How to work out during each stage of your cycle (and why it matters)

Don't roll your eyes. Planning your workouts according to your body’s hormonal changes can help you feel great all month long.

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Photo: Melisse Gelula for Well+Good/Pure Barre Union Square

Your workout schedule likely revolves around meetings, deadlines, and social gatherings. But you’re forgetting about another important calendar event when booking your spot at the barre: your period.

“It’s really controversial, because people are tied to their routines and want to do CrossFit every day,” says Alisa Vitti, author of WomanCode and founder of FloLiving, an online health resource that helps women feel seriously better by tuning in the hormonal happenings in their bodies. “You actually need to create a workout regimen that’s sensitive to the neurohormonal shifts that are happening weekly.”

She’s not saying that because she thinks you can’t handle the cramps. Being responsive to your body’s needs based on its constant biochemical changes can help you avoid adrenal fatigue and feel your best all month long (without cramps!).

It’ll also help you give yourself a break.

“We get frustrated because we think ‘I should be able to go do the same boot-camp class and crush it like I did last week, but for some reason this week I want to stay home and eat popcorn. What’s wrong with me?'” Vitti says.

Here’s Vitti’s expert advice on how to work out during all four phases of your menstrual cycle…

Body and Pole
Photo: Body and Pole, NYC

Phase 1: Follicular (7-10 days)
The workout: Cardio, group fitness, anything new

You may have low energy right after your period ends, but within a couple of days, your body will start producing more estrogen as it moves towards ovulation. “Estrogen is a hormone that makes us feel energized,” Vitti explains. You won’t be at full energy, but you’ll have a lot, so she suggests hitting cardio-heavy group fitness classes, especially ones you haven’t tried before. (Aquacycling or Aerial Silks, anyone?) Anything novel works. “You have more new neural pathways being created during this phase, and they’re more easily connected, so you’re more likely to stick to a new exercise plan,” too, she says. “By week 3 of your cycle, you won’t want to go anywhere you haven’t been before.”

Trooper Fitness
Photo: Trooper Fitness

Phase 2: Ovulatory (3-4 days)
The workout: High Intensity Interval Training, boot camps, plyometrics

“This is where we have a sharp rise in hormones, including a dramatic increase in estrogen and a nice surge of testosterone,” Vitti says. So, this is your time to really go for it. You want hard-core, high-impact, kick-your-ass fitness sessions that will push you to your limits. “If there were ever a good time to do Shaun T’s Insanity program, this is it,” she says.

Brooklyn Bodyburn
Photo: Brooklyn Bodyburn

Phase 3: Luetal (10-12 days)
The workout: Megaformer Pilates, barre classes, weight training

At first, it’ll feel like ovulation and you’ll be dominating the treadmill at Barry’s Bootcamp.”Your energy may still be high if you’re healthy,” Vitti says. But during the second half, as estrogen and progesterone decline, you may start to lose a little bit of the fire. She suggests focusing on slow strength training, without as much jumping around. Megaformer and barre classes would work well. Ditto heavy lifting with a trainer.

Laughing Lotus
Photo: Laughing Lotus Yoga, NYC

Phase 4: Menstrual (3-5 days)
The workout: Walking, yoga

Estrogen and progesterone drop off sharply, leaving you with less energy. “This is an intense process for the body,” Vitti says, and you’re likely to feel tired. Respect it. Take a walk (to the subway) or head to a gentle or restorative yoga class. It’s not the time for a 90-minute master class.

And here’s big news: Your PMS is totally optional. Here’s how to eliminate it from your life forever. Feeling exhausted more than a few days a month? You could be have this modern day affliction of many an overachiever…


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