Should You Exercise When You Have Your Period? We Found Out
Exercising when you have your period can feel like torture. Depending on the birth control you use (if any), and whether or not you deal with symptoms like cramps or fatigue, it can be about as appealing as jamming pins into your eyes. (Of course, it can also be totally fine, too.) For me, any motivation I have to hit the gym disappears on day one. Given the choice between strapping on sneakers or vegging on the couch with a hot water bottle and Uber Eats, I go with the couch every time. This is because the monthly changes in my hormones are hard enough to deal with at the best of times (once I saw ad at the bus stop with puppies in it and had to put my sunglasses on to hide the fact I was CRYING), let alone during a Spin class. Often, they make keeping up with my gym schedule impossible. Even if I've spent three weeks absolutely smashing my workouts, hitting PB after PB, and eating a diet so clean Gisele would be proud, the arrival of my period kills that drive in an instant.
According to Charlotte Campbell, a nutritionist specialising in hormonal analysis and MyProtein ambassador, it doesn't have to be this way. Apparently the very same hormones responsible for throwing you off track can be worked to your advantage. Surprised? (I was.) "With a bit of forward planning you can maximise your results by making your menstrual cycle do most of the hard work for you," she says. It's all about timing certain types of workouts with the different stages of your menstrual cycle. It's also not as complicated as it sounds.
Keep scrolling to find out the best exercises you can do while on your period.
Stage 1: Menstrual
This stage kicks off on day one of your cycle, a.k.a. the day you start your period. (FYI, if you're bad at remembering where you are in your cycle, there's an app for that. Download Clue to help keep yourself on track.) Campbell says during this phase your oestrogen and progesterone drop, making your carbohydrate/glycogen fuel stores more easily accessible: "You might not feel like it, but this stage is perfect for getting the most out of high intensity workouts." If you can muster up the motivation, a spin class or sprints are a good idea. Campbell adds: "If you're prone to mood swings during your period, this is a good time to get out some stress with a boxing session." As always, if you're exercising at a high intensity, you'll benefit from increasing your carb intake. "You'll want to do this just after you work out in particular, to make sure your body doesn't burn out," says Campbell.
Stage 2: Late Follicular
Campbell says the second stage starts directly after menstruation, and lasts for around a week: "Once your period stops and you start week two of your cycle, your body has an increase in oestrogen while progesterone remains relatively low." Oestrogen is known to help the body build muscle, whereas progesterone can interfere with it, so Campbell advises taking advantage of this by focusing on full-body weight workouts in the gym. "Ramp up your protein intake and smash those bench presses, squats, crunches and pull ups to feel taught and toned," she says.
Stage 3: Ovulation
Around day 14-16 of your cycle, oestrogen levels hit their peak, so Campbell says pushing yourself with the heaviest weights you can handle, rather than aiming for higher reps on lighter weights, is your best bet. "Make sure you put extra effort into your pre- and post-workout warm ups as your muscles are more vulnerable to injury during this phase." Campbell also advises looking at recovery supplements if you're really going hard.
Stage 4: Luteal
"Once ovulation is over and you’re in the luteal phase or last fortnight of your cycle, your body prepares for your period to start again," says Campbell. Unlike the previous stages, in this state your body is burning fat rather than carbs or glycogen. It's for this reason focusing on cardio can be helpful for toning up. Annoyingly, this stage is also the time motivation can take the hardest hit. "Water retention and other pre-menstrual symptoms can make high intensity workouts feel more taxing, so head out on a bike ride or a trail run, or hit the pool for a soothing swim," advises Campbell.