Menstrual Cycle, Period Cramps, and Fitness
by Emily Lemon, Pauline Six, and Tina Sturm-Ornezeder
There are days when you power through a HIIT workout with ease and then those days when you don’t want to get out of your bathrobe. By understanding your menstrual cycle, you can stop seeing your period as a burden and be able to take advantage of the physical and emotional benefits of all menstrual cycle phases.
Find out how to schedule your workouts to maximize those hormonal boosts and learn when it’s best to focus on recovery and regeneration.
The information provided in this blog post is for guidance purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you’re seeking medical advice.
Table of contents:
The Basics: Breakdown of the Menstrual Cycle Phases
Before we start giving you training suggestions based on the menstrual cycle, let’s start with the basics and take a look at the different menstrual cycle phases together to see what happens in your body.
What Is a Menstrual Cycle?
Progesterone and estrogen are the two main hormones involved in the menstrual cycle. The cycle begins on the first day of the period, ends on the last day before the next menstruation, and lasts between 25 and 35 days. In the first half of the cycle, estrogen causes the uterine lining to grow. During this time, estrogen levels in your blood are highest. In the second half, progesterone plays the primary role: this hormone prepares the uterus to implant a fertilized egg. If the egg is not fertilized, the period begins. And then the cycle starts all over again.
What’s happening in the body during the menstrual phase?
Your cycle starts on the first day of your period. The lining of the uterus is shed through the vagina, releasing blood, mucus, and tissue. Symptoms like cramps, bloating, headaches, and mood swings can add an extra challenge to your fitness motivation.
Studies show us…
…that cramping affects between 30 and 50% of all women of reproductive age.
What’s happening in the body during the follicular phase?
Your period is over and now your pituitary gland releases the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), which stimulates the ovaries to produce eggs. Your estrogen and testosterone levels will begin to increase, which energizes you and might improve your mood.
You’ll feel more social and assertive as testosterone stimulates your libido. Now is the time to take the initiative and focus on achieving goals.
What’s happening in the body during the ovulatory phase?
An egg will be released from a follicle in your ovary around day 14, at the end of the follicular phase. At this point the estrogen and testosterone peak, which makes you feel more confident. Enjoy it!
What’s happening in the body during the luteal phase?
Your body is starting to wind down after the high of the follicular and ovulatory phase. After the first couple of days, your estrogen and testosterone production will decline and your body will ramp up progesterone levels.
Focus on a healthy, balanced diet right now and boost your serotonin levels by staying active. As you enter the second part of this phase, you may notice your skin getting oily or even breaking out, breast tenderness, and mood changes. These are all symptoms of PMS or premenstrual syndrome.
What happens in your body during PMS?
Menstruation is tied to hormonal cycles. Hormone levels drop just before the onset of menstruation. This can cause women to have disruptive symptoms that affect certain aspects of women’s training routines. We refer to this as premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Symptoms can include:
- Breast sensitivity
- Water retention
- Behavioral changes
Other physical signs can include:
- Bone and joint pain
- Digestive symptoms like nausea, constipation, or diarrhea
How can you reduce PMS symptoms?
Cut down on caffeine to reduce breast soreness, reduce your sugar intake, and make sure you stay hydrated. Avoid fatty, processed foods and salt, too, as they increase water retention. Studies show that regular yoga sessions can reduce the common symptoms of PMS, as well.(1)
Sports: How to Exercise During Each Menstrual Cycle Phase
Here are some simple tips to help you stay active – every day of the month.
Sports During Menstruation
Can you work out during your period?
Here’s the simple truth: Yes, exercising during your period is possible. It’s doable – though, to be honest – it can be less than enjoyable.
Good to know:
If you feel like your performance suffers during your period, you are not alone. A survey was completed of 1,073 female participants of the 2015 London Marathon. Of these women, around 30% of them expressed that their menstrual cycle had a negative impact on their performance and training.(2)
If you experience painful periods or are more tired before or during your period, listen to your body. Don’t put yourself in a tough situation. However, if you’ve got the urge to blow off some steam, don’t hesitate to get a workout in.
Running and training during menstruation is totally possible. A moderate run can help reduce the abdominal pain associated with your period by stimulating your blood circulation. Plus, the movement will trigger the release of the “happy hormones,” serotonin, and endorphins. Therefore, there is no reason not to exercise during your period – but you should decide for yourself whether you want to take some recovery time or not.
Tip: Find the perfect sports bra for being active
Are you searching for a workout bra that gives you the confidence to run, jump, and stretch without any distractions? adidas will help you find your perfect sports bra.
The truth is that every woman experiences her period differently. It is up to each of us to adapt our training approach to our current physical and mental condition.
Tips for your workout during menstruation:
- Keep it low-key if that’s what you need.
- Go on walks or easy runs, do some stretching and yoga exercises.
- Focus on mobility and breathing exercises.
Yoga Poses for Cramp Relief
Do you get cramps during your period? Try easy yoga poses like the child’s pose, cat-cow, and savasana to ease the pain.
You might feel tired or lethargic and need more rest than usual. This is a great opportunity to cancel plans, stay home, and write in your mindfulness journal. Set some goals for yourself that you can achieve during the follicular stage. Keep in mind, this is not the time to stress yourself out with setting a new PR (personal record). The goal of working out on your period should be to stay active and listen to your body.
What to Wear During Your Period
Whether you prefer tampons, pads, menstrual cups, period underwear, adidas Techfit Period Proof Tights, or a combination of these – there are plenty of options to keep you comfortable during menstruation.
Tips for Athletes During Menstruation
Pharmaceuticals & Alternative Medicine
First and foremost, ask your doctor for advice on taking pain medication during your period. Doctors often prescribe simple pain relievers containing acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Aspirin (also known as acetylsalicylic acid – ASA) increases the risk of bleeding, so do not take it during your period!
If you want, you may also turn to alternative medicine treatments.
Many women athletes use contraceptives as they are intended, for birth control. However, contraceptives can be used to control menstrual cycles as well.
The best advice is to talk with your doctor before changing or using a new contraceptive method. Make sure you talk about your running and training routines.
Sports During the Follicular & Ovulatory Phase
The follicular phase can have a positive effect on your energy levels due to an increase in estrogen. Your energy levels should be at their highest point during ovulation (around day 14).
Tips for your workout during the follicular and ovulatory phases:
- Increase the intensity of your workouts.
- Try interval training, HIIT workouts, or some tough circuit training.
- Go for a partner workout or join an adidas Runners community.
- Check out the Get Energized With Lena workout in the adidas Training app during the ovulatory phase.
Estrogen Fuels Your Muscles
A study under the direction of Petra Platen from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum took muscle samples from women during various phases of their cycle to show how the body’s own hormones influence muscle growth. The women participating in the study were asked to exercise on different days of their cycles. The results were quite interesting: When the women worked out shortly before ovulation, their training was far more effective than on the days afterward. Estrogen promotes the production of protein – and thus muscle building. Progesterone, on the other hand, is said to have a catabolic effect. This means that the hormone inhibits muscle growth.
Be Careful: More Sports Injuries Around Ovulation
Of course, there are two sides to every coin. This is also true for estrogen. While the hormone strengthens your muscles, it also loosens your tissue. This is why you shouldn’t get too carried away with your “ovulation power.” Otherwise, you might find yourself getting injured quickly. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that sports injuries are more common around the time of your ovulation.(3) The risk of ACL injuries (like rupture) to the knee is up to three times higher.(4)
Sports During the Luteal Phase
In the luteal phase, your energy level continues to drop every day. Therefore, you should significantly reduce the intensity of your training during this phase of the cycle.
Tips for your workout during the luteal phase:
- Focus on low-intensity strength training, easy and short recovery runs, or on yoga sessions.
- Gradually shift to lighter workouts as you approach your upcoming menstruation.
- Try the Restore & Strengthen with Maddy workout in the adidas Training app.
Watch Your Food Intake During The Luteal Phase
During the luteal phase, it might be that you need more energy and therefore a higher food intake. Cravings for unhealthy food also might occur. To reduce PMS symptoms, it’s important to avoid consuming sugary, fatty, salty, processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol.
Eat these foods during your luteal phase instead (examples):
- Sweet potatoes
- Sesame seeds
- Brown rice
- Sunflower seeds
- A protein source of choice like tofu, chicken, lean meats, or fish
Interesting Fact on Oral Contraceptive and Muscle Growth
US researchers found that synthetic hormones like those found in birth control pills may have a negative effect on muscle building. In one study, 70 women completed the same training program and consumed the same amount of protein. The result: women who did not take the pill gained up to 60% more muscle mass.(5)
The key to staying active throughout your menstrual cycle phases is understanding what is happening in your body. Everyone’s cycle is different and unique; keep track of yours so you can really get the most out of those powerful follicular and ovulatory phases and use the luteal and menstrual phases for healthy nutrition, recovery, regeneration, and mindfulness.