If you’re a woman in your reproductive years, your body and hormones aren’t the same everyday, and your workouts shouldn’t be either.
Back before I learned about these hormonal fluctuations, also known as the four phases of a menstrual cycle, I would push myself through grueling crossfit workouts and marathon trainings 5-6 days a week, every week.
Some weeks I felt invincible in my training, but the weeks leading up to and during my period I’d slog through my workouts, struggling to keep up and feeling exhausted.
Not only that, but no matter how hard I pushed myself and how little I ate, it seemed as though I could never really get that fit or shed the few extra pounds I was secretly (not so secretly) hoping I would due to the intense training.
If this sounds all too familiar, or you’ve ever forced yourself through a workout before or during your period only to feel defeated, tired, or SO much hungrier after (when you dominated the same workout just a few weeks earlier!) then you’ve felt just how differently the female body responds to different exercise based on hormonal fluctuations and biochemistry firsthand.
Luckily, with a little bit of tweaking, you can workout smarter, not harder, and still get in the best shape of your life. Snag all of the cycle syncing workout tips that will benefit your body, hormones and overall health.
Cycle syncing, a method pioneered by functional nutritionist (and fellow IIN graduate!) Alissa Vitti, helps women in their reproductive years align their diet, workouts and lifestyle habits with each phase of their menstrual cycle. The concept is said to help balance hormones and thereby reduce symptoms (such as pms, painful periods, acne, fertility challenges, etc.) by supporting each hormone fluctuation’s unique needs.
During each phase of the menstrual cycle, the female body responds differently to workouts due to rising/falling hormone levels, which affect everything from the rate at which you burn calories to your stress and immune response.
Therefore, by matching your workout type and intensity level with each phase of your cycle it can help you:
To better understand the benefits of cycle syncing your workouts, it’s important to have an overview of what your hormones are doing during each phase of your menstrual cycle (and how this correlates directly with exercise). Let’s briefly jump into each phase:
From the first day of your period until it ends (typically 3-7 days). A drop in estrogen and progesterone triggers the shedding of the uterine lining, causing your period to begin. During your menstrual phase, all of your sex hormones are at their lowest point (and with it your energy levels and immune response). Your body is also working extra hard and losing nutrients with the loss of blood, making this an essential time to rest and replenish.
Begins the day after your period ends, typically lasting 7-10 days. Your brain begins releasing follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), triggering the growth of follicles in the ovaries to prepare for ovulation. Your estrogen levels start to ramp up in order to thicken your uterine lining for a potential egg implantation, while increasing testosterone begins to stimulate your libido. As this happens, you’ll begin to experience a boost in energy, mood, confidence and cognitive skills.
Typically occurs between days 12-17 of your cycle and is short, usually only lasting two to three days. Right before ovulation, there’s a surge of luteinizing hormone, LH, which causes the dominant follicle to burst open and release its egg into the fallopian tube. The egg will be viable for roughly 12-24 hours, and if it’s not fertilized by sperm (which can live up to 5 days in the body), it will disintegrate. Levels of estrogen and testosterone are at their peak during this phase, helping you feel magnetic, energetic, outgoing, confident and sexy while optimizing your creativity and communication skills.
Occurs immediately after ovulation, typically lasting 12-16 days. Estrogen, testosterone and LH begin their decline while progesterone rises to stimulate the growth of the uterine lining in preparation for a potential pregnancy (if not pregnant it will shed in the menstrual phase). Emotionally during the first half of the luteal phase, you’re still riding high off of the effects of the ovulatory phase. However, as progesterone production increases, you’ll find your energy begin to wane and turn inward. Additionally, your stress response heightens and metabolic needs increase, making it a crucial time to eat more and workout less to avoid increased cortisol levels.
During your menstrual phase, it’s important to engage in gentle, restorative movements, as any form of high-intensity exercise increases cortisol levels, turning on fat storage and muscle wasting. The best types of workouts for your menstrual phase include:
As energy rises and resting cortisol levels decrease, your body will react more efficiently to higher intensity workouts, helping you boost metabolism, increase fat burning and build lean muscle. The best types of workouts for this phase include:
In this phase, estrogen and testosterone are at their peak, giving you plenty of energy and stamina to power through intense workouts, which include:
During the beginning (first five days) of your luteal phase, estrogen and testosterone remain elevated, while calming/relaxing progesterone enters the picture, making it an ideal time to focus on strength training in order to maximize lean muscle gain. Once you hit day six of your luteal phase, your reproductive hormones and energy diminish in concentration, meaning it’s time to scale back the length and intensity of your workouts and focus on flexibility. The best types of workouts include:
If you’ve made it this far, you might be thinking, okay this all makes sense, but where should I start (without it being overwhelming!)? Don’t worry boo, I gotchu with these simple steps below.
First things first, you need to begin tracking your menstrual cycle to understand which phase you’re in (see section below). Once you know where you’re at in your cycle (and have data to rough estimate your timing/length of each phase) you can move on to the next step.
Now that you can loosely map out your menstrual cycle, start scheduling a few workouts phase by phase (start small and work your way up). For example, if you’re in your follicular phase you might want to map out a couple of peloton rides or figure out a day that works to go on a run/hike with a friend. Or if you’re in the latter half of your luteal phase, you may want to look up some gentle yoga or pilates classes. The most important piece is to not put too much pressure on yourself or have EVERYTHING scheduled to a tee, start small and be mindful of where you’re at in your cycle.
While you’ve got a much better understanding of your biological rhythms, this doesn’t necessarily mean you feel like doing all of the corresponding workouts with each phase, especially if you’re already dealing with a hormonal imbalance or condition like PCOS. Bottomline, you should always check in with how you’re feeling first and adjust your workout schedule accordingly.
I get that cycle syncing workouts can seem overwhelming at first, so my little hack to simplify is to group your cycle into two parts, the first half and the second half. During the first half (follicular, ovulatory and beginning of luteal) when energy is highest, focus on any workouts that feel more strenuous or intense, and during the second half (later luteal phase, menstrual phase) as energy wanes, think low (impact) and slow.
There are a variety of ways to track your menstrual cycle, with the fertility awareness method (FAM) being my personal preference. I also really like this cute cycle tracking journal, or you can simply note the date of your cycle (with day #1 being the first day of your period all the way up until your next period begins) on whatever daily planner/calendar you use.
That being said, a lot of people like using apps, in which case I recommend the My Flo App (which protects your data privacy, something you unfortunately need to be cautious of when using tracking apps).
No. Birth Control lowers your natural production of reproductive hormones in order to inhibit ovulation, thereby protecting you from unwanted pregnancies, but also interfering with your menstrual cycle . This means you’re no longer having a monthly cycle, therefore none of the cycle syncing practices apply. That being said you may find switching up your workouts or getting into a monthly rhythm still feels good.
You may find the length of your workouts shifting based on where you’re at in your menstrual cycle, as your endurance is higher during your follicular and ovulatory phases vs. your latter luteal and menstrual phases. Above all, listen to your body, but as a secondary rule of thumb, try keeping your workouts to around 30 minutes, which helps your body burn the glucose in your bloodstream for energy, while preventing excess cortisol production and adrenal fatigue (especially important if you’re already dealing with hormonal imbalances).
First and foremost, whenever it works for you and your schedule! That being said, it may be beneficial to workout in the morning during your follicular and ovulatory phases, when energy is higher, and in the afternoon during your latter luteal phase and menstrual phase, when more sleep/rest becomes paramount.
No one knows the answer to this question better than you, however I will say that the benefits and results I’ve witnessed from both a personal and professional standpoint when cycle syncing workouts have been extremely positive.
As always, I recommend checking in with yourself and what feels right for you, as well as starting out with simple and small shifts so that cycle syncing doesn’t become overwhelming. To me, the most important benefit of cycle syncing workouts is truly tuning into your body and honoring it, instead of punishing it with grueling workouts or something that doesn’t feel natural/right to you.
**Additionally please note I am not a doctor and my intent is to inform, NOT offer medical advice. Please talk to your doctor before making big lifestyle shifts, especially if dealing with preexisting medical conditions.
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I’m honored to support you on your journey to optimal hormone health + happiness. Thanks for being here babe.