If you are a person that menstruates, then you probably have had a time when you’ve thought about how that will affect (or completely deter) your workout. But how is it really affecting you?

Typically, the menstruation cycle occurs in a 28-day period of time, however, that can widely vary for individuals, and can range anywhere from 21 days to 35 days. A typical period can last anywhere from 2- 7 days.

There are 2 major hormones at play during the menstrual cycle: estrogen and progesterone. These hormones can be impacted by exercise.

There are 4 phases within our cycle: menstruation, follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase.

Menstruation: Typically lasts 3-7 days. This is when the shedding of the uterine wall occurs.

Follicular phase: Typically days 6-14 of the menstrual cycle. This is when the levels of estrogen rise, and causes the lining of the uterus to thicken and grow, preparing itself for a potential pregnancy.

Ovulation: Around day 14 of the cycle, the ovary releases an egg.

Luteal Phase: Typically days 15-28 of the cycle. The egg leaves the ovary and travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus. Progesterone is released during this phase to prepare the uterine lining for pregnancy.

If pregnancy doesn’t occur, estrogen and progesterone levels drop and the thick lining of your uterus sheds during your period.

At the beginning of the cycle, more estrogen is being released, so this is the time to take advantage of higher energy levels and the protective effects of estrogen. During this phase, your body is better able to access stored carbohydrates, making it a great time for more high-intensity training or weight lifting due to the increased ease to build and maintain muscles.

During the Luteal phase, your body is preparing for the next period/or pregnancy. Hormone levels are higher, meaning a decrease in anabolic, or muscle-building, capacity. Due to the increase in hormones, this also means your body requires more energy (food) and also hydration. You can feel hungrier and become dehydrated more easily during this phase.

So what does that actually mean with respect to exercise?

A study published in 2022 analyzed the physical performance, and self-perception of menstrual symptoms, in physically active women with normal menstruation during the follicular phase and the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. In this study, they took 26 females and assessed exercise performance through a graded exercise test during both points in a cycle.

They found

there was no difference in physical performance between the Follicular phase and Luteal phase however, menstrual flow intensity and perception of cycle interference demonstrated a decrease in total time to exhaustion.

Everyone feels differently during their cycles, however, there is no medical reason to avoid training or maintaining a training program during your period. However, your body’s perception of fatigue and symptoms is important to listen to. If you feel that you can make it through that CrossFit WOD go for it, but be sure to check in with how your body is feeling. If you’re looking for guidance or advice on exercise throughout your menstrual cycle, or are experiencing painful symptoms related to your period, contact us! Our team of experienced clinicians at Rebalance Physical Therapy can help you find the best treatments to reduce your pain and get you back to your training routine.

Written by Katelyn Brady, PT, DPT

References:

de Carvalho G, Papoti M, Rodrigues MCD, Foresti YF, de Oliveira Guirro EC, de Jesus Guirro RR. Interaction predictors of self-perception menstrual symptoms and influence of the menstrual cycle on physical performance of physically active women. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2022 Nov 13. doi: 10.1007/s00421-022-05086-z. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36371725.

Menstrual cycle: What’s normal, what’s not. (2022, December 6). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/menstrual-cycle/art-20047186#:~:text=Menstrual%20flow%20might%20occur%20every,more%20regular%20as%20you%20age.

Menstrual Cycle (Normal Menstruation): Overview & Phases. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/10132-menstrual-cycle

Tria. “Menstrual Cycle and Exercise: Tria Blog.” HealthPartners Blog, 15 Aug. 2022, https://www.healthpartners.com/blog/how-tracking-your-period-can-help-improve-athletic-performance/.

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