Should I be cycle-synching my workouts?
Cycle Synching workouts? Huh?
If you have been on social media recently, you have probably heard of the craze around cycling exercise and nutrition for optimal health benefits. So really, what does that even mean? Well, the term “cycling” comes from following the good old menstrual cycle (i.e. your period) that women anywhere from the ages of 10-55 experience. The point of cycle synching is to provide stress to the body through exercise at the appropriate time. Too much stress can wreak havoc on our system and not enough stress has been associated with lethargy, weight gain, and hormone dysregulation.
Who can cycle synch workouts?
If you struggle with PCOS, fertility issues, hormones dysfunction or if you have female anatomy and get your period, this is for you. There isn’t a much high-quality research on the process yet but there is preliminary research that shows evidence of optimizing hormones with adjusting activity according to what phase of your menstrual cycle you’re in. A *huge* benefit of cycle synching exercise is that it helps you become more connected and in tune with your body.
Therefore, the most important thing to do when it comes to movement: listen to your body! Chemical and metabolic changes that happen in your body each day are vastly run by hormones.
The Four Menstrual Phases
So, what really happens during our menstrual cycle? Unlike men who run on a 24-hour hormone clock, women run on a 28-day hormone cycle. Much of today’s society is centered around the male bodily function, we all run on a 24-hour clock that for the most part does not change week to week.
Let’s go over what really happens to those with female anatomy and how it can affect energy levels. There are four main phases of the menstrual cycle that are driven by 4 primary hormones: estrogen, progesterone, follicular stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone. For today’s purposes, we’re focusing on estrogen and progesterone because they are responsible for energy levels, metabolic activity, and our ability to make or break down muscle.
1. Follicular (7-10 days after your period starts)
We are going to start in the middle of the follicular phase because menstruation is actually part of this phase as well, but it feels as though our cycle really starts after we finish our periods. That’s because in the follicular phase, estrogen increases and so does energy. Your body is focused on growing follicles on your ovary in preparation for releasing an egg, and if we think back to out prehistoric ancestors: this was the time when you needed energy to go find and attract a mate.
2. Ovulation (~14 days after your period ends)
Right before the egg is released from the follicle we mentioned before, there is a large spike in estrogen. This spike is quickly followed by a drop in the hormone. Again, this is the last chance to find a mate for possible fertilization to occur. So, we tend to have the most energy around the few days surrounding ovulation.
3. Luteal (Day 15 to just before the menstrual cycle)
No, you don’t want to break up with your significant other, you’re just in your luteal phase. Following ovulation, estrogen is low and starts to slightly rise again. Progesterone begins to rise in this phase in order to support possible fertilization. This is the phase when most PMS symptoms occur(cramping, mood swings, acne etc.). The phase ends when both progesterone and estrogen significantly drop to start your period.
4. Menstrual (Day 0 to 7)
Most people are least fond of the menstrual phase. That’s because our hormones drop significantly, leading to fatigue and general discomfort. Biologically, this is the point in the cycle when you are least likely to conceive. This means that our bodies are focused on recovering and resting for fertilization this coming cycle.
Exercising for each stage
1. Follicular- get to werk
cardio/ HIIT/ heavy strength training
Estrogen works to increase energy levels because of its effect on glycogen storage in muscles, as well as releasing fat for energy. This means that the best exercises to do at this time are longer duration cardio, HIIT, and strength training. Not only does estrogen promote using fat for fuel, it also is responsible for protein synthesis (aka building muscle). The time after your period is meant for harder more strenuous workouts.
2. Ovulation- where you hit that PR
HIIT/ heavy strength training
Although the ovulation window is small, the effects of spiked estrogen can have a beneficial effect on energy levels. This is the time to do your hardest/strongest workout of the month due to the spike in estrogen that takes place. Things like HIIT and heavy strength training are encouraged.
3. Luteal- go with the flow
lower level strength training, pilates, yoga
The rise in progesterone is what makes the luteal phase tricky. Progesterone is responsible for protein breakdown and fat storage. There is even some evidence that doing harder strength workouts could lead to muscle breakdown during this phase. I like to think of this phase as maintenance. Pilates, yoga flow and light to moderate strength training is great for this phase. There is still some estrogen present as well, so energy is still available, it is just not as high as the previous two phases we discussed.
4. Menstrual- chill, babe
lowest level yoga, stretching, walking
Menstruation is already a stressful time of the body. Hormones are at an all-time low causing fatigue, bloating, mood swings and general unease. Be kind to your body during this time. Lighter cardio, walking, gentle yoga and stretching are all going to be things that facilitate this phase rather than causing more stress to your system.
Cycle synching can be hard, how do you figure out what cycle you’re even in? Using a period tracker or the health app on your phone can help figure out what to do and not do <3
Two important things to keep in mind:
1. There are so many factors that come into play with the menstrual cycle, the concrete evidence is limited so the most important thing is to listen to your body’s cues.
2. Birth control pills alter the menstrual cycle significantly, most are focused on preventing ovulation by controlling hormones. The guidelines written above don’t apply as much to those taking oral contraceptives because the impact of hormones and your cycle are different and we don’t have has much information on activity and how it is impacted by oral contraceptives.
When it comes to exercising through each phase, the most important thing is to listen to your body. Cycle synching can be an adjustment to your regular workout routine. Even though there’s not a ton of research out, why not try to synch and see how you feel?
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Ghaffarilaleh, G.,Ghaffarilaleh, V., Sanamno, Z., & Kamalifard, M. (2018, November 9). Yoga positively affected depression and blood pressure in women with premenstrual syndrome in a randomized controlled clinical trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from sciencedirect.com
RK;, K. (n.d.). Metabolic effects of progesterone. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology. RetrievedOctober 27, 2022, from pubmed.gov
Sung, E., Han, A.,Hinrichs, T., Vorgerd, M., Manchado, C., & Platen, P. (2014, November 11). Effects of follicular versus luteal phase-based strength training in young women.SpringerPlus. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov