As most people know, consistent exercise is important for a healthy life. There are just so many benefits that it gives us.
Even if we are really into exercising (some might call that being a fitness freak), there are days where we may have a harder time getting through our workout sessions. There are also days where we may have an easier time and can push harder. Our hormones can have something to do with both of these kinds of days.
For this post, how our menstrual cycles can affect our workouts will be discussed as well as what to do about it.
Ups and downs in our workout routines
Everyone has good, bad, “just whatever” and regular workout sessions. Here are some examples of what these sessions may look like:
- A good one- You are running hill intervals on a treadmill and you find that you are able to handle a more intense level. You feel motivated and physically capable of pushing yourself more than you have some other times.
- A bad one- You are lifting weights and hating it. Your muscles feel weak, you are irritated, you are saying “screw this” after every set (maybe even rep) and you want to quit.
- A “just whatever” one- You are getting your weightlifting done but are very distracted and uninspired. After every set, you scroll through your phone and get a little lost looking at threads on a gossip site. You complete your workout but it took an hour longer than usual.
- A regular one- You are feeling good doing your supersets, you have the mental/physical energy to complete the cardio circuits and you finish the workout in the usual time.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you?
Just like the rest of our days, how we feel (mentally and physically) during our workouts can differ. There are many reasons as to why this happens and it is all totally normal.
Hormones and our menstrual cycles
We have around 50 different types of hormones in our bodies. There are three of them that play a huge role in our menstrual cycles. They are estrogen, testosterone and progesterone.
Here is some quick information about these hormones:
- Estrogen- This hormone comes from our ovaries. It is involved in regulating our periods, moods, bone health, regulation of appetite (decreases it) and creating the physical features that are commonly associated with women (i.e. breasts and wider hips than men). It also can help in increasing energy levels.
- Testosterone- This hormone comes from our ovaries. It is involved in our sex drives, energy levels, muscle mass/strength, bone health, appetite (can increase it) and body fat.
- Progesterone- This hormone is produced in an endocrine gland in our ovaries after ovulation. It can be calming to the body/mind, help us burn fat, aid in fertility, prevent certain types of cancer and increase sex drive.
While we do need them-having too much or too little of them can cause some issues. Here are some symptoms that can arise when our levels of the hormones are off:
- Too high/low of estrogen- Mood swings, headaches, fatigue, irregular periods, hot flashes and weight gain.
- Too high of testosterone- Hair loss, acne, excess facial hair and deepening of the voice.
- Too low of testosterone- Hair loss, fatigue, fat gain, mood swings, muscle weakness and low sex drive.
- Too high of progesterone- PMS symptoms.
- Too low of progesterone- Fertility issues, low moods, headaches, irregular periods, weight gain and hot flashes.
As you can see from all of this, a good balance of hormones is necessary to feel well.
Menstrual cycles and our workouts
Before we talk about how our hormones may influence our workout performance- a brief idea of what they are doing during our cycles is important. The following are days of a 28 day cycle and what the three hormones are doing on them:
- Days 1-7: This is the menstruation phase (and also follicular) of the cycle-when most women bleed. Estrogen and progesterone are low at this time.
- Days 8-14: This is the follicular phase of the cycle. Estrogen and testosterone are high at this time.
- Days 15-22: This is the luteal phase of the cycle. Estrogen and testosterone levels get lower as progesterone rises. Estrogen rises a bit again during these days and then falls.
- Days 23-28: This is also the luteal phase of the cycle. Estrogen and progesterone drop to low levels at this time.
Not everyone has a 28 day cycle but it is considered to be the average length of one.
So let’s take a look at how our hormones on certain days may dictate how well our workouts may go. We can do this by looking back at the effects each hormone can have on us and our levels of them during our cycles.
After analyzing some things, it becomes clear to see how our hormones can help or interfere with our workouts. The following is what the exercise sessions may be like:
- Days 1-7: Since this is the time that most women bleed, low energy may be a problem. This is due to estrogen being low and/or heavy bleeding. You might also experience aches and just be uncomfortable in general due to the bleeding that is happening. These things may make a quality workout hard to get in as putting in effort could be a struggle.
- Days 8-14: With estrogen and testosterone being high on these days, energy (physical and mental) goes way up. You also are probably in a better mood than you had been in the days prior. All of this means that workouts will probably go very well for you during this time.
- Days 15-17: On these days, progesterone is rising with testosterone and estrogen dropping. During this time, energy levels go down. This is due to the progesterone having somewhat of a “sleepy” effect. You also may lose the confidence and good attitude that you had in prior days. These things may cause you to have workouts that you feel are tougher to get through. Although they may be hard, progesterone is rising so you will actually be burning more fat completing them than other times.
- Days 18-19: Estrogen bumps up a bit meaning you may have a little more energy with a better mood. This means that workouts on these two days can be better than it was the three days prior.
- Days 20-25: Progesterone is getting higher as estrogen falls again. This means that you may be experiencing quite a bit of fatigue and mental fogginess if you are sensitive to this shift in hormones. You also may be pretty bloated which would make you feel even more uncomfortable.
- Day 26-28: If you weren’t feeling fatigued the prior few days, there is a good chance you might on these ones. This is due to your hormones being at their lowest. You might be super foggy too which could impair your ability to learn moves to a dance workout (if you are doing one) or another new kind of workout.
These are all just possible things that you might experience. Not all women have a rough time with symptoms during their menstrual cycles. Some lucky ones don’t notice anything!
What to do about high and low energy workout sessions
If you are experiencing an increased or a very low amount of energy when you go to do a workout, there are some modifications you can make. Here are some ideas:
High energy days-
- Increase the distance (if you are running, walking, biking etc.).
- Change up the moves to be harder (i.e. add a push up onto your burpee).
- Go faster through the workout (sprint, move through lifts faster etc.).
- Lift heavier weights than usual.
Low energy days-
- Have a backup workout that is easier for you to do.
- Decrease the distance.
- Change up the moves to be easier.
- Nix the cardio portions altogether (if you have added cardio in to your strength training days).
- Do two sets instead of three.
- Do less reps.
- Lift lighter weights than usual.
- Simply don’t workout that day. Missing one workout won’t hurt you.
Our hormone levels during our menstrual cycles can lead us to feeling certain ways which in turn can affect our workouts-positively and negatively. The next time you are having a workout session, look up what day you are on in your cycle afterwards and compare it to how your workout went. You might find it pretty interesting!
Thanks for reading!
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