What affects half of gym-goers at some point in their life, and yet is something that is rarely talked about in the gym walls?
You’ve got it – being ‘on’. Red week. Time of the month. Aunt Flo being in town. It might be long overdue, but it’s time to talk about it – period.
Every month, many of us will experience physical and emotional changes at different stages in the menstrual cycle. Whether it’s feeling sluggish, anxious, bloated, or simply fatigued, it’s no surprise that being on your period can have a knock on impact on your gym routine.
So the big question is – are there any adjustments we should be taking to our fitness regime in line with the monthly cycle?
We’ll start with the following disclaimer (and hopefully this comes as no great surprise) – that every body is different. This isn’t just the case when it comes to hormones and our cycle, but with near everything! We’ve gathered together a few tips and snippets of research that may provide a little bit on insight into some common experiences some women have surrounding heir periods and exercise, but it’s important that readers bear in mind that there is no one size fits all. And of course, as with all body and medical related info, listen to the experts; if you’re ever in any doubt or are after some more specialist advice, speak to your doctor.
Both progesterone and oestrogen are at their lowest point during the entire length of the period phase of the cycle, which can make people feel tired and less energetic. That being said, avoiding exercise isn’t going to save energy or make you feel better, in fact dodging your usual fitness routine and ceasing all activity might in turn make you feel more sluggish.
Exercising on your first few days of your period might not feel like the best time, mainly due to experiencing a heavier flow. So if this is is you, consider switching your usual workout for some gentle exercise instead.
You will likely find that regular exercise in the days leading up to and during your period might help lessen PMS symptoms. Because of the natural elevation in endorphins that exercise provides, it can elevate your mood and actually make you feel better. Not only can this endorphin injection boost mood, but they are also a natural painkiller, so you may even feel some pain relief from the discomforts associated with being on your period. Really don’t feel up to hitting your usual CrossFit class? No problem. consider subbing the evening’s AMRAP for a gentle walk intend. Whist some of the mood boosting benefits might not be as high, any light exercise will still have its benefits.
Dress for Success
According to polls, one of the most common reasons gym-users avoid exercise during their periods is the fear of a leak or pad / tampon malfunction. To help put your mind at ease, if you’ve never exercised on your period before, try doing some exercise in the comfort of your own home first and experiment with what works for you. Consider trying out period underwear (there are lots of brilliant companies that stock period pants online, and even M&S are on the band wagon now!) as an extra layer of protection, and pairing it with some dark leggings or shorts for a confidence boost.
Wat-er you on about?
Let’s clear up the myth once and for all: dehydrating yourself around your period will NOT help will combating water region. In fact, most people will need to drink more water than usual during their period to keep their body in usual working order, so if in doubt, have that extra swig and keep hydrated. Reducing caffeine consumption however has been linked to reduced bloating, but every body is different, so we recommend trying it out and seeing what works for you. Are you usually a 3-coffee-a-day person? Try reducing down to one or two, and see if you experience any anti-bloating benefits.
Any Movement-Specific Advice?
Some research suggests that your lungs work better later in your cycle, so it may be worth saving that 5k row test you’ve been putting off until after your period! This could also be linked to the fact that many women will report experiencing an increase in the rate of perceived exertion working out in general, so your usual fitness may simply feel a little bit harder. With this in mind, anything especially demanding that requires high skill or precision might be worth dodging… so if you’ve been trying to nail those Double Unders, it might do you well to ‘skip’ that practice this week (we couldn’t resist!).
Stretching & Relaxation
The few days before your period are an ideal time to up the gentle stretching, and engage in a bit of yoga. It can help relax the body and potentially reduce symptoms such as cramping, tenderness or muscular fatigue and soreness. There’s nothing more miserable that being ridden with DOMS on top of period pain!
Above all, bear in mind…
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again; there is no, one-size fits all advice when it comes to you and your body. Every one is different, and their experiences can vary enormously. Not to mention that there is very little in the way of clinical trials comparing controlled exercise programs VS menstrual-specific training that really demonstrate the effect of the menstrual cycle on training, so with such a lack of evidence based research, conclusive advice is impossible to give. Some research suggests that you might experience greater gains in strength and power in the first 2 weeks of your cycle due to the lower levels of female hormones, whilst other research points out that the increased inflammation from physical exertion may worsen some of the symptoms we feel around our period… so the important take away is that we should each listen to our bodies, and try to notice these changes. Consider keeping a log in a journal of how you feel and respond to different types of exerciser so you can establish what works for you.
The best kind of exercise is likely to be what you FEEL like doing. If you’ve got a really intense workout planned that fills you with dread, the nerves and angst could even outweigh the endorphin boosting benefits, so consider doing something else that day that you feel excited about! Consider backing off the intensity, especially if you are feeling fatigued. Take a little extra you time to help recover, and honour your body and its capabilities.
The Bigger Picture
Think of your period as as just another piece of your health and wellness ‘puzzle’. If your other puzzle pieces are in check (such as ensuring you are getting enough sleep, quality nutrition, hydration, managing stress etc) then you will be doing a world of good for your body at a time when you are facing the changes and experiences surrounding your period. if you really can’t face the gym, go easy on yourself; those few short days away from your routine will not ruin your fitness gains, so just shift your focus to keeping everything else in check so you can return to your return ASAP feeling on top of the world. Get plenty of rest, nourish yourself with wholesome food, stay hydrated, get some fresh air, and you’ll be back to your usual class in no time!
DID YOU KNOW…
At SCFIT we now have a discrete box of feminine hygiene products in the facilities, should you ever find yourself caught short? It’s true! Help yourself if you’re ever in need.
Want to be part of the SCFIT community? Get in touch to book your free No Sweat Intro now!
Sources: Girls Gone Strong, Healthline