It may seem odd, to use the phrase “Girl Power” in the same sentence with “That Time” of the month, since those of us who experience menstruation have spent most of our lives hearing (and saying) things that lend credence to the connotation that menstruation is a “curse”, but working out how to work out around your period can actually be a way to change your view of it...for the better.
If you’re a woman who works out, you’ve likely experienced the interference of a period with your gym time. It can be a surprise start to your cycle (wardrobe malfunction) or just a lack of energy at various points in the month that affects your training plan.
While the advice to always have an extra pair of pants in your bag works for the first scenario, the solution to the second one may require a change in approach for your overall method of scheduling; instead of trying to work out around your period, make your period work for you.
A quick explanation: your body (if you’re a woman who menstruates) experiences several natural hormonal hills and valleys during any given month of normal menstruation*.
Around the middle of a “normal” woman’s cycle (circumstances will vary from person to person, obviously), ovulation occurs. The hormones estrogen and progesterone move your body to hold on to stores of fat, just in case it needs to provide for a pregnancy. This makes it difficult to lose fat during this time of your cycle.
However, from the time you start your period (day 1) until that time (about day 14), you have an edge on losing fat and also for building muscle.
We’ve all noticed how easy it can be for men to build visible muscle. Hypertrophy, or increased muscle growth, comes easier to men because of their testosterone edge. The abundance of it that they have--in individuals with typical levels--and the fact that it’s constant (again, in normal situations) make it easier for them to build muscle because the ingredients for muscle growth are both more abundant and available.
The first two weeks of a woman’s period bring her estrogen and progesterone levels lower, and therefore she can access a little of that hormonal advantage that allows men to have an edge in muscle building. If you time your HIIT and hypertrophy-focused training during that window, you’ll likely see more benefits.
So what should you be doing during the other two weeks?
The answer is...whatever you feel like doing.
Studies have not proven any conclusive drawback to exercising during the latter part of your menstrual cycle, but some do indicate a higher cardiovascular strain during the mid luteal (latter part) of it. Some women also experience fatigue, and other PMS symptoms, and as always, you should use common sense along with your doctor’s guidance about what you should do and when.
Recovery periods or more fun activities during this time might be a welcome break, and you can always let your energy level be your guide, but also remember that there’s evidence that exercise enhances mood and increases energy levels, even when there’s a hormonal reason they’re low.
However you decide to use the power of your hormonal shifts every month, just know that any time is better than never, when it comes to working out.
*As always, nothing you read in a blog post should replace counsel from your doctor, and every woman’s individual hormonal makeup and results will vary, according to individual situations. Please consult your medical professionals before starting or changing a fitness regimen.