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 the tips below on working out for your period in a way that will benefit your body, hormones and overall health.
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Let’s cut to the chase shall we? Working out on your period is not BAD per se, however the female body responds to different kinds of exercise during each phase of your menstrual cycle, so it’s all about the type of workout you choose to engage in.
To better understand this, it’s crucial to have some awareness around your female biochemistry during your period. See below for details!
When you’re on your period, your sex hormones estrogen, testosterone and progesterone are all at their lowest, and with it your energy levels, as your body works hard to shed the lining of your uterus.
Your stress response is also heightened during this time, and when you engage in intense exercise during your period it puts additional stress on your body, causing you to pump out cortisol, which converts stored fat into usable glucose so you have enough energy to make it through your workout.
This may sound helpful, but it’s actually counterproductive, as the circulating glucose gets converted back into fat, especially in your midsection and hips. Instead of fat burning, you get stuck in a cycle of increased fat storage and muscle wasting, not to mention zapped energy and increased hunger levels.
Bottomline, if you want to workout during your period and actually receive the benefits (i.e. fat burning, muscle-toning, a boost in energy, etc.) then it’s important to engage in exercise that doesn’t increase cortisol production and stress levels. See below for ideas!
As mentioned above, if you’re looking to workout during your period in order to actually receive some sort of benefit (fat-burning, strength-gains, muscle-toning, mood or energy boost, etc.) it’s crucial to engage in exercise that works to lower cortisol production, instead of adding stress to your body.
Below are some of the best types of restorative workouts to do during your period to help you to do just that!
While I may sound like a broken record at this point, it’s important to avoid any sort of strenuous workouts that cause excess cortisol production, leading to increased fat storage, muscle-wasting, fatigue, adrenal dysfunction, bleeding, blood sugar imbalances and injuries. Below are some specific exercises to avoid the days leading up to and during your period.
As you can see, working out during your period can either have negative implications or a plethora of positive side effects. It truly just depends on the type of exercise you engage in. That being said, incorporating slow, stress-reducing, low-impact exercises and restorative movement like those listed in the best workouts to do on your period section come with a host of benefits, including:
Restorative movement like those outlined in the best workouts for your period works to decrease PMS by lowering cortisol levels, boosting feel-good endorphins that block pain receptors, and boosting circulation and blood flow.
Research has shown exercises such as yin yoga, foam rolling and stretching can reduce menstrual cramping by lowering inflammation and gently compressing and massaging pelvic muscles.
Gentle exercise stimulates the production of serotonin, your feel-good hormone.
In order to get the full benefits of working out on your period, as well as avoid any pitfalls that could keep you from reaching your fitness goals, I’ve outlined my top tips for you below.
These types of low-impact movement work to tone, stretch and relax muscles and boost blood flow that can alleviate period pain and menstrual cramping.
I’m especially obsessed with p.volve’s cycle-syncing pilates series, which tailors the workouts to the four hormonal fluctuations of your menstrual cycle, providing you with classes to optimize your body’s energy and strength, especially during your period. **You can use my code SOFRESH30 for a 30-Day Free Trial.
Yin Yoga specifically has been shown to help reduce stress and relieve menstrual cramping, especially when engaging in positions like triangle pose, downward dog and fish pose that gently compress and massage your pelvic floor and back muscles. You can find a ton of free classes on youtube, or access them through an online subscription like Peloton (or just do some poses on your own!)
While running (especially for an extended period of time) can put major stress on your body during your period, hindering your progress, walking at a light to moderate pace does the opposite by lowering stress levels and increasing mood-boosting hormones like serotonin.
If you can, try and opt for a walk outdoors (or even a gentle, low-incline hike!), which includes additional benefits such as helping to set your circadian rhythm, which optimizes sleep, balances blood sugar, reduces cravings and naturally aids your body in weight loss.
Scaling back your workouts and allowing yourself rest during your period is critical to progressing your fitness levels, especially when overexercising has been shown to put strain on your adrenals and push your body into stress survival and fat storage mode.
Additionally, swapping your workout for a nap or prioritizing a good night’s sleep helps naturally aid in weight loss by increasing your metabolism, balancing blood sugar levels and reducing cravings (especially for carbs or sugar). Truly, if your body is calling for rest or sleep, now is the time to listen to it, as the payoffs are endless.
Keeping blood sugar balanced is crucial to supporting your hormones and menstrual cycle, as it works to reduce stress within the body. And as you now know less stress = lower cortisol levels = less inflammation = increased metabolism, muscle toning and fat-burning (yes please!).
Not to mention, blood sugar balance is especially important during your period, as increased cortisol production interferes with insulin levels and destabilizes blood sugar.
You can help keep your blood sugar in check by ensuring you’re eating nutrient-dense, balanced meals and snacks every 3-4 hours during your period. For specific recipes and meal ideas, check out my go-to guide.
High intensity exercise such as cycling, bootcamp, dance cardio, running, CrossFit, etc. can all help you get stronger, burn fat and gain more lean muscle when incorporated into the first half of your menstrual cycle (your follicular and ovulatory phases, more on that below).
However engaging in these types of intensive workouts during the latter half of your cycle (luteal and menstrual phase) actually have the opposite desired effect by creating more stress in your body, which turns on fat storage and muscle wasting, while depleting your adrenals and energy, leading to hormonal imbalances, missed periods and other negative side effects.
Thus if you want to benefit from fitness gains and feel good, it’s best to schedule these workouts during the first half of your cycle, and skip them for more low-impact and restorative forms of exercise during your period.
While there are a number of safe and effective workouts I’ve outlined that you can participate in during your period, I always encourage you to first and foremost check in with yourself. If your body is craving rest, allow it to do just that, which will only empower you to enter into your follicular phase with more energy and stamina to crush those workouts!
Also, keep in mind if you have a symptomatic period (heavy flow, cramping, period pain, fatigue, mood swings, etc.) these are signs of a hormonal imbalance, and working on resolving this first will go a long way in improving your workouts, energy, performance, periods and overall health down the road.
It depends on the type of exercise. While intense exercise such as long-distance running, cycling, HIIT etc. can make bloating, cramping and other period symptoms worse, restorative and low-impact exercises like yin yoga, pilates, stretching or foam rolling help alleviate period pain and cramping by boosting the production of feel-good hormones that block pain receptors, increasing blood flow and gently massaging your back and pelvic floor.
Yes, in general it is safe to engage in any of the exercises outlined in the best workout section above. That being said I always, ALWAYS encourage you to check in with yourself and listen to your body. Because our sex hormones and energy are at its lowest as our body works to shed our uterine lining, we may not feel up to any exercise, and that is totally okay. Allowing yourself rest during this time will work to balance hormones and support your menstrual cycle, which is the best way to improve your health and reach your fitness goals!
If you experience cramping, period pain or discomfort, it may be best to hold off on doing abs during this time. That being said, engaging in stretching and gentle movement that strengthens your core such as pilates, yin yoga and foam rolling is generally both safe and effective. If you’re unsure, try opting for these types of workouts towards the tail-end of your period, once discomfort lessens.
Anything you can do to lower the intensity of your workouts will help to reduce stress, balance blood sugar, boost metabolism and speed up recovery (so you can go and crush those workouts once your period ends). Try walking or light jogging instead of running, swapping a low-impact bike ride for an intense spin, trading mat pilates for strength training, or opting for yin yoga instead of power.
Check out this guide for the most comfortable menstrual cups on the market, including those best for working out!
If you experience pain, discomfort, or a heavier flow during your period, it can get extra uncomfortable when engaging in exercise. While opting for lower impact and gentle movement can certainly help, I also recommend swapping toxic tampons for a comfortable menstrual cup or period panties, trying an herbal formula that can help alleviate cramping (this is my fave product, use code SOFRESH15 to save) or focusing on the root cause issue by balancing your hormones, which works to alleviate symptoms in the first place.
Want to learn more about syncing your workouts to your menstrual cycle in order to reach your fitness goals, feel good in your body, balance your hormones and boost your overall health? Check out my go-to guide.
I’m honored to support you on your journey to optimal hormone health + happiness. Thanks for being here babe.