Picture this: it’s the days leading up to your period. You feel tired, groggy, agitated, hungry, and NOT in the mood to exercise. But you push yourself to “power through” your same exercises without modification for the sake of “progressing”. And then you wonder why you might feel even worse?!
If you are a menstruating person who is working out for general fitness and health purposes, this post is for you. If you are an athlete, the suggestions might be different and more sport-specific than the recommendations I will be giving in today’s post. I highly recommend checking out Dr. Stacy Sims, PhD (whose work I will be referencing in this post) if you are a high-level athlete looking for recommendations!
In her book Roar, Dr. Sims highlights the menstrual cycle as having two key phases in an average 28 day span:
She goes into great detail about the rise and fall of the 4 key hormones that play a role in this cycle:
Interestingly, Dr. Sims highlights that in a typical cycle, both estrogen and progesterone rise most significantly during the luteal phase in preparation for possible implantation of an embryo. It is during the last (on average) 5 days of this cycle that people typically begin complaining of PMS symptoms.
Dr. Sims explains that it is during this high-hormone phase of the cycle that people have the most difficulty with recovering from a workout as well building muscle mass following said workout. The presence of these hormones heightens the catabolic process (muscle breakdown) and dampens the anabolic process (muscle build up).
It makes complete sense why you may feel more depleted from your usual workouts during this period of time!
Here are some ways that you can use Evlo to maintain consistency with routine while honoring your physiology.
While our typical week of classes utilizes our “Build” format and its variations as the primary format, the Ease In Program offers a week of all Burn (Pilates-style) classes. These classes are primarily performed in non-weight bearing positions (aka low to the ground!!). Emphasis is placed on muscle activation/type I muscle fiber stimulation as opposed to seeking muscle hypertrophy through stimulation of type II muscle fibers.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the surge in estrogen and progesterone during this time of the cycle upregulates muscle breakdown and downregulates muscle synthesis or build up. This means that it may be more difficult to recover from a Build class, where the goal is targeted muscle breakdown that leads to muscle growth during your recovery period.
We achieve this in our Build classes by cuing to get near muscle failure in each set. Our set length combined with you choosing appropriate external resistance (read more here) stimulates both Type I and Type II muscle fibers. This requires adequate recovery before targeting the same muscle groups in upcoming workouts. This recovery time may exceed your usual during the days leading up to your period because of those hormonal surges!
Our Ease In classes do not lead you to the point of muscle failure within each set. Instead, we guide you through higher repetition, low-load exercises to improve blood flow (systemically and to the muscles) through gentle muscle activation. Therefore, the classes do not require the same type of recovery as our typical classes!
Choosing to follow this program during the days leading up to your period can allow you to consistently show up to your workouts without completely depleting you for the days to follow. Once you are feeling up to rejoin the typical weekly classes, you will still be in routine! You can simply hop back in at any time throughout the week.
Another great option is to coordinate a Reset Week with this time in your cycle! We recommend taking a 4-7 day reset every 8-12 weeks.
During your 4-7 days off of our typical classes, we provide gentle classes, including Recovery Day Cardio, Flows, Meditations, and more, to get your body moving without over-stimulating your system.
If you struggle with the idea of taking a Reset Week, this is a great way to incorporate one into your schedule. Knowing that we are honoring our bodies’ normal, hormonal ebbs and flows while continuing to show up to our mats might make this incorporation make more sense!
If you’d like to read more about the benefits of Reset Week, check out this previous blog post!
If you feel like your recovery is not significantly affected during this time period and you enjoy continuing with regular classes, you might consider either reducing or maintaining your current external load! This may not be the time for hitting a PR (personal record) in dumbbell weight or trying to progressively overload due to that decreased ability to recover.
You might also consider reducing the number of HIIT sessions you incorporate during this 5-day period. HIIT sessions are meant to stress your system for the sake of cardiovascular and muscular adaptation. But now you know that this portion of your cycle may not be the time to add extra stress into your system.
It is natural to fear “taking a step back” each month. It may even feel counterproductive to muscle growth to step away from your normal routine for 5 days out of each month. But let’s take a peek at some research!
In this study, participants were divided into two different groups:
Results? There was no statistical difference between the two groups when comparing muscle hypertrophy and strength gains!!
Although this study was performed with men, the results are pretty telling. It seems that choosing to take a Reset Week or decreasing the intensity of your workouts with the Ease In Program/modification of the weekly classes would not set us back with our overall goals of muscle hypertrophy!
In fact, I’d argue that it brings us closer to this goal as we are able to be consistent and can jump back into our typical training with greater ease!
Ultimately, you know your body better than anyone! Don’t be afraid to play around with the different options presented above. We believe in the power of curiosity, especially as it pertains to our bodies!!
Find a combination of activities that works best for YOU, rinse, and repeat!
Dr. Stacy Sims, PhD: drstacysims.com
Listen to Dr. Shannon Ritchey, PT, DPT as she integrates the most current literature with her experience as a fitness trainer to give you tangible takeaways to improve your fitness.
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