Your menstrual cycle has four phases- This is case dependent and based on averages in a healthy menstrual cycle situation.
Menstruation (days 1-7 depending on the length of your cycle).
Follicular Phase follows from days 7-14
Ovulation happens around day 14, there are many signs of ovulation that I will discuss briefly below. This typically lasts through day 20, or around.
The Luteal Phase happens after Ovulation until the onset of a bleed. Typically between days 21-28.
****This is only a general guide and can vary greatly between women. Healthy cycles can be anywhere between 25-36 days. There are some great cycle tracking apps that can help you learn about your cycle and start keeping track of what happens when. Reach out for more information regarding these apps.
Signs of ovulation can be a change in cervical fluid, typically an egg white type vaginal secretion, an elevated basal temperature, and/or changes in the cervix. Some women report breast tenderness and ovarian pain as well.
Estrogen is higher in the follicular phase and peaks at ovulation. Our body needs estrogen to ovulate. It's the “happy and energizing” hormone and can cause a lot of issues if out of balance.
Progesterone is the more dominant hormone after ovulation. It peaks around day 20 or when the luteal phase begins, then tapers off right before a bleed. Progesterone is a more relaxing hormone and helps the body soften and ready for pregnancy. If you’re not trying to become pregnant, progesterone obviously is still present and responsible for a little more fatigue and need for rest and relaxation the week leading up to your period.
All of this brief background for a little lesson in exercising within the rhythm of your menstrual cycle. Beginning with the follicular phase, exercise can be fun, new, adventurous, and moderate to high intensity (depending on physiology). Exercises can include so much! Swimming, moderate to heavy weight training, a new Zumba class, hiking, cardio yoga. Whatever feels good in your body. You may feel more likely to try new things toward the end of your follicular phase, and that's totally fine! Sticking with what you know on the days ending your menstruation and first few days of follicular is completely normal and healthy!
Towards the end of the follicular phase as you approach Ovulation is a great time for heavier weight training, as estrogen and testosterone are more present in the body. Women tend to feel a little more adventurous during this phase and so trying a new class or enrolling in an event that will happen during this phase of your cycle would be quite appropriate.
Next comes ovulation. During ovulation is typically when women feel the most adventurous and confident. Again, trying something new and more rigorous is quite appropriate during this phase. Just be sure that you are working within your physiology and what feels good in your body. If you try that new kick boxing class and love it, stick with it. If it doesn’t resonate with you, leave it! No need to tie yourself down to one physical activity. Find what feels good in your body and work with your cycles. Great exercises for this phase include running, cross training, weight training, kickboxing, elevated hiking, and so much more!
Next comes the Luteal Phase- my favorite! The time to rest and digest. Take a deep breath and relax. As progesterone is the relaxing hormone, the body recognizes this time to start preparing for pregnancy, so it tends to start slowing down in preparation. The hormone relaxin makes an appearance and loosens the joints and relaxes the muscles. You may find yourself needing more time for sleep. You may even have some soreness in your joints or otherwise feel fatigued. That's completely normal and ok to listen to your body. If it's debilitating, please reach out to a practitioner or follow up with me for more information. Exercises during this time frame should be shorter in duration, ideally no longer than 30 minutes. A low intensity HIIT, restorative yoga, a stroll through the woods or your neighborhood, or light weight training are all very appropriate exercises for this phase. Not only should you listen to your body in every phase in order to honor your natural rhythm, but if you overdo it during this phase, you could end up hurting yourself or throw your hormones way off whack. More of that to come another day. Today is to focus on appropriate exercises for your cycle.
Finally, how to exercise during menstruation. Many women wonder if they should exercise during menstruation. I always use the phrase “listen to your body.” Menstruation looks different for everyone. Some have little to no symptoms (which is the healthiest way to bleed and more on that to come as well) while others have debilitating cramps, headaches, joint pain, nausea, etc. Most women fall somewhere in the middle. While symptoms are “common”, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's “normal.” Exercising during menstruating can feel good to some and not to others, and that’s ok. Taking a few days of complete rest on the onset of a bleed is highly recommended for all. This is your body’s time to shed the uterine lining, and with that shed comes hormones, toxins, and an egg that did not become fertilized. That can be emotional for many women as well and it's a time for quiet and reflection. Honoring your body during this time is a present to yourself. Reflective journaling, breathwork, and meditation are all glorious activities for this phase of your cycle. Nurturing your body will help you lean into your intuitions and trust yourself on your health journey.
ONE MORE THING!!! WHAT IF I NO LONGER HAVE A PERIOD OR AM ON HORMONAL BIRTH CONTROL OR SUPPLEMENTAL HORMONES????
So the best way for you to honor your cycle if you haven’t experienced a period for a multitude of reasons is to follow the lunar cycle. The new moon signifies the onset of a cycle, halfway point being the full moon or ovulation, and then ending the cycle with the dark moon again. There are many reasons that your cycle may be disrupted and that again is for another day. If you have questions, please email me at email@example.com and we can schedule a time to talk about all of this. Best of health!
Alexis Adams, MS.