Summoning up the energy to exercise when it's this wet, windy and all-round gloomy, can be a challenge, to say the least. Some days it feels far easier to just stay curled up indoors, rather than face the outside world.
Aside from the fact that making sure you get outside once a day is important for your mental health during these testing times - as well as giving you a much-needed dose of vitamin D - there are some days when that 5k run just isn't going to happen...
As it turns out, these ebbs and flows are all to do with where you are in your menstrual cycle – and switching up your workouts to fit around your cycle can reap enormous benefits.
A typical menstrual cycle lasts anywhere between 26 and 32 days, consisting of four phases: menstruation, follicular, ovulation and luteal. As we progress through these these stages (day one of your period is considered the beginning of your cycle), our hormones can wildly differ from week-to-week.
For example, during the menstruation and luteal (pre-menstruation) phases, our oestrogen levels are low, emotions run high and our bodies aren't able to recover as efficiently from high intensity bouts of exercise. 'During this time, we may face different physiological and psychological struggles especially when it comes to training and dieting,' says Hayley Madigan, Grenade® ambassador and women's health specialist.
However, during the ovulation and follicular (pre-ovulation) stages, our oestrogen levels are sky high, meaning we can engage in heavier weight training and vigorous aerobic exercise, safe in the knowledge that the hormone's magical anti-inflammatory properties will help reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and help increase muscle re-growth, as well as giving us a much-needed energy and mood boost.
Harnessing these hormones correctly when planning out our exercise regimes will not only allow us to get the best out of our workouts, but also know when to be gentler on our minds and bodies.
Here are the best exercises to do at each phase of your menstrual cycle.
What exercise to do at each menstrual phase:
Phase one (menstruation) - Low-intensity cardio
Because 'oestrogen starts at a low level from day one', Madigan advises not to do 'very high intense training or attempt to lift as heavy as you usually can during these first few days' of your period.
Using this time to complete low-intensity cardio such as walking, yoga, Pilates and meditation, can help alleviate symptoms of PMS, like painful cramps, bloating, mood swings, depression and low energy levels.
She notes that 'the release of endorphins after getting the body moving also helps combat low moods and can help put you in a better mood, allowing you to change your mindset for the duration of the day.'
Phase two (follicular) - HIIT
Oestrogen starts to typically rise on day seven onwards of your cycle, so 'plan your harder, metabolically stressful HIIT sessions for now,' says Madigan. Not only do the hormone's anti-inflammatory properties aid swift recovery for the body, but 'there is some evidence to suggest that oestrogen may make you more aggressive in your approach to things,' according to Intimina gynaecologist Dr Shree Datta.
The perfect excuse to channel all that excess energy into high-intensity exercises like circuit training, fast running or boxing!
Phase three (ovulation) - Weight training
Save the heavy lifting and weight training for when you're ovulating; the huge boost in oestrogen will help prevent DOMS and help aid muscle regrowth, thanks to its aforementioned anti-inflammatory properties.
'A slight surge in testosterone' means 'this is the time to aim heavy and weight train', says Madigan.
Phase four (luteal) - Gentle movement
The week before your period is never easy; 'PMS symptoms such as feeling more emotional are more prevalent,' notes Dr Datta, not to mention breast tenderness, cramps, bloating and body fatigue.
All of which are enough to put anyone off engaging in heavy duty exercise as it is, but to compound that, we also have an 'elevated body temperature' and a higher chance of 'cardiovascular strain' during this phase. Dr Datta explains that these physical challenges can hinder any 'prolonged exercise performance', and it's best to stick to gentle movement for the end of your cycle.
Think restful yin yoga, gentle swimming and long, restorative walks.
So now we know...
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