For people with uteruses who aren’t taking hormonal birth control, you might find that your typical workout feels awful right before your period, or you're bursting with energy two weeks into your cycle. That's why menstrual cycle workout plans can help you get the most out of each phase of your cycle. The reason is that different workouts can be more or less effective, depending on where you are in your cycle. And this isn’t some woo-woo advice, either: Workout effectiveness differs because of the different hormones that rise and fall throughout the month. In the first half of the month (the follicular phase), estrogen is on the rise, giving people extra energy and stamina. And in the second half of the cycle (the luteal phase), estrogen drops and progesterone rises, which can lead to drops in endurance.
So what does that means for your workouts? Generally, it means that more intense strength training should happen in the first half your cycle, while the second half should include more rest days — at least if you’re going for maximum effectiveness. But that doesn’t mean you have to totally switch up your workout routine!
“If your cycling class is the highlight of your day, you don’t have to skip it for simply being ovulatory instead of follicular,” Helen Phelan, fitness advisor for Moody Month, a mood and hormone tracking app, tells Bustle. “But think about adjusting your approach to class so that you’re still in flow with your cycle. You can still use information about your hormones to your advantage in your preferred modality by modifying your intensity appropriately. In this example, maybe don't turn the resistance quite as high or race to personalize the class to where your body is that day.”
Want to try out this whole cycle-guided exercise routine thing? Here are some tips for exercising during the four stages of the menstrual cycle.
1. Menstruation: Keep Moving
While it might be tempting to go full couch potato when you have your period, Phelan says you don't have to give up your routine entirely — but you can take it a little easier than you usually would.
"During your bleed/menstrual phase, you want to keep moving to help counteract cramping — but also allow your body to recover appropriately," Phelan says. "Since your energy is already likely on the lower side, gentle walks, restorative yoga, or a myofascial release session with your foam roller and a tennis ball are low key ways of moving. If you feel back pain as a symptom, rolling out your glutes can be massively helpful in easing tension and discomfort."
2. Follicular: Go Hard And Strong
The week and a half or so after you stop bleeding, leading up to ovulation, is when your body is primed to really hit it hard. That rise in estrogen means you're going to have the most endurance during this phase.
"You’re feeling motivated and energetic in the follicular/rise phase, so use that to your advantage when trying out a workout," Phelan says. "You’ll be able to give it your all, so you'll reap more rewards from a high intensity workout like HIIT or plyometrics, at this time than say, your menstrual phase. Whatever you choose, bring extra attention to warming up and cooling down in this phase, especially since you are more injury prone."
3. Ovulatory: Stay Steady
Ovulation happens about halfway through the cycle and it's when your body is most fertile. You might find your skin is glowing more or you're a bit more of a flirt. You also might find that you want to slightly downshift your workout.
"LISS ( low-intensity steady-state cardio) is perfect for the ovulatory/shift phase since it involves a longer duration of manageable intensity," Phelan says. "You're also feeling more social as you ovulate, so you'll get more joy out of a group classes or even just jogging with a friend than a personal training session or working out to a streaming service. Pilates or Iyengar yoga both maintain a slow deliberate pace but deliver a consistently difficult physical demand plus attention to detail and focus."
4. Luteal: Reflect And Recover
During the luteal phase, you might feel more tired, more irritable, hungrier — you probably know what PMS looks like. And if you have PMDD, those symptoms will likely be exacerbated. All of those feelings might lead you to wanting to skip your workouts, but Phelan says a better move is to focus on less strenuous workouts during the last two weeks of your cycle.
"Staying active through this phase can help counteract PMS symptoms — spinal rotation usually feels amazing when you're bloated — so any style of yoga, depending on your energy level will feel great," Phelan says. "The coordination aspect of Pilates and Gyrotonic may feel more challenging during this phase, but they both typically involve spiraling/rotation and their focus on breath paced movement is great if you're feeling low energy. But maybe don't take the advanced choreography class if you're feeling clumsy."
Ultimately, of course, it's up to you to decide if and how you want your cycle to inform your exercise routines. These are just suggestions, after all! But really, what could it hurt to give it a shot? If working out sparks joy, there are ways to keep enjoying it.