By: Bailee Meier, Chiropractic Intern
Okay ladies, have you ever found yourself wondering why some days your gym routine is an absolute breeze and other days a struggle rep after rep? On those challenging days, I know you’ve run through the possibilities - maybe it’s your mindset, maybe it’s that glass of wine you drank last night, maybe it’s a lack of sleep, or maybe it’s something that’s never even crossed your mind. What if it is due to your menstrual cycle, and what if there's a way to “hack” those impossible workouts and make them seem a bit easier?
Let’s Start with the Basics
Women experience four different phases throughout the month. These phases include menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal. Commonly these first two phases are chunked together and are called the follicular phase and the last two are discussed together and are called the luteal phase.
Menstrual phase is considered the first phase. This is when Aunt Flo visits and hormone levels have dropped. On average, the menstrual phase can last anywhere from three days (if we’re lucky) to seven days but this varies from woman to woman.
As the menstrual phase is taking place, the follicular phase is also hard at work. During this phase, the pituitary gland is releasing follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH wakes up the ovaries and tells them it’s time to make eggs.
Moving into the ovulation phase, estrogen levels are on the rise and luteinizing hormone (LH) is released, triggering the release of an egg. Ovulation can be measured by a spike in body temperature and is expected to take place around day 14 of the cycle.
Last but not least - the luteal phase. In this phase, we see an increase in progesterone as well as a slight rise in estrogen levels. As the days pass, both estrogen and progesterone drop drastically setting us up to begin the cycle yet again. In this phase, we typically experience the classic PMS symptoms such as fatigue, headache, bloating, abdominal cramping and difficulty sleeping.
Fluctuating hormone levels affect so much more than just mood. Hormones affect energy levels, sleep patterns, muscle development, and even how your body uses nutrients. In my opinion, as a woman, it’s extremely important to know the ins and outs of your own cycle. So here are some tips and tricks I have to help you track it! If we don’t know how to track it, we won’t know how to hack it.
Calendar tracking. As simple as it sounds. Mark the day your period starts and predict from there.
Cycle Tracking App. There are hundreds out there. Find one you love. My personal favorite is MyFlo.
Put your Apple Watch, Whoop, or Garmin to work and set up its cycle tracking capabilities.
Now that we have the basics down and know how to track it, let's get into how knowing this can help us as we create our workout regiment.
Again, this phase consists of the first half of the cycle - the menstrual phase and the follicular phase. Hormone levels are low and this is the perfect time to push yourself. In the early days of this phase energy levels may be low due to menstruation so find what works for you! As the cycle progresses, energy levels should increase and high-intensity training is recommended for this phase of your cycle. So, get in those extra reps or add some weight. Heavy weight-lifting, long runs, and plyometrics would be great to incorporate into your routine.
The second half of the cycle is when hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) elevate, muscle building becomes less of a priority for the body - meaning it’s time to take it down a notch and focus on lower-intensity training. Be sure to include recovery time and practice good-self care in this phase. Try going on a hike, doing some yoga, cardio, or swapping out your weights for something a bit lighter.
Knowing your body throughout the entirety of your cycle is such a game changer when it comes to time in the gym. When we understand what’s going on inside and out, it’s so much easier to have success and to reach the fitness goals we set for ourselves.
Vitti, A. (2021). In the Flo: Unlock your hormonal advantage and revolutionize your life. HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Bailee Meier is a chiropractic student from Palmer College in Davenport, Iowa, completing her internship at Washington Park Chiropractic. Her mission is to spread the good word of chiropractic care as she empowers her patients to live their best lives.