Exercising Throughout the Menstrual Cycle

Written by:
Joe Atherton
If you are someone who menstruates, then it is likely you have had training or climbing days impacted as a result.

Whether that be through pain, fatigue, or lack of coordination, the menstrual cycle is more powerful than it is given credit for.

In this and upcoming blogs, we are going to delve into the science and ways as to how to maximise performance during different phases of your cycle.

During your cycle, there are four main phases: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. We are going to visit each phase and discuss how to maximise your performance throughout your cycle. First up; the menstruation phase.

The Science of the Menstruation Phase

Considered day 1 of the cycle, the breaking down and shedding of the lining which has been built up throughout the month. During this phase, typically on day one, estrogen and progesterone levels will be at their lowest and will typically make you feel more tired. Furthermore, research has shown that your neurological pathways aren’t as efficient either, which suggests that your ability to produce force is worse. As a result, whether you are sending a dyno or squatting, this could be impacted negatively.

Should You Exercise?

Why does this impact your training? Well, while there is no medical reason that you shouldn’t workout (because we trust doctors’ opinions on female bodies), you must listen to your body. If you are feeling pain, unwell, or just fatigued, gentle movement or rescheduling your workouts is very common and advised. Many elite female athletes have highlighted that you shouldn’t put pressure on yourself to train and that lowering intensity or rescheduling will have far greater impacts on you both physically and mentally.

How Should You Exercise?

Here are the latest suggestions sports scientists have made.

Yoga: Participating in restorative yoga poses can be an effective pain and tension releaser. Positions like child’s pose, cat-cow, and the reclined spinal twist. Furthermore, for those looking for long-term pain relief. A 2016 study from Kongyang university in Korea found that participating in yoga once a week for 60 mins helped reduce pain and stress caused by menstruating.

Light Cardio or Walking: Walking is incredibly beneficial to do at all phases of the menstrual cycle. Helps keep the body moving and blood pumping.

Light Strength Training: Now, there are plenty of women who perhaps feel stronger when they begin their period and while you should be encouraged to go for it when you feel strong, your recovery time is worth paying attention to. Studies have suggested that lower estrogen levels have a significant negative effect when the body is repairing and rebuilding muscles. During this phase, you must allow your body time to recover, that extra day of rest before your next intense work could help prevent injury and improve performance.

Overall, while science suggests ways to exercise during your menstrual cycle, it is more important you listen to your own body as everyone is different. This blog has been comprised of scientific studies and discussions with those who menstruate. Furthermore, if you have found your experience to be different from what we have discussed, I would love to hear more.

Additionally, I am completing a study for my dissertation which investigates the impact of contraception on force development during different phases of the menstrual cycle.

Studies mentioned:

The paper on Yoga and Pain Relief: Nam-Young, Y. & Sang-Dol, K. (2016). Effects of a Yoga Program on Menstrual Cramps and Menstrual Distress in Undergraduate Students with Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Single-Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Alternative Complement Medicine.

Objectives: To investigate the effects of a yoga program on menstrual cramps and menstrual distress in undergraduate students with primary dysmenorrhea. Design: Single-blind, randomized controlled trial. Participants: 40 randomly selected undergraduate nursing students, with 20 each assigned to an exercise or a control group. ...

The papers on Oestrogen Levels: Avci, E. E., Senocak, E., Akgun, I., Tumurtas, E., Demirbuken, I., & Polat, M. G. (2020). The influence of estrogen levels across the menstrual cycle on plantar loading and dynamic postural control in healthy females. Gait & Posture.McNutty, K. L., Elliott-Sale, K., Dolan, E., Swinton, P. A., Ansdell, P., Goodall, S., Thomas, K., & Hicks, K. M. (2020) The effect of menstrual cycle phase on exercise performance in eumenorrheic women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine.

The paper on Oestrogen Levels On Pill: Mishell, D. R., Kharma, K. M., Thorneycroft, I. H., & Nakamura, R. M. (1972). Estrogenic activity in women receiving an injectable progestogen for contraception. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The paper on Higher Strength During High Oestrogen: Collinsa, B. C., Laakkonenb, E. K., Lowec, D. A. (2019). Aging of the musculoskeletal system: How the loss of estrogen impacts muscle strength. Bone.

The paper on Neuromuscular System and Menstrual CycleYorguna, Y. G., & Ozakbas, S. (2019). Effect of hormonal changes on the neurological status in the menstrual cycle of patient with multiple sclerosis. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Written by:
Joe Atherton
Wandsworth Crew Member, Undergraduate in Sports Strength and Conditioning Science and Font Personal Trainer

About Joe: Joe brings a wealth of knowledge from completing his degree in Strength and Conditioning alongside working within elite sports like cricket, tennis, and running. Currently working as a Strength Coach for Middlesex CCC and regional women’s cricket team, The Sunrisers. Joe’s main goal for his teams and clients is to help build a robust body to withstand both day to day life and the physical strain of sport. As a result, he specialises in sport specific training and injury prevention, believing that creating an athlete, they must first be strong enough to tolerate the stress of your sport.⁠ ⁠ Joe is also completing his level 3 sports massage course.

Published on:
August 25, 2022