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Empowering Women: How to Optimize Your Workout Around Your Menstrual Cycle

Ladies, if your workouts are not in alignment with the phases of your menstrual cycle then you are missing

out in a big way. If you're not noticing gains, or unable to stay consistent in the gym it may be because you're asking your body to contradict its own physiology at a specific point in time.

Follicular/Estrogen Phase

Estrogen is the dominant hormone during the follicular phase and lasts from the first day of menstruation to ovulation. It typically makes up 14-21 days of the entire menstrual cycle. During this phase you want to workout HARD! Estrogen is your natural performance enhancing hormone. Due to its anabolic effects this is your time to gain muscle, get strong, and do high intensity workouts. You will likely experience increased energy during this phase compared to the luteal phase, you have decreased fat stores and decreased water retention. Think lean and mean in this phase! It’s your time to lift heavy and push yourself. If you've been waiting to hit a new PR this is your window to do it. Keep your rep ranges slightly lower to focus more on muscular strength. You will also have increased insulin sensitivity during this phase which gives you a little more ‘carbohydrate forgiveness’ enabling you to really fuel high intensity workouts and put on muscle mass without experiencing blood sugar spikes. 

Luteal/Progesterone Phase

During the second phase of your cycle after ovulation, progesterone is the dominant hormone. To preface, I am not saying that you can't perform hard, intense workouts during this second phase, as you may not experience much of a difference in the way you feel until you get closer to menstruation. With that said, it’s important to be aware that your body is physiologically gearing up for embryo development, not hard intense muscle building workouts. As you get more in tune with your body and your workouts, you will likely notice that you can’t sustain the level of intensity or physical output that you could during the estrogen phase. There is quite a bit of research demonstrating that muscular endurance decreases and your rate of perceived exertion increases during this phase. A workout that you did 10 days ago while in the follicular phase might have felt like 60% maximum exertion, while that same exact workout in the luteal could easily feel like 80-90% maximum exertion. This is likely due to the slight increase in core body temperature that occurs during this phase. We know that a half of a degree in core body temperature and your ability to cool yourself or lack of can dramatically alter physical output and the amount of work you can and your ability to fight off fatigue. During this phase your metabolic rate increases slightly. As a result you’ll likely experience increased hunger cravings, increased water retention, and a decrease in insulin resistance. This metabolic rate increase may require you to eat upwards of 200 more calories/day, so keep that in mind. Listen to your body as you progress through this phase as each passing day will change your hormonal profile. Don’t expect to push yourself to max and make a bunch of gains. You will likely feel best by keeping your rep ranges slightly higher (10-20) without exceeding 75% overall max intensity of your workout. Prioritize recovery, more moderate workouts and good nutrition during this part of your cycle.

Lastly, I’d like to note that there is quite a bit of research that light exercise decreases pain and symptoms associated with menstruation. It is certainly not the time for vigorous exercise during your period, however light to moderate intensity aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce period pain.



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