Being aware of your menstrual cycle can help you plan workouts for a better experience, according to experts.
Guido Mieth/Getty Images
  • If you have a menstrual cycle, your hormones can affect your workout experience and results.
  • Experts say there may be an advantage to training strategically around your cycle.
  • Evidence suggests you should do strength training early in the cycle, and relax near menstruation.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

If you have regular menstrual periods, chances are you've missed a workout (or been tempted to) because of symptoms like cramps, fatigue, and moodiness.

But understanding what your hormones are up to during the month can help make your gym experience better at every stage of your cycle, according to Dr Lynae Brayboy, chief medical officer at Clue, a period tracking app company.

"Being aware of your cycle allows you to live in tune with your biology, rather than in spite of it," Brayboy said.

There is data on how different phases of the menstrual cycle can affect workout results and performance, although more research (and funding for that research) is needed, according to Brayboy.

"The research on this topic is out there, but it is not yet enough to draw conclusive evidence about the impacts of the menstrual cycle on sports performance and results," she said.

However, that hasn't stopped professional athletes like the US Women's National Soccer Team from tracking their cycles, and everyday athletes can benefit from doing the same.

Here's how menstrual phases may affect your workouts, and how to plan accordingly.

During your period, exercise can be beneficial, but be mindful of symptoms

The menstrual cycle starts on the first day of your period, when the body sheds the lining of the uterus.

This can be accompanied by symptoms like fatigue, cramps, aches, moodiness, and bloating, which may make you want to take it easy.

There's evidence that regular exercise can help ease symptoms, Insider's Rachel Hosie previously reported.

To determine which approach is best for you, it can help to take notes on how you feel and what your symptoms are, so you can prepare accordingly, said Brayboy.

"The best way to understand your symptoms is by tracking them, so you know what is going to happen throughout your cycle and when to expect it," she said.

At the beginning of your cycle till ovulation, strength gains might peak

The time from your period until ovulation begins is known as the follicular phase. There's some evidence that there may be an advantage to strength training during this time. Data from studies has shown that athletes had greater improvements to strength and muscle building from training during the follicular phase, compared to other phases.

"As such, some choose to strength train at the start of their cycle," Brayboy said.

That means the days following your period might be a good time to add heavy weights to your routine in the form of dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells.

During ovulation, be aware of potential risk of injury

At the opposite end of the cycle from menstruation is ovulation, when the ovary releases an egg. Oestrogen levels peak during this time, and some research suggests risk of injury could be higher, too. One study found that soccer players' tendon injuries were twice as common during that time, possibly because hormones loosen the tendons.

While more research is needed, it can be helpful to pay extra attention to good form during this phase to avoid injury.

After ovulation/before your next period, you may feel more fatigued

During the luteal phase of the cycle, prior to menstruation, the body ramps up a hormone called progesterone. This can raise your body temperature slightly, and also increase feelings of fatigue, research suggests.

"Some may find that they don't have as much endurance during the luteal phase, making it harder to hit max lifts," Brayboy said.

As a result, you may want to schedule more moderate exercise during this phase.

Get the best of our site emailed to you every weekday.

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.