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Optimising Exercise around your Menstrual Cycle

Written by Laura Saunders - Final Semester BHSc (Nutrition and Dietetic Medicine)


In our society today we are most often conditioned to think that more energy input equals results. Here we can fall into the trap of pushing ourselves in every area of our lives, striving to be the best version of ourselves. As females we tend to compare ourselves to each other all too much. Can you relate?

I can tell you first hand that I have been there. I used to wake up a ridiculous time of day to undertake a 60 minute HIIT workout, followed by strength training 6/7 days a week. Here I thought I was serving my body with the tools to stay healthy and motivated, but I can tell you that this came with a lot of other baggage. Falling into traps of restrictive eating, obsessive calorie counting, declining any social events that were focused around eating or drinking alcohol (which was pretty much all of them) and fearing missing a workout was not the way I wanted to live my life.

The consequences of my actions led to chronic acne, losing my period for over 3 years, anxiety, depression, binge eating and a series of gut complications. I am sharing my personal experiences here because I was that girl that had the ‘perfect body’ on the outside, yet my insides were telling a very different story.

Over the last few years through studying a BHSc Nutrition and Dietetic Medicine, visiting multiple holistic health practitioners specialising in Acupuncture, Reiki, Kinesiology and Naturopathy has allowed me to connect more deeply to what is going on in my body, rather than comparing it to others.

My approach to exercise now is always based on moving stagnant or negative energy out of the body and welcoming new life and positive energy into the body. Here I am deeply passionate about sharing this approach to movement with others. This passion has only grown after seeing clients in the clinic, where I have found first hand that I am most definitely not alone in having this unsupportive relationship with exercise.

Here I work closely with my clients to help them understand their bodies, where they are in their menstrual cycle and ways to support their bodies needs. I love using the app Clue to track my period, in conjunction with testing my temperature upon waking each morning. Once we are able to understand the signs that our body shares with us, then we can act accordingly and deliver this loving kindness where it needs it most. See below for the best types of exercise to perform depending on where you are in your cycle;

Please note that if you are taking any form of hormonal birth control (OCP, Implanon, Mirena etc) then this will directly impact your monthly hormonal profile, which inhibits the natural flow.


Menstrual Cycle: The Bleed

During this phase of your monthly cycle our hormone levels have decreased which depletes our energy. Here it is important to take this time more than every to rest and enjoy calming activities such as yin yoga, foam rolling, afternoon naps and gentle stretching. Something to note during this time is that if we undertake HIIT training or heavy weight training during this time, it will in fact be counter productive. Why? Because this elevated stress directly increases our cortisol and consequently turns on fat storage and muscle wasting. So here make the most of those glorious afternoon naps and catch up on a good book.

Follicular Phase

During the first few days following your period, our energy levels begin to increase where our body begins to react in a positive state to more challenging workouts. If you are seeking to lose fat, increase your lean muscle mass and supercharge your metabolism, this is the best time to channel that increased energy into running, long power walks and circuit training. However, just make sure you connect to the signs that your body is sending you, as if you experience prolonged fatigue, anxiety or depression it is best to keep your workouts to 30 minutes in duration for optimal results.

Ovulation

Ovulation is something to be celebrated, as during this time we are in our peak energy state. Here our hormones are performing at their optimal level, enabling us to experience increased surges of energy. Here we may feel a little push to socialise more and up the intensity of our workouts via HIIT training, boxing and cycle classes. Here I encourage you to embrace that surge in testosterone into strength training, where you may like to increase your weights during this time of the month, if you are feeling up to the challenge. However, if you do suffer from any hormonal imbalances, anxiety or depression it is best to limit your exercise to no longer than 30 minutes to ensure your cortisol does not rise too high for too long.

Luteal Phase

Once we come over the other side of ovulation (the second half of your cycle) we begin to transition into a slower pace. Although the surge in oestrogen and testosterone after ovulation will propel us into a heightened state of energy, our response to HIIT training or other forms of cardio may become more of a struggle. Here I encourage you to channel this energy into strength training, to help build lean muscle with light weights and high reps. Taking yourself to a hot yoga class or vinyasa yoga class can also be a great option. As we then move into the second half of the second cycle (1 week before your bleed) enjoying a barre class, pilates, yin yoga or gentle walks in nature will be of great benefit.

Implementing these big changes into your exercise routine may be challenging to begin with, as any change is hard to wrap our head around at the start of this journey. Although, once you start to serve your body in supportive ways like this, your body will thank you for it in more ways than one.

I hope this information has served as a gentle reminder to practice loving kindness to your body. Afterall, we can only give fully from an overflowing cup, where states of depletion do not serve ourselves or others any good. To learn more about me and what I am so deeply passionate about see the links to my socials below;

Website: www.alifeworthnourishing.com

Instagram: @alifeworthnourishing



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