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Does Menstrual Cycle Syncing Actually Work?

If you have periods, you know that hormones can be tricky. You might feel tired, achy, or irritable one week, and the next week you're energetic and raring to go. This can make it tough to navigate your personal and professional life. It can also put a damper on your workout routine.

Originally published on Good Rx Health


Cycle-syncing workouts have become an increasingly popular way to keep hormones from totally derailing your fitness plan. This training method, which involves structuring your activities based on the phases of your menstrual cycle, encourages going with the flow. Fans say it maximizes workouts when you’re at your best, while leaving time for rest and recovery when you’re not.


What are cycle-syncing workouts?

Cycle syncing involves adjusting your habits, such as diet and exercise, to align with the stages of your period or menstrual cycle. Nutritionist Alisa Vitti introduced the concept in her 2014 book "WomanCode." With cycle-syncing workouts, you plan higher- or lower-intensity exercises based on your cycle.


“Your menstrual cycle can have a huge impact on your energy levels throughout the month, and thus your ability — or desire — to keep up with a regimented workout routine,” Alyssa Dweck, MD, a gynecologist and medical advisory board member of INTIMINA, told GoodRx Health.


“Cycle syncing normalizes taking breaks, resting, and pushing yourself when it feels right,” she added.

Understanding how your period works can give you more insight into cycle-syncing workouts. One menstrual cycle is roughly 28 days. It starts on the first day of your period and has several phases. This includes the follicular, ovulation, and luteal phases.


Hormones like estrogen and progesterone rise and fall throughout each phase of your cycle. These changes may trigger physical and mental changes that affect your daily life. Cycle-syncing workouts are designed to help you work around those hormone shifts so you get the most out of your exercise routine.


Follicular phase

One review found that exercise performance declines slightly at the start of the follicular phase. That’s because estrogen and progesterone levels are the lowest on the first day of your period, which may also cause you to have less energy. “This is a time in which rest and recovery may be in order,” Dweck said.

Just after your period, you may start to notice you have a boost in energy. “Estrogen levels start to rise as your body gets ready to release an egg,” Dweck explained.


Research suggests that you may have more aerobic capacity and strength during the late follicular phase than at other times in your cycle. This can be a good time for vigorous training or resistance exercises.


Ovulation

The ovulation phase is when you might be able to reach some workout-performance personal bests, Chris Ward, a trainer at Infinity Performance, told GoodRx Health.


"Around ovulation, you can expect (but not depend on) feeling stronger and more energized," Ward said. You can thank a spike in estradiol and luteinizing hormone for that, he explained.


Luteal phase

Hormone levels drop in the luteal phase. Many people experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) at this point just before menstruation begins. Symptoms like cramps, bloating, fatigue, and moodiness are common.


Despite feeling not your best, try to resist the urge to pause your fitness plan, Dweck recommended, adding that exercises like light cardio may improve PMS symptoms. Plus, some people may have more endurance in the middle of the luteal phase than in the early part.


What are the benefits of cycle-syncing workouts?

Proponents of cycle syncing say that it balances your hormones, reduces PMS symptoms, and increases energy. But there’s limited research on the effects of cycle syncing.


However, there is evidence that your menstrual cycle may affect energy levels and exercise performance. And that has shed light on the potential benefits of cycle-syncing workouts:

  • Better exercise performance: Cycle syncing allows for more intense physical activity and recovery, which are both necessary for fitness gains. Pushing yourself too hard when you’re fatigued can hamper your performance. It can also cause you to make mistakes –– like having improper exercise form –– that put you at risk for injuries.

  • More self-awareness: Cycle-syncing workouts encourage you to listen to your body, which is a form of self-care. This strategy may help you learn more about your body and how you respond to different types of exercise throughout your cycle. That way, you can practice the activities that work best for you at different phases.

Are there any risks or drawbacks to cycle-syncing workouts?

Generally, there are no risks to doing cycle-syncing workouts, if you can keep up with them. Knowing where you are in your cycle takes some dedicated tracking. And planning different exercises at specific points in your cycle takes time and discipline.


You can use a tracking app to monitor your periods and related symptoms. Many fitness trackers also incorporate menstrual-cycle coaching, telling you when you’re primed for more intense activity and when you need more rest. That can make cycle syncing easier.


One thing to note, Dweck said, is that you may not see any visible changes to your body with this strategy. “Cycle syncing does not promise to get you in better physical shape, but rather is focused on the idea of feeling better in your body and improving your mental and hormonal health,” she said.


How do you create an exercise plan based on your menstrual cycle?

Everyone’s menstrual cycle is different. So there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to cycle-syncing workouts. But the expert-backed suggestions below can help you get started.


Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about planning activities around your cycle.


Week 1: During your period

Dweck suggests focusing on low-impact active recovery exercises during your period. Examples of these exercises are walking, stretching, and doing yoga. Research shows that yoga may ease PMS symptoms such as body aches, breast tenderness, and moodiness.


Week 2: The end of the follicular phase

As your energy levels rise after your period, you can increase the intensity of your workouts. If you’re up for it, try higher-intensity cardio or strength training workouts, such as:

  • Running

  • Swimming laps

  • Jumping rope

  • Lifting weights

Week 3: Ovulation

In the third week of your cycle, your energy levels may stay consistent or fall. “If [your energy declines], don’t push yourself,” Dweck said. “Instead, try a workout that maintains a steady, consistent pace, like bike riding or Pilates.”


Week 4: Luteal phase

The week before your period, keep moving — but do so gently. “Tone down your workouts to a pace where you can keep some momentum but also leave space for rest,” Dweck said. Try light strength training, slower-paced yoga, or tai chi.


Ward also recommends structuring your workouts based on your RPE, or rate of perceived exertion. Doing so can give you a sense of how hard you’re working. “This will help with gauging how your period interferes with energy levels, if at all, and still allows you to workout [within] your limits,” Ward said.

You can use your RPE to compare how you feel doing similar workouts at different points in your cycle. If your heart is racing more than normal, you’re sweatier than usual, and you’re having trouble keeping up with a workout that you did with ease a week ago, your body is telling you to slow down.


The bottom line Many factors –– like your diet, sleep, and stress level –– can affect your workouts. Hormonal changes throughout your menstrual cycle may also help or hurt your exercise performance. Cycle-syncing workouts help you plan your exercise routine based on these changes.

While more research on cycle-syncing workouts is needed, this strategy may be a low-risk way to learn more about your body and how to optimize your workouts.

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