Ladies, our hormone levels are in a constant state of flux. The men in our lives may operate on a standard 24-hour circadian rhythm, with predictable waxing and waning energy patterns that repeat daily. But us? We’re a bit more complicated than that.
We operate on an infradian rhythm. Our cycles aren’t 24 hours long, they’re 28 days long (give or take.) That means from day to day, our fluctuating hormones demand a wide variety of responses from our bodies.
We talked recently about how our hormone levels affect our nutritional needs, and what to eat for each phase of your menstrual cycle. But did you know those same principles can (and should) affect your workout plans?
Not only do those hormone levels affect our energy levels, making workouts in some parts of the month way, way harder than others. But there is some research suggesting that those same levels can affect our muscles, joints, and ligaments as well. Meaning there are certain days that we’re able to push ourselves to the limit, and some where we could be more prone to injury.
Sound complicated? Luckily there are loads of free cycle-tracking apps that will take a lot of the guesswork out of it. I’m partial to myFLO by Alysa Vitti. She’s also written some amazing books that go into detail about how getting familiar with your cycle can benefit just about every aspect of your life.
Your menstrual phase is the period of time (see what I did there?) that you’re actively bleeding. Our estrogen levels are at their lowest point during the menstrual phase.
The day you start your period is the first day of your (roughly) 28-day cycle. The menstrual phase typically lasts 3-7 days.
Many of us feel rather crummy when we’re on our periods, and your energy levels are likely to be on the low side. Make sure to listen to your body and give it what it needs. If it’s asking for rest, don’t push it. Go for something like restorative yoga or a gentle walk.
If, on the other hand, you feel well enough to get a more intense workout it, feel free to do so. Low estrogen levels could mean you’re less prone to injuries right now.
The follicular phase begins when you stop bleeding and typically lasts until around day 13. This is when your body is preparing to release an egg. Both estrogen and testosterone are rising.
Because of these rising hormone levels, you may experience an increase in creativity and being open to new experiences. Keep yourself motivated by changing up your routine. Take a dance class, go on a hike in a new area, or try out a new cardio method you’re interested in.
Above all, remember to listen to your body. Increasing estrogen could mean that you’re more prone to injury right now, so if you’re feeling like you should take it easy, go with your gut.
Ovulation usually occurs around day 14 of your cycle, but the ovulatory phase lasts until day 21. The phase starts out energetic, and your estrogen and testosterone levels are at their highest, giving you lots of energy for socializing (and flirting).
Immediately after you ovulate, however, estrogen begins to drop and progesterone begins to rise.
While your hormone levels are high, take advantage of that extra energy and get in some workouts that really make you sweat. Because of that social component, this would be a great time to work out with some buddies (safely). Maybe go on a run or take a class together.
Just keep in mind that you could still be prone to knee or ankle injuries. Listen to your body, and don’t skip the warmup.
The luteal phase lasts until you begin your period again, usually from day 22-28. At this time, estrogen begins to drop, as does serotonin, so you might feel a bit more tired and blue than normal. (Hello, PMS.)
If your energy levels are still feeling good, take advantage of them and go for more intense workouts like weight training or a vigorous yoga class. But as those energy levels begin to wane again, give yourself the grace to slow down. Walking, restorative yoga, or lighter-paced dance classes are your friend right now.
Your Mileage May Vary
Just like no two days of your cycle are alike, no two people are alike, so take this as a general guide and adjust based on how you feel. It will take a few months of tracking to be able to determine the exact days that each phase begins on.
Above all, listen to your body. Once you begin to track your cycle, you might learn all sorts of things about your mood, attention span, energy levels, sex drive, and cravings. And that insight could go a long way in helping you live your best life.