How to train according to your cycle

Yes, hormones can affect your fitness regimen – here’s how to manage them to maximise your fitness goals.

Many women report feeling a whole lot less motivated during their period, with low energy, cramps, mood swings and bloating all playing a part.

But whether you’re on a dedicated fitness program or just enjoy your daily run or yoga session, the thought of taking a week out each month isn’t pretty.

How hormones can affect exercise and weight-loss

University of Sydney obesity and interval training expert Dr Nick Fuller says levels of sex hormones fluctuate daily for women, which can have a significant effect of exercise and weight-loss goals.

“There are two hormone phases every month – high and low,” he says.

“During the low phase – the first two weeks of the cycle – oestrogen levels start to rise and progesterone stays stable. This is when women feel best and can train harder.

“During the second half of the cycle – the high phase or luteal phase – progesterone peaks, which can affect performance and recovery.

Premenstrual syndrome symptoms also kick in at the latter end of this phase, resulting in bloating, fatigue and desire to rest.”

And while most of us know what that feels like, it doesn’t have to mean we shut up shop.

How to train with, not against, your cycle

Basically, it’s all about listening to your body, says Dr Fuller, which means that some days you can exercise at higher intensities and others you need to dial it down a little.

When to push yourself

“Save the hard training and higher-intensity training for the low phase, the follicular phase of the cycle,” Dr Fuller says.

Research shows there’s the potential for increased muscle gains and strength during this phase, which means it could be a good time to hit the weights if that’s what you love and plan for your more intense strength workouts.

When to take it easier

“During the luteal phase however high progesterone results in decreases in strength, aerobic capacity and ability to tolerate heat,” Dr Fuller reveals.

“When you are in this phase, exercising can feel like an uphill struggle and you will fatigue quicker. Progesterone also breaks down muscle so you won’t enjoy the same gains from your workouts and recovery is slower.”

This is the time, he says, to incorporate lower-intensity cardio, low-intensity strength training and active recovery sessions such as an easy swim, walking and yoga.

If you mix up your training routine according to which stage of your cycle you are in, you’ll not only feel better but are more likely to achieve your weight loss goals, says Dr Fuller.

Written by Liz McGrath.