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Exercise and your menstrual cycle

By stephdorworth

June 17, 2022

period pain

period pain

Introduction

Why the heck am I writing about menstrual cycles and exercise? Because it’s been on my mind lately and I like to share with you personal struggles as I go through them - almost as if this is my diary. I share my story and this blog post with the hopes that you can relate, feel heard, and gain guidance on how to exercise around your periods.

Let’s start from the beginning. Back when I was about 18 or so, I started birth control. I was naive and I did because I was told that was what I should do to reduce the cramping pain. I’ve always had very painful periods - the first 2 days of my cycle I’d be curled up in a ball and so uncomfortable. So I began birth control and was on it until I was 34 years old.

As an older and less naive woman, one day I woke up and was like - why am I still on this? I started it for the cramps, but I really don’t need it. I can take something else for the pain and instead get off this birth control so my body can return to its natural cycle. Another thought was that I didn’t want to be on birth control for another 10-15 years, so why not stop now?

Being on birth control can be helpful for many women. But I also feel like it’s pushed on many women as an easy treatment for period cramps & to prevent pregnancy. But we’re not educated on the negative side effects of being on hormone medication long term.

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My Story: I stopped birth control

If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t have ever started birth control. Don’t mess with your hormones unless the pros outway the cons for you.

At 34 years old in early 2022 I stopped birth control. I made the decision to prioritize my long term health and allow my body to return to its natural rhythm.

There are many negative symptoms of taking birth control:

  • hormonal confusion

  • digestive problems

  • energy reduction

  • skin issues

  • mood disruption

  • low libido

  • vaginal dryness

  • vitamin/mineral/antioxidant depletion

Personally, I was experiencing several of these and after weighing out the pros and cons to taking birth control, I made the decision to stop it. 

I read the book Beyond the Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten to educate myself on what to expect when I went off the pill. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it for anyone considering making this decision.

There’s something called post-birth control syndrome: it occurs when you discontinue use of birth control and can take the body 4-6 months to re-establish the ovary-brain connection. You may have heavier periods, more painful periods,  or a missed period with an irregular cycle until your body levels out.

period pain

Period Tracking

In addition to reading this book I also decided to invest in the Clue app. It’s a period tracking app in which you can track when you have your period, which days you have certain symptoms, which days you have intercourse, and more! 

Becoming more knowledgeable on your own body and its cycle is eye opening and exciting! You’ll get to notice some cool trends like the monthly repetitive nature of when you feel certain symptoms, feel more energized, feel more sexy, etc.. Symptoms including: bleeding, sex, skin, pain, scale weightdigestion, temperature, & more. 

What I learned from using Clue to track my cycle:

  • The average cycle length is about 26-36 days - mine is 25 days.

  • The average period length is 4-6 days - mine is 4 days.

It’s so eye opening and teaches you so much about your cycle.

In my opinion, the most important thing that we as women should know about our cycle is the four phases.

The four phases of menstrual cycles

There are 4 Phases of the menstrual cycle:

Credit: Insider

As you can see the four phases are:

  • Day 1-5 Menstruation (bleeding) [this can be 4-6 days]

  • Day 6-11 Follicular phase

  • Day 12-16 Ovulation (chance of pregnancy during this phase)

  • Day 17-28 Luteal phase [this can be 26-36 total]

To see what your hormones and body temperature will do throughout your cycle you can reference this photo below from Wikipedia.



Based on the hormone changes throughout your menstrual cycle, we can now apply this to how you can schedule your exercise around your cycle - yay! 


Exercise and your menstrual cycle

Before I share this, I want to say thank you to my friend Kai Christianson who introduced me to these four seasons which are a beautiful way to explain the four phases we go through as women in her Working with your Cycle masterclass which you can see here.

She is an amazing resource as a Mindset Coach that can help you shift your thoughts and behaviors for good. Learn more about her services here.

Here are the four menstrual cycle phases + their seasons:

  • WINTER | Menstruation phase
    • During this phase you are shedding your uterine lining and bleeding so you may feel more symptomatic
    • Focus on getting plenty of rest
    • Prioritize self care time and feeling all your feelings fully as you may feel more hypersensitive now. Prioritize releasing it all!
    • When eating you may feel better when consuming less caffeine, alcohol, fatty foods, & sugar
    • Workouts may need to be shorter, less intense, & less frequent. You may need to have less structure and more go with the flow attitude.
    • Focus more on lighter workouts like walking, restorative yoga, mobility, etc.
    • Cramps bad? Orgasms may help reduce the cramping pain
  • SPRING | Follicular phase
    • During this phase you are feeling more refreshed, renewed, and ready to take action on everything you were thinking about and feeling in Winter. This is a new start!
    • Energy will likely be higher so utilize that for longer, more intense, and more frequent workouts - you’ll be feeling in a good mood and feeling yourself again!
    • Caution: some studies show that in the late follicular phase, our ligaments are more lax so we may be more prone to injury. Train, but warmup really well and be cautious with highly involved sports and exercise.
  • SUMMER | Ovulation
    • During this phase you are ovulating so your skin is likely radiant, you’re feeling sexy, vibrant, and more playful!
    • Use this higher energy to be playful, socialize, and attract what you want into your life - manifest it!
    • This is a a good time to launch ideas or start something new - feel into that masculine energy during this phase to get things done
    • Energy will likely be higher so utilize that for longer, more intense, and more frequent workouts - feeling powerful!
    • If you love high intensity workouts and plyometrics, now is the time to do them!
  • AUTUMN | Luteal phase
    • During this phase you are winding down after a high energy spring and summer, so energy is coming down day by day
    • You may feel more emotional during this time, so feel into that and let it all out through journaling or movement
    • Energy will likely be good at the beginning of the phase, but toward the end you may want to taper down your workout frequency, intensity, and length depending on your energy
    • Possibly focus on more restorative exercise here like yoga, mobility, or Pilates
    • Be cautious of hot temperature and overheating during this phase as your basal body temp is already higher here
period pain


Exercise programming suggestions

As you have learned, it’s 100% fine to workout year round and during any phase of your monthly cycle. It’s the workout length, intensity, and duration that you may want to modify during those lower energy seasons (autumn and winter).

The current research suggests that changes in female hormones throughout the menstrual cycle do not affect muscle contractile characteristics.

Low to moderate intensity exercise may actually help reduce period symptoms - yet another reason to workout regularly!

And weight loss may decrease the amount of estrogen in your body, therefore resulting in a lighter flow!

Side note: “Researchers have not been able to find any differences during the menstrual cycle in a woman’s ability to exercise. The only significant finding was for endurance events, or long sports events, like marathons. In endurance events, women who had already ovulated but not started their period yet had a harder time exercising during hot and humid weather.” (Source)

Let me share an example so this makes sense.

If one of my clients typically strength trains 5x/week for 45 minutes during her high energy phases, then her low energy phases may look like this: 4-5x/week for 30 minutes lifting lighter.

If one of my clients typically strength trains 4x/week for 45 minutes and does high intensity cardio after 20 minutes, then her low energy phases may look like this: 3-4x/week lifting for 30 minutes and low intensity cardio for 10 minutes.

The most important thing: listen to your body. On days your energy is low, emotions are high, and you don’t feel recovered then take it easy. Maybe instead of lifting you completely sub it out for a light home yoga session or mobility session. Do what feels good for YOU.

All the women in my circle who train with me online have the gift of getting to practice periodization - adjusting their workouts around their menstrual cycle. On weeks they’re on their period, they know they can go lighter and modify. They can ask me for guidance on how to do this and we talk through how they’re feeling at our video checkins.

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If you are looking for an online coach to guide you through coaching in that feels personal then look no further. I’d love to connect and see if we’re a good fit for online coaching! Let’s work toward your goals while getting you setup with the most customized program you’ll ever receive. Book a clarity call with me to chat more!

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Wrap Up

Before I wrap up, I wanted to share a personal victory with you all! As I mentioned, I stopped taking birth control and went through the post birth control syndrome phase. I’m now 5-months off birth control and feeling better than ever! In month two I had a super emotional mood swing day that was unlike me. But by month four my body had leveled out and I was feeling more energized and positive than ever! My bodyweight has stayed the same, but my skin is clearer, my energy is higher, my emotions are minimal, my periods are lighter, my period cramps only last 1.5 days now…. And the best part: I no longer have PMS mood swings the few days before I start bleeding. I actually feel even keel all month long - this is a huge win!

If you’re considering going off your birth control I’m no expert in this area. I simply wanted to share my own experience. Definitely talk to your OBGYN or Dr about this decision and take time to read about the pros and cons to it. 

I hope this blog was helpful and opened your eyes to how our menstrual cycle can greatly impact our energy levels and therefore our exercise routine.

If you loved this blog, comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

Peace & love,

Steph

period pain
period pain
period pain
period pain

Thanks for reading!


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About Dr. Steph

Doctor of Physical therapy and Online Training & Nutrition Coach with a passion for teaching men and women how to train despite injury.

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