Working Out With Your Cycle: Understanding the Science Behind Menstrual Cycle-Based Training

Syncing your workouts with your menstrual cycle hosts a myriad of benefits including burning fat, building lean muscle, and losing weight. This article explores how to workout with your cycle and the science behind why it works.
Written by
Nicolette Roux
Intermediate
Women friends warming up before going to exercise 2023 11 27 05 36 36 utc

Women experience a roller coaster of changes every month. While some may make you scream (let's face it — will), others will provide the prowess to conquer your day.

We go through fluctuations in energy levels, strength, and endurance throughout our monthly cycle. Tailoring your workout routine to align with these natural hormonal changes can enhance performance, reduce injury risk, and improve your overall well being.

This article explores the science behind menstrual cycle-based training and offers practical tips for taking your workouts to the next level. 

The Menstrual Cycle and Hormonal Fluctuations

Ahh, the menstrual cycle; half of the population experiences this infradian rhythm, but it isn't openly talked about and there's a lot of misinformation out there. 

Let's break down your monthly cycle and how it affects your hormones, body, and energy. 

Your monthly cycle is divided into four main phases: the menstrual phase, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Each phase is characterized by distinct hormonal changes that affect the body differently.

Menstrual Phase (Days 1-5)

Hormones: Estrogen and progesterone levels are low.

Body Impact: Fatigue and cramps are common, but light to moderate exercise like walking and yoga can alleviate symptoms. Be gentle with your body during this phase and prioritize restorative workouts and recovery. 

Follicular Phase (Days 6-14)

Hormones: Estrogen levels rise, peaking just before ovulation.

Body Impact: Increased energy levels, strength, and endurance. This phase is ideal for high-intensity workouts like running, kickboxing, and HIIT—style strength training. This is a time where you'll be able to kick your workouts up a notch. 

Ovulation (Around Day 14)

Hormones: Estrogen peaks, and there's a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH).

Body Impact: Peak strength and power. However, the risk of injury, especially to the ligaments, may be higher due to increased laxity so you're going to want to do more high-intensity, low-impact exercises like cycling, rowing, and swimming.

Luteal Phase (Days 15-28)

Hormones: Progesterone levels rise, and estrogen levels decline.

Body Impact: Possible decrease in endurance and increased body temperature. This phase is suitable for moderate exercise and lower-intensity activities like dance, pickleball, and hiking.

Adapting Your Workouts to Each Phase

Tailoring your workouts to each phase of your cycle provides a plethora of benefits and can better help you achieve your health goals says hormonal expert, nutritional scientist, and endocrinologist Dr. Jolene Brighten. There's an awesome podcast that delves deep into how to train around your cycle for optimal results via medical doctor and hormone health expert Dr. Nicky Keay you can listen to here, but we've summed up some main points via these two experts below. 

Menstrual Phase: Prioritize Recovery and Gentle Movement

Exercise Types: Light cardio (walking, cycling), yoga, and stretching.

Benefits: Reduces cramps and boosts mood through the release of endorphins.

Tips: Listen to your body. If you feel too fatigued, prioritize rest, gentle movement, and recovery.

Follicular Phase: Maximize Strength and High-Intensity Training

Exercise Types: High-intensity interval training (HIIT), strength training, and endurance workouts.

Benefits: Increased energy and strength make this the optimal time for challenging workouts.

Tips: Incorporate compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. Aim for progressive overload to build lean muscle mass.  

Ovulation: Harness Peak Performance While Staying Cautious

Exercise Types: Power-based activities (Plyometrics, HIIT-style cardio) and strength training. Plus, balance and stability exercises like Pilates and Yoga. 

Benefits: Maximal strength and power output.

Tips: While performance is at its peak, be mindful of the increased risk of ligament injuries. Focus on proper form and consider adding balance and stability exercises.

Luteal Phase: Focus on Moderate and Sustained Effort

Exercise Types: Steady-state cardio (cycling, swimming), moderate strength training, and pilates.

Benefits: Maintains fitness levels and supports hormonal balance.

Tips: Incorporate more rest and recovery days. Adjust intensity based on energy levels and consider incorporating mindfulness practices like meditation.

The Science Behind Menstrual Cycle-Based Training

Hormonal Influence on Muscle and Tendons

Estrogen has an anabolic effect, promoting muscle growth and strength gains during the follicular phase.

Progesterone, which increases in the luteal phase, can impact muscle recovery and endurance.

Energy Metabolism

During the follicular phase, the body is more efficient at using carbohydrates for energy, making it an ideal time for high-intensity workouts.

In the luteal phase, the body tends to utilize fat more efficiently, making moderate-intensity exercise more effective.

Thermoregulation

The luteal phase is associated with a higher core body temperature, which can affect endurance performance and heat tolerance. Staying hydrated and adjusting workout intensity can help manage these effects.

Mood and Motivation

Fluctuations in hormone levels can influence mood and motivation. Recognizing these patterns can help in planning workouts that align with your mental and emotional state, enhancing adherence and enjoyment.

Practical Tips for Menstrual Cycle-Based Training

Alisa Vitti, founder of Flo Living, gives some cycle-based training tips below. We highly recommend using her Flo app to track and understand your cycle. 

Track Your Cycle: Use apps or a calendar to monitor your menstrual cycle and understand your unique patterns.

Listen to Your Body: Adapt your workout intensity and type based on how you feel each day.

Stay Flexible: Be prepared to modify your workout plan if energy levels or symptoms vary.

Hydrate and Fuel Properly: Maintain proper nutrition and hydration to support hormonal health and performance.

Find Your Flow

Working out in sync with your menstrual cycle can improve your performance, leading to more effective workouts, and much more enjoyable training sessions. 

Remember to do workouts you genuinely like doing (or you won't do them — facts). The exercises included in this article are excellent but are just brushing the tip of all the workout modalities available to you. There are workouts for everyone, and it's worth trying a bunch to find the ones you love and will continue to do. 

By understanding and leveraging your natural hormonal fluctuations, you can effectively burn fat, build lean muscle, and lose weight. Whether you're a professional athlete or fitness aficionado, aligning your workouts with your menstrual cycle can be a total game-changer in achieving your health and fitness goals. 

Nicolette Roux Profile Image
Nicolette Roux Certified Yoga/Barre/Cycling/Climbing Trainer
Nicolette is a freelance writer, health and fitness expert, and instructor, with over a decade of high-level experience. She’s quadruple certified (yoga RYT-300, indoor cycling, barre, and vertical climbing) and has had the pleasure of working with some of the top studios and brands in the business throughout her career. A devout fitness enthusiast, Nicolette loves being the first to check out and review new industry trends — apps, equipment, athleisurewear, and gadgets. Her work has been showcased on many online platforms including BodyStack, Sports Illustrated, iMore, Android Central, ACTIVE, Journey Commerce, and Crackberry. A modern Renaissance woman, Nicolette also works as a professional performance artist, DJ/MC, and mom to three: 1 human, 2 fur.
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