How To Workout With Your Menstrual Cycle

How To Workout With Your Menstrual Cycle

When it comes to staying fit, understanding the intricate dance between your body and its natural cycles is a game-changer if you’re looking to achieve higher performance and to feel good when you workout. 

Throughout your menstrual cycle, there's this ebb and flow of energy that can make a real difference in how you approach your workouts, understanding how to work with these changes can offer better insight in how and when to train across the month.

“Learning to work with your body and menstrual cycle can improve overall health and wellness,” explains Ellen Louise, clinical naturopath and nutritionist, “and help you to feel more comfortable in your training.”
If you're curious about the connection between fitness and cycle tracking, stick with us. In this article, we explore how your workout can be affected during the follicular, luteal, ovulation and menstruation phases of your cycle. 

Get to know your cycle

Every month your body goes through a full hormonal cycle, on average lasting 28 days (although this may vary from person to person and month to month). There are four distinct phases: menstruation aka your period, which typically occurs days 1-5, the follicular phase which typically occurs days 6-11, ovulation which typically occurs around days 12-14 and luteal phase which typically occurs around days 15-28.

Everyone’s cycle is unique, with physical symptoms, energy levels and emotions shifting and changing throughout the month. By tracking and getting to know your own cycle you can start working with it, rather than against it.

Your cycle and exercise

Lydia O'Donnell, co-founder of Femmi, an innovative fitness training and cycle tracking app, says cycle tracking performs a crucial role in sport at every level, and says its important to tailor workouts based on an individual's unique menstrual cycle.

O’Donnell started Femmi in 2020 with co-founder and best friend, Esther Keown, as a way to offer women better access to key information specific to training as a woman. “With less than 6 per cent of sports science research studies being conducted exclusively on women, we were raised with little understanding of how our bodies worked.” she explains. “It wasn’t until our late twenties that we learnt what the menstrual cycle actually was, and how it can impact not only how we feel day-to-day, but also our performance.”

How to track your cycle

So, tracking your cycle – first up, mark the date when your period starts and ends, you can then start counting and keep track from there. You can use the simple tracker that comes with our Really Nice Tea All Season Bundle, a dedicated app such as Femmi, or a simple notebook to document changes such as basal body temperature, cervical mucus consistency, and any noticeable physical or emotional symptoms. These could include physical things like cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, digestion or headaches, as well as more subtle things like energy levels or changes in how you feel emotionally. 

Cycle tracking and sport

O’Donnell says tracking your cycle (as someone who naturally menstruates) is key to understanding each individual menstrual cycle experience. “No two females have the same experience with their cycle,” she says, “so a generic approach won’t work for everyone.”

Data suggests that by taking the time to understand the cycle better, athletes at any level can make more informed choices about how they approach their training, nutrition and recovery. O’Donnell notes particular changes in relation to energy, sleep, and recovery and says that if you play into those changes and adapt your training to your cycle, you’ll be able to better train for your own body and mind.

“You might limit high intensity training to the phases of your cycle where you energy is high and you feel like you are recovering well, and you might reduce the intensity of training in the phases where you are more negatively impacted by menstrual symptoms.”

In this way you may perform better at high intensity styles of training during your follicular phase when energy is higher and opt for lower impact workout styles during your period or luteal phase. “This does not mean pull back training completely in those latter phases,” O’Donnell asserts, “but to be mindful of your heart rate and focus on lower intensity training and recovery.”

Training with your cycle

Training with your cycle not only ensures you work with your natural energy levels, it will also provide your body with the right training, at the right time, enabling you to build a more sustainable relationship with movement over time.

O’Donnell says that by taking your hormonal fluctuations into account, you can reduce the risk of injury or overtraining, which can lead to burnout. “This sustainable and consistent approach to training is where performance gains will come from.”

The advantages of understanding sport and your cycle

There are many physiological advantages to training with your cycle but O’Donnell and the rest of the Femmi team believe the psychological impact is also significant. They cite the lack of education available to women in this regard has a detrimental impact on our collective body confidence and is in large part responsible for driving young women to drop out of sport.

“There is an overwhelming feeling of ‘not being in control’ when you don't understand the reason for physiological and/or psychological change.” O’Donnell says that by learning about the constant fluctuations of female sex hormones throughout the cycle, women are given more context to these changes. She acknowledges it can be frustrating to feel great on some days and not so much on others. But knowing these feelings are momentary provides a level of acceptance. 

“When you combine this education with an approach to training that gives a woman permission to lean into what their body needs in a given day, we see women’s confidence skyrocket.”

Myth busting: common misconceptions about cycle tracking

When it comes to busting myths, O’Donnell is keen to address one in particular; that women should be ‘cycle syncing’ their training. Cycle syncing is the name for a training approach that suggests certain types of workouts are better suited to different times of the month/menstrual cycle. For example, during one week you should focus on walking or yoga, and other weeks you should focus on running.

O’Donnell says this is not good advice as it assumes that we experience the sub phases of our menstrual cycle in a universal way. 

“There is no generic approach for how all women should move,” she explains, impressing the need to understand your personal energy levels, physical experience and motivation. “Understand how your unique menstrual cycle experience impacts you. Utilising your cycle to naturally periodise the intensity of your training is a helpful tool, and you should feel empowered to engage in all forms of exercise at all times.”

If you’re interested in Femmi, download the app here, follow them on Instagram or head to their website.
Back to blog