As a female, it can be frustrating trying to exercise from week to week. One day you feel on top of your game, stronger than ever, and the next you feel weak and tired and you would rather just lay in bed. Often times we blame ourselves for this, thinking we are being lazy or unmotivated, but is there something else we should be looking at?
The female menstrual cycle is made up of four phases, during which estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels are changing…just to name a few. Depending on which phase you are in you might feel tired, weak, and hungry OR you might have a surge of energy and feel assertive and extroverted. Knowing which phase you are in is important so you can plan your workouts accordingly and get peace of mind knowing that your lack of motivation is a natural reaction in your body and it is only temporary. And for you men, this is important for you to know too! I am sure there is a female in your life that would benefit from this information. AND you will gain a better understanding of what is going on in the female body, which might help you get some brownie points down the road.
PHASE 1: Menstrual Phase Day 1-5 (depending on duration of period)
Day one of your cycle, when you have just started your period, estrogen and progesterone have dropped, causing your glycogen stores to be more readily available. Although it may not feel like it, this is a great time to get in an intense anaerobic workout aka do sprints or a HIIT training! If a competition falls during this time, it is more important than usual to carb load prior to activity so the body has enough glycogen stores to provide you energy throughout the duration of your event, otherwise you might crash. Exercising during the start of your period can also alleviate cramps and mood swings. However, if you are just not feeling that energetic, yoga is a great alternative to give you a gentler form of exercise but keep you moving during this time.
PHASE 2: Follicular Phase Day 1-13
Phase 2, called the Follicular phase, begins alongside the menstrual phase but continues for a week longer. During this time (once your period has ended), estrogen and testosterone levels increase and progesterone remains about the same. Insulin sensitivity increases and you may experience an increase in pain tolerance, which is often times why you can have more intense workouts for longer during this phase. This is a great time to focus on full body workouts so go for the more compound movements (squats, deadlifts, push press, etc).
PHASE 3: Ovulation Day ~14-16
Around day 14, estrogen is at its highest point so this is the ideal time to focus on strength workouts to build muscle! Go for that PR and push yourself! Focus on heavier weights and less reps (8-10) versus lighter weights and more reps (12-14). However, it is important to keep in mind that at this time, the additional estrogen has caused changes in collagen structure, causing joints to become loose. Research shows that ACL tears are 4-8 times more likely to occur during this phase SO it is extremely important to warm up properly, use proper form, and focus on recovery, such as foam rolling and massage. We may be our strongest at this time, but ironically we are the most prone to injury as well. Additionally, progesterone levels are increasing, with serotonin levels decreasing. This shift can cause food cravings because carbohydrates boost serotonin—so you’re not crazy for wanting chocolate and potato chips!
PHASE 4: Luteal Phase Day 15-28
Once ovulation is complete, our bodies prepare for our period once again. YAY. This is where PMS symptoms come into play and we get to deal with water retention, headaches, backaches, lack of motivation, and fatigue, just to name a few. Our bodies will prefer fat as its primary fuel, instead of glycogen. This means that your workout should be focused on fat burning. Low intensity, cardio-based, aerobic, endurance workouts such as trail runs, bike rides, swimming, hiking, etc. should be the focus during these two weeks. Strength workouts and high-intensity workouts are still fine to do but just know you may not perform at your best (like you were the week prior…so don’t get frustrated!).
The next step, if you are not already, is to track your period. There are many phone apps you can download that make it easy to stay organized. Personally I use P.C. (Period Calendar). Once you have this, you can easily track the phases and base your workouts accordingly. Remember, above all, listen to your body and be nice to it!
I hope this helps some of you understand a little bit more about what is going on in your body each month so you can keep crushing it and reaching your goals! Don’t beat yourself up on those days where you’re just not feeling it. It is a temporary phase that will pass and you’ll be back to BEASTING it the next week!