How’s the 2022 exercise regime working for you? All going swimmingly? Or are you in the throws of a visit from Auntie Flow? When a period hits, it seems nigh on impossible to do anything than feel sorry for yourself. When the lethargy, back pain, and stomach cramps kick in, there’s literally no way you will be moving off that sofa other than to get a hot water bottle and a bar of chocolate.
Monthly menstruation can really interrupt our daily regimes, but instead of making a cycle fit to your routine, have you tried fitting your routine to your cycle? There are many fitness experts, period professionals (yup, you heard that right) and apps to offer your expert tips on how to make the most of your hormone changes so you can stay fit.
Back To Basics
But first – how much do you actually know about your own cycle? Your period is loosely divided into four phases. The first: menstruation. The second: the follicular phase, which starts the first day of your period and ends when you ovulate. Next up is ovulation, then it’s the luteal phase, the time between ovulation and your next period when the body prepares for a potential pregnancy. During these times, there are several changes in the oestrogen levels of your body. When it’s high, you’ll have the most endurance, and when it’s low you’ll need to take it slower.
Over at Chelsea FC, the women’s football team sync their menstrual cycles to their training schedule.
Sport and bleeding are still fairly taboo. Although a few athletes have had the bravery to raised the subject in public. Heather Watson once highlighted that her performance at Wimbledon was down to “girl things” which caused a whole host of female athletes to join in a raucous applause of support. The Czech star Petra Kvitova was among them, admitting that it’s more difficult for female players to compete while they’re on the blob (she didn’t use that specific phrase…). Meanwhile over at Chelsea FC, the women’s football team sync their menstrual cycles to their training schedule.
And at the Rio Olympics, the Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui made headlines for telling the world she was on her period, as she doubled over in pain after the women’s 4×100 meter medley relay. Who knew that menstruating could make global news?
So what can we learn from our bodies? And how can we understand how best to use them? The best way to get a head start, is to break your cycle down into those four stages.
Phase One: Keep Moving
From the day of your first period, the oestrogen will be at a low level. So it’s best to listen to your body and try not to push things too hard. That being said, it’s still okay to do low-intensity cardio like walking, yoga, pilates, slow jogs and meditation while the painters are in. This can help level out any mood swings and boost your low energy levels, and the steady release of endorphins will help to alleviate painful PMS cramps.
Emma Lowe is a yogi who specialises in women’s self care, and menstrual and sexual health. She develops short yoga courses to help you understand your hormones and cycles and learn how to respond to them. Her approach uses ancient tantric wisdom related to the earth and nature alongside research around the female body – picture a lot of “omming”.
Get ready to "awaken you innate wild wellness and power" and liberate your yoni through meditative yoga.
Her latest programme Hormonal: A Reclamation wants to help you reconnect with your womb (hi there!) through Zoom calls, talks, practices and exercises every week. The sessions also help those who are experiencing pain, irregularities in their cycle, endometriosis, low libido or other uterus-related issues. “You are not broken, these are symptoms of hormonal imbalance”, she reassures us. So get ready to “awaken you innate wild wellness and power” and liberate your yoni through meditative yoga.
Phase Two: Go Hard, Don’t Go Home
The week and a half or so after your period is when your body is primed to really hit it hard. A rise in oestrogen means you’re going to have the most endurance during this phase, so it’s a good idea to start upping your workout. The hormones in the body cunningly have anti-inflammatory properties which help to aid recovery after exercise too. Try your hand at circuit training, running or boxing to unleash the restlessness of the few days before.
Jessica Ennis-Hill knows a thing or two about CycleMapping – when you workout to the peaks and troughs in your period. And she’s developed an app for it. Almost. It’s not quite ready but sign up now and be the first to hear about the launch. The app will tune into each phase of your cycle, so you know when it’s best to do that HIIT class. She also has a range of period-specific stretch sessions and insider tips on cramp and ache-relieving circuits.
Phase Three: Heavy Lifting
When ovulation starts, that’s the time for the big gun show. The extra boost in oestrogen will help you with weight training by soothing the muscles. And progesterone remains low, meaning that the body’s overall pain tolerance increases.
Fitr Woman is an app that has been developed to coach you on eating habits and offers personal training advice in line with the different phases of your cycle. They partner with lots of young, female athletes who swear by it. You’ll get notifications straight to your phone about what exercises to do and when, and some healthy recipes. There’s also the Fitr Coach version for those who are training teams of women, so coaches can optimise the fitness schedule for each individual.
Phase Four: Chill Out
The week before your period is never easy. You’re unnecessarily irritable. Do people really have to eat that noisily!? And why can’t you get annoyed at your boss for apparently no reason whatsoever? On top of your need to mimic Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, you have sore boobs, cramps, bloating and general fatigue – and you’re not even on your period yet. So slip back into your phase one regime of yoga and restorative walks.
Tune into this period playlist on Spotify, which includes such classics as Bleeding Love, Sunday Bloody Sunday, and The Tide Is High.
While you’re trying to prep yourself for the next cycle, tune into this period playlist on Spotify, which includes such classics as Bleeding Love, Sunday Bloody Sunday, and The Tide Is High. There are also lots of apps for you to track when your next period is due, such as MyFlow or Moody Month. They give you handy hints on when it’s best for your body to do a sprint rather than a jog, when you should attempt that office presentation or even when to have the best sex.