If you’re used to exercising regularly, you might understandably get frustrated when you know you should work out, but your body just won’t cooperate. Your motivation is lower, your muscles feel sluggish, your lower abdomen is achy, and the thought of pulling Lycra over your legs is less than appealing…you’re on your period. You might feel like it’s time to throw in the towel, lay in bed, avoid all activity, and indulge in rich foods to quell your low mood while experiencing PMS, but just because you’re on your period, you don’t need to give up exercise.
So, you build up the motivation to stick to your routine (Go you! A healthy routine can keep you feel at ease mentally during your period), but maybe you’re barely getting by during your spin class or that deadlift PR you’ve been working up to feels like one million pounds. There’s a reason for this. Your body thrives on low-impact exercise during your period, and if you choose the right ones, you might actually decrease those pesky PMS symptoms!
It’s More Important To Choose Low-Impact Workouts Than You Might Think
As we know, a woman’s hormone levels ebb and flow during her 28-day cycle. You’ve probably noticed just how much your energy decreases and, as a result, how much you just want to withdraw during those first few days of the menstrual phase. Here’s what’s happening in your body: Your estrogen and progesterone are very low while your uterine lining sheds. Because you’re bleeding for about a week, you lose red blood cells and your body’s iron levels decrease. By day three or so of your period, your hormone levels begin to even out (including serotonin), so you’ll likely feel more inspired to get up and get moving.
Some doctors, like Brandon Marcello, Ph.D., actually believe that the workout “high” you get from releasing endorphins during your period acts as your body’s natural painkiller.
“This doesn’t mean to stop training – to the contrary, this just means to cut back a little bit. During this time, many women report experiencing an increase in rate of perceived exertion, so exercises that are moderately difficult feel much more difficult during this time,” explained Dr. Marcello.
The workout “high” you get from endorphins acts as your body’s natural painkiller.
While you’re at your sleepiest and least motivated during menstruation, low-volume movement can actually relieve you of PMS symptoms and keep you feeling normal. Furthermore, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that women get “at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week” because keeping a well-rounded, regular exercise routine increases your bone density, maintains a healthy weight to body fat ratio, and lowers your blood pressure – all critical aspects of protecting and preserving your fertility.
Now let’s dive into a few of the best ways to keep your body moving and feel your best during your period.
Low-Volume Strength Training
If you’re like me and you’re into strength training and weightlifting, you might feel disappointed by your lack of motivation to keep up with your PRs during your period. Chasing after heavy weight loads during this time is not a good idea. A great swap is to move from any free weights or machinery and just focus on bodyweight strength training. Your body acts a natural weight as it is, and I promise that you won’t lose muscle if you decrease the intensity.
A few days into your period you might notice that you feel a bit more energized. This is because your estrogen and testosterone are increasing (which means it’s easier for you to build muscle at this time), so you can feel free to start to slowly reintroduce a greater volume of weight.
The last thing you might feel like doing while your body is sore and achy is stretching, but practicing yin yoga during your period can relax your muscles, ease cramping, and reduce breast tenderness. Yin yoga is a more relaxed flow that puts the focus on breathing techniques and easing into the various positions, which you might be more comfortable doing than yang or power yoga. Yang yoga, a quicker-paced, aerobic style of yoga, can still be beneficial at this time, but you might want to skip the hot yoga class since you’ll already be lower on iron and can therefore feel lightheaded more easily.
Research has shown that yoga poses like “cat,” “cobra,” and “fish” can actually reduce cramping. Some consider yoga to be low-cost alternative medicine (I mean, I’d rather do some yoga than pop a Midol) that manages the severity of PMS and the overall duration.
Yoga poses like “cat,” “cobra,” and “fish” can reduce cramping.
So try decreasing that dreaded stiffness and keep your blood flowing through daily yoga sessions that last between 25 minutes to an hour. If you’re feeling up for it, some yoga instructors actually think you should keep doing inversions such as handstands, headstands, and shoulderstands, but as long as you’re doing any amount of yoga, you’re better off than just laying in bed!
Tai Chi or Balance Exercises
Slow, controlled bodyweight movement that incorporates gentle stretching is a great way to ease period discomfort. Like with yoga, tai chi (Qigong) and other balance exercises force you to regulate your breathing and can guide you into a mentally meditative state.
Though there is less literature about the science behind why tai chi and Qigong are so helpful for women's health, the research that is out there suggests that daily, one-hour Qigong sessions improved PMS symptoms, including poor mood, water retention, and pain.
Whether you prefer mat pilates or reformer pilates, this form of exercise can be a great pick during your period if you don’t tend to bleed as much and want to amp up your rigor of exercise rather than pare it back with something like yin yoga.
That said, not all pilates exercises will mesh well with the energy you’re feeling while menstruating. For example, abdominal movements that target the front of your stomach might feel uncomfortable, but abdominal movements that target your obliques can be performed just fine. Less can definitely be more with pilates when you focus in on your mind-muscle connection, so if you’re decreasing rigor during your period, you’ll inadvertently become a better pilates practitioner by increasing your bodily awareness.
A 25 to 45-minute pilates session will likely feel best because it builds your mobility, improves your circulation, relieves back pain, strengthens your pelvic floor muscles, increases your metabolism, and helps clear your mind.
Light, Dry Cardio
Slow down, cardio bunny! Lighter aerobic exercises like walking and biking at more relaxed paces are proven to help ease your PMS symptoms like breast pain, swelling, headaches, and water-weight gain. Researchers believe that these physical symptoms occur during your period because of “increased aldosterone in serum, prostaglandin E2, and deficiency of vitamin B and [magnesium],” but when you practice light to moderate cardio, you can mitigate those hormonal and nutrient fluctuations.
In addition, since aerobic movement improves circulation and elevates your heart rate, you’ll increase blood flow to your spine and therefore decrease PMS-related stiffness, back, and neck pain.
Vitamin B and magnesium deficiencies can increase period symptoms.
Enjoy the fresh air and take a longer walk in nature or get about a half hour to 45 minutes of biking on flat ground outdoors or on a stationary bike at the gym. Stationary biking can be more comfortable than outdoor biking during your period because you don’t feel the same type of jostling or impact from uneven ground but you still get all the benefits of the aerobic cardio movement. Interestingly, research shows that your lung capacity is greater as your cycle goes on, so you should slowly increase your volume of cardio later in your cycle.
Swimming or Water Aerobics
The logic behind water-related aerobics is much like that of dry-land cardio. By keeping your body in regulated, light motion, you can improve circulation and release those happy endorphins. What’s particularly great about swimming is that being in water gives your body natural buoyancy and added resistance that reduces any impact on your spine.
If you’re experiencing severe cramping or soreness and feel iffy about swimming laps, you can try water therapy exercises that provide light aerobic benefits. If you’re feeling iffy about swimming for other reasons, such as nerves related to managing your bleeding while in the pool, this is the best time for you to try a menstrual cup which provides better protection from leaking and is far safer than tampons.
Need Some Help on Where To Start?
Some people are more regimented than others with an exercise routine and enjoy the process of putting together their own schedules. If you feel a bit overwhelmed with planning workouts and prefer expert-level guidance to help you through staying fit and feeling fab while on your period, you’ll benefit from a free program like 28 by Evie.
Simply plug your last cycle date into 28’s system, and the revolutionary fem-tech platform will provide you with a wide range of workout plans and videos that match the energy you’re feeling that day. There’s a style of workout for everyone on 28, whether you’re more inclined to enjoy aerobics or strength training. Think of 28 like your personal trainer who understands how your hormone levels fluctuate and will guide you toward the best ways to move that honor your cycle, not work against it. What’s more, you can also learn about the best ways to nourish your body through your diet on 28, which can help you better fuel yourself to keep moving.
Simply because you’re on your period, you haven’t lost your ability to exercise. You’ll actually be doing your body a favor by reducing PMS-related discomfort if you practice daily movement that matches your energy levels and honors how your hormones are making you feel. You owe it to yourself to be kind to your body, and this is especially important while on your period! Don’t worry, your high energy will return soon, and you’ll be back at those leaderboard scores and PRs in no time.
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