It may be the last thing you want to do when cramps, sugar cravings and mood swings set in – but is exercising when we’re feeling hormonal any good for us? We ask the pros…
Yes, it is
“You should absolutely work out when feeling hormonal,” says Dr Rebecca Robinson, consultant in Sports and Exercise Medicine at the Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP). “Exercise can improve premenstrual symptoms and reduce stress, so really it’s ideal.”
As for particular exercises, she suggests “you might want to take thing steadily but sometimes a high-intensity hit can help emotions, and science says that adaptations to strength and high-intensity training are good just before ovulation. Just be careful to warm up and stretch well because around the time of a period, hormones impact our ligaments and muscles, and at the same time, our neuromuscular control changes, so there can be increased risk of injury.”
She goes on, “Exercise can help your hormones balance and help reduce inflammation which can improve symptoms.Exercise was long thought not to help cramps, but newer research shows it can help, especially if it’s moderate. Yoga can be good too to help your muscles relax.”
“Exercising while on your period is proven to alleviate cramps, ease bloating and it also releases endorphins which can help to improve your mood, reduce fatigue and help you sleep,” says PT and co founder of Sport FN, Charlotte Borg. “You will get the best results if you listen to your body during your cycle as what you can achieve will change throughout the month. Exercise triggers spikes in cortisol, the stress hormone, so if you are already feeling stressed or hormonal, you may find it beneficial to do some yoga or Pilates two or three days in the run up to your period.”
But, sometimes you really do just need to skip the gym. “Rest is training, too,” Dr Robinson says. “If you take your training seriously you or a coach should schedule regular rest days. For most people that’s one day a week or at least every 10 days. Waiting until when you really need means it might be too late! Other rules are ‘sick day rules’ – if you’re feeling unwell it’s usually wise to rest. Regularly knowing your resting heart rate is a good guide. However, if menstrual symptoms like cramps or heavy bleeding regularly disrupt your training, it’s time to see your GP and in some cases, specialist input from sports medicine or a gynaecologist can help.”
Or, consider training but in a moderated way, taking hormones into account. “You can also shorten the duration of your workout and focus on lower-impact exercise like cycling instead of running and resistance machines over free weights. Try to keep your workouts anywhere from 20-40 minutes rather than an hour and increase the intensity (weight) with lower reps as you may feel stronger during this time,” Charlotte says.
And don’t beat yourself up over it
PMS even affects the pros too, Dr Robinson says. “Many of the athletes I work with will seem perfectly healthy to an outsider, but they know how their body feels in the stress of training, when they taper before a competition and when something’s not quite right…because their body is their tool. Add to that the female cycle, sportswomen are now leading in knowing how they feels at different stages of the cycle. The benefits here are knowing how to maximise their training, when to alter load, when some might be more vulnerable to injury…and also in some cases to gain confidence that they can still win even when it’s ‘that time of the month.’ Many top athletes tell us what listening to our bodies is like – and sometimes that’s the call to have an early night, increase protein and carbohydrates and relax!”
Charlotte agrees. “If you are feeling exhausted and need a rest day there is no shame in that either. Exercising while fatigued increases the risk of injury and you may end up feeling worse for having a wasted workout when you could have had a much needed extra hour in bed. Be kind to yourself, listen to your body and you will continue to see results throughout your cycle.”
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Charlotte is a London girl through and through. She sweats through spin and puffs through Pilates to justify trying the latest restaurants and devouring copious amounts of sweet potato fries, burrata and bread – preferably on holiday. Her favourite destinations include Italy, the Maldives and anywhere where the sun’s shining and there’s a strong breakfast buffet. She’s obsessed with walking, visiting farmers’ markets and reading. She’s also learning to cook. Wish her (and her husband) luck.