during menstruation.1 It is also interesting to note that neither sports lessons nor the training of amateur or professional athletes provide information about the connection between the menstrual cycle and sport.

Which training is suitable for which phases of the cycle?

Is exercise recommended during my period? When is the best time of the cycle to build muscle? The following overview shows you when your body is capable of peak performance and when you should take it easy.

Menstrual phase: give yourself a break

If your body doesn't perform as well during your period as it does on other days, you're not alone: 30% of the 1,073 participants in the 2015 London Marathon stated in a survey that their period has an impact on their performance.2

  • This is what happens during this phase of your cycle: on the first day of your period, the mucous membrane that was previously built up in the uterus is broken down and shed.
  • You may feel like this: abdominal cramps, bloating, mood swings and pain can initiate and accompany this phase. You probably lack the motivation to exercise now, especially for intensive workouts.
  • This helps: take extra care of yourself during this time. Find a good pace, focus on endurance rather than performance and don't push yourself too hard.
  • Recommended types of exercise: Some women report that light, relaxing exercise helps them and can even alleviate period symptoms. Yoga with gentle hip openings, walking or slow jogging can support you during this phase and help you build up your stamina. Online fitness studios such as Gymondo or various yoga YouTube channels offer special exercises for your period.
  • Tips for your performance: The menstrual phase is the perfect time to focus on recovery. Do you have an ambitious sporting goal? Then use the rest phase to analyze and improve your training plan and incorporate mental training. On the other hand, intensive workouts are not recommended for most women with a period.

Follicular phase: Let's go!

  • What happens during this phase: The follicular phase begins after your period. It is initiated by the hormone follitropin. It stimulates the vesicle-like structure inside your ovaries (follicle) in which egg maturation takes place. Normally, only one follicle fully matures per cycle. It grows to around 20 mm in size and is filled with fluid.
  • How you may feel: During this phase, both your testosterone and oestrogen levels rise. This can make you feel energetic, in a great mood and give your self-confidence a boost. You feel more comfortable around others and your libido is increased.
  • Recommended types of training: This phase of the cycle is the perfect time for sportswomen to train their bodies intensively, work on their next training success full of energy or tackle new goals. According to a study conducted in Bochum, even muscle building is most effective shortly before ovulation - a good time for intensive strength training or interval and endurance training.3

Ovulation: A cheer for challenges

  • What happens during this phase: Ovulation takes place on day 14 (i.e. around the middle of the cycle) and is the end of the follicular phase.
  • How you may feel: Your oestrogen and testosterone levels are now at a high. Most women experience a mood and energy high during this phase, which can boost their performance.
  • Recommended types of training: Are you facing a major sporting challenge? Then now is the perfect time to tackle it. Use the power of your body during ovulation to achieve your sporting goals.

Luteal phase: take it slow

  • What happens during this phase: The luteal phase marks the start of the last part of your menstrual cycle. After you ovulate, the egg can survive for around 24 hours. If it is not fertilized, it dies.
  • This is how you may feel: testosterone and oestrogen production decreases and your progesterone level increases. Some women often experience fatigue or are affected by PMS during this time.
  • Recommended types of exercise: Exercises to maintain muscle are useful now, but exercises to build muscle are not. Concentrate on maintaining your fitness level with moderate endurance training while doing something for your well-being and preparing for the slightly quieter menstrual phase.
  • Tips for your performance: During this time, you should not push yourself to your limits and be particularly careful during training. The reason: your ligaments are looser due to the increased progesterone. This can affect your risk of injury during sport.

Symptoms of premenstrual syndrome

The luteal phase is often accompanied by unpleasant symptoms, which are summarized under premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS manifests itself in different ways depending on the woman. Typical symptoms are

  • Sensitive or painful breasts
  • Water retention
  • Mood swings and psychological discomfort
  • Pain of any kind (head, joints, abdomen, back)
  • Digestive problems (constipation, flatulence)
  • Cravings

What eases PMS symptoms?

Caffeine, nicotine, sugar and alcohol can increase PMS symptoms.4 A balanced, vitamin-rich diet, on the other hand, helps to alleviate them.5 Shortly before and during your period, you should therefore eat as consciously as possible.

Exercise during your period? The main thing is that you feel good!

A woman's cycle is a rollercoaster ride for the hormone levels in her blood. Over the course of a month, your body has to cope with numerous hormonal fluctuations that have an impact on your well-being and your performance in sport.

You don't have to feel bad if you don't perform as well as you should during the luteal phase or during your period. Or if you suffer from PMS: Many women have to make sacrifices in their sports performance and well-being due to PMS symptoms. One study estimates that over 60% of women have PMS7, while other studies have found that up to 90% of women have at least one PMS symptom.

So: give your body the rest it needs during your period and use your newfound knowledge of the cycle phases to optimize your training plan.

This article is based on carefully researched sources:

Bibliography

  1. https://www.ots.at/presseaussendung/OTS_20190328_OTS0253/internationale-befragung-ueber-den-zusammenhang-von-menstruation-und-sport-zeigt-frauen-mangelt-es-an-informationen-und-aufklaerung-foto. Zuletzt aufgerufen am: 23.05.2022, 15:28.
  2. Bruinvels, G., Burden, R., Brown, N., Richards, T., & Pedlar, C. (2016). The Prevalence and Impact of Heavy Menstrual Bleeding (Menorrhagia) in Elite and Non-Elite Athletes. PloS one, 11(2), e0149881. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149881
  3. Han, A. (2009). Menstruationszyklus-gesteuertes Krafttraining : makroskopische Adaptationen an Krafttraining in Abhängigkeit vom hormonellen Millieu. Zeitschriftenartikel. https://www.bisp-surf.de/Record/PR020070600301/Solr. Zuletzt aufgerufen am: 23.05.2022, 15:30.
  4. Hashim, M. S., Obaideen, A. A., Jahrami, H. A., Radwan, H., Hamad, H. J., Owais, A. A., Alardah, L. G., Qiblawi, S., Al-Yateem, N., Faris, A-I. E. (2019). Premenstrual Syndrome Is Associated with Dietary and Lifestyle Behaviors among University Students: A Cross-Sectional Study from Sharjah, UAE. Nutrients, 11(8): 1939. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081939
  5. Isgin-Atici, K., Kanbur, N., Akgül, S., & Buyuktuncer, Z. (2020). Diet quality in adolescents with premenstrual syndrome: A cross-sectional study. Nutrition & dietetics: the journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia, 77(3), 351–358. https://doi.org/10.1111/1747-0080.12515
  6. https://www.spektrum.de/kolumne/menstruation-hilft-sport-gegen-regelschmerzen/1839997#. Zuletzt aufgerufen am: 23.05.2022, 16:48.
  7. Bhuvaneswari, K., Rabindran, P., & Bharadwaj, B. (2019). Prevalence of premenstrual syndrome and its impact on quality of life among selected college students in Puducherry. The National medical journal of India, 32(1), 17–19. https://doi.org/10.4103/0970-258X.272109