Healthy woman doing yoga at home

Whilst many women will automatically avoid exercise during their period, experts believe doing the right exercises will help reduce or relieve period cramps and combat pain and fatigue. 

Bobbie Butters, a Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science representing Mirafit says, “Understanding your cycle phase is extremely important, as it will help you to combat any symptoms impacting your day-to-day life.

“The menstrual cycle consists of four different phases, and each phase may elicit different symptoms in the body.

“Energy levels can increase during the follicular and menstruation phase, which is when bleeding occurs.

“Therefore, symptoms can be significantly alleviated by consistently staying active and incorporating certain exercises during all four stages.”

Understand your cycle phases

The menstrual cycle is made up of four different phases:

  1. Menstrual phase (days 1-5)– Progesterone and estrogen levels are low at the start of your period. This causes the tissue lining the inside of the uterus, or endometrium, to shed through the vagina. Symptoms generally can include abdominal or pelvic cramps, bloating, fatigue, food cravings, headache, lower back pain, and mood swings. Energy levels could feel lower during this time.
  2. The follicular phase (days 6-14) starts on the first day of your period but ends after you ovulate. During this time, the pituitary gland in the brain releases follicular stimulating hormone (FSH), which causes one ovarian follicle to mature. During the follicular phase, whilst some may experience symptoms typically associated with your period, like bloating or cramping, there have been reports of some women feeling more energised and even stronger in this phase
  3.  Ovulation (around day 14) occurs when estrogen levels increase and signal the brain to release luteinising hormone (LH). LH causes the ovarian follicle to release the mature egg. Estrogen levels then decrease after the egg is released. Similarly to the follicular phase, some women experience bloating and stomach discomfort at this stage, while other women have expressed they experience heightened energy levels. 
  4. Luteal phase (days 15-28)—The last phase of the menstrual cycle is the luteal phase, which happens regardless of whether you are pregnant. The ovarian follicle that releases the mature egg becomes the corpus luteum, and progesterone and estrogen are released. During this phase, there is still a peak in these hormones, however, a key characteristic of this phase is that progesterone is higher than estrogen. Though not the same for each woman, typically, energy may begin to decline, and pre-menstrual symptoms can appear. 

What activities should you do during your menstrual cycle?

Every menstrual cycle is different, and each woman will experience different symptoms, some more extreme and some less. 

It is important to listen to your body when exercising during your menstrual cycle, as this will enable you to identify and manage training around your own symptoms.

While certain exercises during each stage of your cycle could be more suitable, adjusting the volume and intensity of the exercise based on how you are feeling may be helpful!

There are several activities that are recommended during the menstrual cycle, to help you manage negative symptoms. These include:

  • Gentle exercises like walking, stretching, yoga, or light pilates to alleviate cramps and reduce fatigue.
  • Running or jogging, completely to your level of desire. 
  • Plyometrics, including jump squats, box jumps, burpees, and other explosive movements (only if your symptoms are minimal).
  • Cycling, whether on a stationary bike or outdoors, is a great way to increase your heart rate and improve cardiovascular health. If you feel pain sitting for too long, ensure a comfortable bike seat.
  • Light water aerobics is a nice option during this phase. Not only can the water make you feel more energized, but it is enjoyable and sociable.
  • Meditation and deep breathing help manage stress and improve mental clarity.
  • Strength and resistance training are also beneficial. Compound movements like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and rows are good choices. If you lift weights, ensure that you lift as heavy as you feel—don’t push yourself too hard.

During the menstrual cycle, a wide range of exercises can be completed. However, managing your symptoms is important for optimal results.

Fortunately, there are several tools and strategies that can help identify and manage these symptoms effectively.

  1. Tracking your period from day one

Starting from day one of your period, tracking your cycle and symptoms can be extremely helpful. It can help you identify patterns across multiple cycles and training blocks.

Using self-assessment tools can help athletes better understand their bodies and make adjustments as needed.

Creating a symptoms checklist, either daily or weekly, can help you monitor symptoms such as fatigue, pain, and mood changes.

There are apps that are designed to help monitor menstrual cycles and symptoms, providing insights that can help tailor training schedules.

Clue tracks cycles and symptoms and provides predictions for menstrual phases.

FitrWoman is specifically designed for female athletes, offering training and nutrition tips based on the menstrual cycle.

Flo tracks periods and symptoms and offers health insights and predictions.

  1. Wearable devices

Wearable devices such as smartwatches and Fitbits can help you monitor physical performance and recovery. Data provided can then be correlated with menstrual cycle phases.

Wearing a device at night can also help you track your sleep and mood. If you have had insufficient sleep, you can then decide to ease up on exercise for that day.

Alternatively, if you are irritable, meditation and deep breathing are recommended to help manage stress and improve mental clarity.

  1. Adjusting your nutrition

What you eat during your menstrual cycle can impact your symptoms, and selecting foods that can minimize menstrual symptoms is recommended.

Essentially, you should try to avoid foods with too much sugar, such as sweets, sugary drinks, or pastries. Too much sugar causes blood sugar spikes, which in turn causes mood swings and irritability.

It is also recommended to avoid caffeinated beverages such as coffee and energy drinks. These can worsen cramps and bloating.

Try to fill your diet with iron-rich foods, vitamin C-rich foods, anti-inflammatory foods, hydrating foods, and foods high in magnesium. 

Leafy greens, lean red meat, nuts, berries, fatty fish, citrus fruits, cucumbers, and watermelon are ideal.

  1. Do your research

Researching the science behind menstrual cycles and their impact on exercise and your overall health and well-being can help you make informed decisions.

There are many webinars and workshops online specifically designed for females and female athletes. The Leaders Performance Podcast is an example, exploring menstrual cycle tracking and sports science for female athletes.

  1. Seek professional guidance

Consulting with professionals who understand the interplay between menstrual cycles and athletic performance can provide personalized guidance.

Coaches with experience and knowledge about female physiology can tailor training programs effectively.

Meanwhile, sports nutritionists can offer diet plans and expertise in hormonal balance, and sports medicine doctors can provide medical advice and also help you manage symptoms.

General tips for exercising during your menstrual cycle

  • Listen to your body: pay attention to how you feel and adjust the intensity of your workouts to this. It is completely ok to reduce your workout intensity if you are feeling uncomfortable or uncomfortable.
  • Balanced nutrition: eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods will help to manage PMS symptoms. Also, increase your intake of magnesium and B vitamins.
  • Stay hydrated: drink plenty of water to help reduce bloating and energize you.