Searching for the right exercise routine can feel as difficult as finding the right diet to be a healthy woman. Just as the research and headlines about nutrition are contradicting, we are also receiving mixed information about how to exercise. We are constantly being told that we need to exercise more to be healthy and live longer, but then we are also being told that too much exercise or the wrong kind of exercise is bad for us. How is a lady to know what to do?
The answer is in our menstrual cycle. The cyclical pattern our bodies go through each month indicates what the best workout plan is for our bodies. During each phase of our menstrual cycle, our bodies are primed for different kinds of exercise, just as its looking for different kinds of nutrients throughout the phases. We are not the same person every week of our cycle, so we should not be doing the same exercise every week of our cycle. In fact, doing the wrong exercise at the wrong time can actually make us feel worse. Have you ever done a high intensity spin class one week and felt energized afterwards like you totally crushed it, then did the same class a different week and felt drained and depleted? There's a reason for this.
During the first half of our cycle (during the follicular phase and ovulatory phase) we have many nutrients available to channel into a really strong workout. This is the best time to do HIIT workouts, cardio, and more challenging workouts. During the second half of our cycle (during our luteal phase and menstrual phase) our nutrients and hormone building blocks are being used to make enough progesterone and build the lining of the uterus. This is the best time to do more gentle and restorative exercise. Research has shown that when women do HIIT workouts during the second half of their cycle (late luteal phase and menstrual phase) they actually turn on fat storage and increase muscle wasting. Yes. This is not the time to push hard and force yourself through a hard workout at the gym. You are actually undoing the progress of muscle building and weight loss achieved during the first half of your cycle. You are working against your hormonal pattern. Knowing this information can help you work out smarter, achieve better results, and feel healthier.
Once you learn how to track your cycle, try the following workout plan for a month to support your body and your hormones:
During your Follicular Phase – This is a great time to try something new as you will have the energy and motivation to take on a different style of workout. It's also a great time for cardio and high energy classes.
During your Ovulatory Phase – This is a great time to take on strenuous exercise like sprinting and weight lifting. You’ll also be in the mood to socialize and meet new people, so group classes like spinning will be fun and enjoyable.
During the first part of your Luteal Phase – This is when HIIT workouts or a high-intensity bootcamp class can feel good to use up your excess energy stores to burn fat and build muscle.
During the second part of your Luteal Phase – This is when you might feel like scaling back on intense exercise as you ease towards menstruation. Try pilates, walking, or restorative yoga to relieve tension and go easier on your body.
During your Menstrual Phase – This is a time for rest and recovery without guilt. Take a walk, stretch, or do some light yoga or qigong. Honour your body and don't feel guilty taking naps and getting more sleep! Deep, restful, uninterrupted sleep helps you lose weight without doing anything else. To supercharge your workouts the rest of the month, take this time to incorporate other routines that support your health and fitness including foam rolling, stretching, dry brushing, epsom salt baths, massages, and acupuncture. All of these non-workout routines improve your lymphatic drainage, which means that when your body is primed for that high intensity fitness class you will see more of the benefit.
If you are going through postpartum, respect your postpartum hormones. We often think that after giving birth we should diet and workout hard to lose the weight, but let me tell you that if you nurture your body, you will lose the weight without depriving yourself and pushing yourself too hard. Producing milk, healing from growing and delivering your baby, and being sleep deprived requires time to recover. Many women suffer from adrenal and thyroid issues postpartum and it's often because they push themselves too hard and become more depleted. Instead of depleting yourself, strengthen yourself with nourishing foods and rest, then begin exercising gently again when you feel stronger. Body knowledge and smart action is power!
Wherever you are on your journey, remember how amazing and powerful you are. Continue learning about your body and growing into a more self-aware, empowered woman. You can do it! And I'm here to support you.
Now I’d love to hear from you. What is your favourite workout? Have you noticed how your workouts are affected by your hormones over the course of the month? How are you going to shift your exercise to honour your cycle? Share and let me know!