When it comes to working out for a women, there’s a few things you should consider before deciding on what type of exercise you do. Finding the right one for your body is important and you’ll be surprised how your monthly cycle can play quite a key role.
Exercise either provokes a love or hate relationship for most women. If they have done it lots before then it’s usually something that usually comes naturally for them, (however as we are very complex creatures, it can also be due to self loathing and the need for compensation of lifestyle). If it is a loathing thought to do some exercise its often due to fear, procrastination, negative self talk or fatigue. What is evident however and all the research goes to show it that lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle is as dangerous to our body as smoking. This is huge.
For us women, it isn’t just as simple as finding one thing, doing it each day and sticking to it. As I mentioned before we are very complex creatures and our body has its own rhythm and cycle that to get the best results for our overall health it is imperative we listen to this. There are usually two parts to this. First is our monthly cycle, and the other is our stress patterns.
Our monthly cycles (which is a response to changes in hormones) play a big part in our overall energy, recovery and stamina. It is crucial to understand your monthly cycle, what is happening in each different phase and also how best to work with it. *If you are on a hormonal contraceptive this will not apply as you do not ovulate nor have a proper period but a pill bleed which is completely different.
Follicular phase is your post bleeding phase. This is likened to the “Spring” season or “Sunrise” part of our day. Estrogen levels are rising and there is higher testosterone. Your pituitary gland is also releasing Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) to stimulate the follicles in the ovary to mature. At this point in your cycle you will have more energy, and this is the best time to do more intense training. Think HIIT, CrossFit, running, spin etc. You will be able to lift heavier and go for longer.
Ovulation is mid cycle where the egg is released. Likened to summer or midday. Estrogen is at its peak and progesterone is released. This is also where you are at your peak with exercise. Get out there and go for it. It is also where you are naturally more social so choosing class based workouts is a good idea.
Luteal phase is where your body is either preparing for pregnancy or menstruation. Likened to Autumn or sunset. Progesterone is at its peak and testosterone is declining. After around day 22 (on an average 28-30 day cycle) your estrogen and progesterone start to decline. You may notice feeling “off” and this is when it is a good time to decrease the intense cardio and focus more on restorative movements such as walking, yoga, pilates.Progesterone is higher than estrogen here and it is a relaxin hormone which can increase your risk for injuries if you are lifting particularly heavy weights so take caution here to focus on technique over load.
Menstruation is our winter or midnight period and where all hormones are at their lowest point. This is the best time to stop and embrace the restoration. Slow walks, yin yoga or even naps. Allowing your body the time to rest here so it can focus its energy on menstruation gives it and your hormones a helping hand. We get so caught up in trying to do and be everything at any stage, but menstruation is a very sacred time for our body and it is doing a lot of work.
Along with thinking about our training around our cycles, it is also crucial to take note of your overall energy levels and stress. As we most often have many other things going on with our lives, whether it is children, relationships, jobs, houses to maintain, etc we have a certain threshold for how much our body can handle in terms of perceived stress. If we go over that threshold with actual physical stress it can turn into more inflammation, and further fatigue, issues sleeping, irregular or painful cycles and risk of injury. Listening to your body is key. Trying to “outdo” the stress with intense training is more often than not doing more harm than good. If you wake feeling tired, overwhelmed, stressed out try something more relaxing such as walking, yoga, swimming or pilates. When you wake feeling refreshed, energised and on top of your game then go out and hit those harder workouts.
There are some great tools now to help you assess this based on your Heart Rate Variability. Basically we should have a high HRV meaning we have the ability to speed up and slow down our heart rate easily for any situation. This is when we are at our peak to train harder as our recovery will be much better. If our HRV is low (which can occur from stress, lack of sleep the night before etc) then it is best to do more restful activities for that day. The Oura Ring is a great tool to help assess this as it is very accurate and also helps assess sleep and your own circadian rhythm. This is just one of many ways to use technology to help you get the best out of training for your body and your own natural rhythm as what is best for your friend may not be great for you.
As with anything, balance is the key. Listening to your body and your needs, and finding a way to create the balance between harder workouts and restorative movement. Often exercise is seen as a chore, and one that is necessary almost as a punishment. It’s important to find something that you get enjoyment out of, to give you a will to go, not a reason. With that, our mindset changes and not only do we enjoy exercise and the freedom it gives our body and mind, but it helps to change a negative mindset towards exercise and your own beautiful body.