Periods and fitness. Can they work in harmony?

Periods when training...have you even given it a thought? Do you avoid staying active during your period?

With the sports world being dominated by men, there has been some serious ignorance and neglect into research over menstruating and fitness training. Whilst some still find the subject embarrassing (I really don’t know why), there is now a growing understanding over the effects of women’s periods and specially when it come to women and training.

When it comes to serious, money making fitness professionals, some sportswomen have their periods monitored by their sports governing body. But to the rest of us, we probably haven't thought about what impact our periods can make on our bodies and we continue to train the same way as men would. There is a genuine impact on women when on their periods. Where you are on your cycle will affect how you train. So how does a cycle look like from week to week? Some women report low energy levels during their period, while other women have more energy than usual during this time.

Week 1: On the first day of your period, estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest. But they begin a gradual rise during your period. It may be easier to get active than in the previous weeks.

Week 2: In the week after your period ends, your energy levels might begin to go up. Estrogen levels begin rising quickly in preparation for ovulation (releasing an egg from the ovary).

Week 3: Estrogen levels peak around the time of ovulation, about two weeks before the next period for most women. When estrogen levels fall quickly after ovulation and progesterone levels begin rising, you may feel more tired or sluggish than usual. This does not mean that you should not exercise. In fact, being active might help boost your mood and give you more energy. Try exercising first thing in the morning, before your energy level goes down as the day goes on.

Week 4: In the week before your next period, you may feel less energy as both estrogen and progesterone levels are falling (if you are not pregnant). Physical activity may help premenstrual symptoms (PMS) get better even if your energy levels are low.

If you take hormonal birth control; like the pill, patch, shot, or vaginal ring, your energy levels may still go up and down with your cycle, but the differences may not be as noticeable.

How do periods affect female athletes? It truly depends on the individual. However physiologically, our hormones change our bodies and we need to adapt our training program depending on where we are on our cycle. But what is the science behind this? With a high proportion of research on how female athletes should train (based on what has worked for men) it’s clear that this narrow viewed method comes with obvious problems. Dr Emma Ross, co-head of physiology and the English institute of sport said..."The elite sporting environment is dominated by males in roles such as coach and performance director. It can create an environment that often lacks an intuition about how female-specific factors may affect athletes." She goes on to say...

"More than 70% of women have not received education about their menstrual cycle and exercise. Women have a monthly cycle of hormones, which have powerful effects on our bodily system, emotions and mood. This difference alone has the potential to mean women will adapt to training differently at different points of their cycle." - Dr Emma Ross.

Research has suggested that anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries - the most serious kind of knee damage - are more prevalent in female athletes than men, and they may be more prone to injury and illness at certain times.

Oestrogen, the hormone that repairs and thickens the uterus lining during menstruation, can increase the elasticity of joints in the days before ovulation.

This can lead to ACL problems, which occur if a knee or lower leg is twisted. It can also lead to bone injuries, as oestrogen helps develop strong, dense bones. Over time women are also more prone to osteoporosis due to the density of the bone changing. These are factors to consider when resistance training or weight training.

And the main benefit to keeping fit during our cycles? You increase your endorphins levels. As exercise gives you a natural endorphin high, it can elevate your mood and actually make you feel better. Brandon Marcello, PhD, believes one of the main benefits of exercise while on your period is the endorphin release and workout “high.”

He also said that since endorphins are a natural painkiller, when they release during exercise, you may feel relief from uncomfortable periods.

Bottom line? Can we keep active throughout our whole cycle?

Y E S !

Keep in tune with your energy levels whilst on your period, lower your weights and resistance to avoid injury. Try not to push yourself too much and be kind to you. Recovery and rest is really key.



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