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Optimizing Exercise Performance: Understanding the Impact of the Menstrual Cycle

Woman performing a row in a gym setting

The menstrual cycle is a natural, cyclical process that occurs in the bodies of women of reproductive age, typically lasting around 28 days. It involves hormonal changes and physical events to prepare the body for a pregnancy during the reproductive years.

Understanding the menstrual cycle helps optimize fitness and exercise routines. It can help trainers tailor client workouts to align with energy levels, performance capabilities, and overall well-being. This awareness maximizes the benefits of exercise for women while minimizing the impact of hormonal fluctuations on their training regimen.

In this blog, we will examine the menstrual cycle, explore its effects on energy levels, discuss why trainers must consider cycle stages when designing training programs for women, and provide practical examples of exercises suited to each phase of the menstrual cycle.

Understanding the Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle has four main phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal. During the menstrual phase, which typically lasts 3-7 days, the uterine lining sheds, resulting in menstrual bleeding. The follicular phase follows and is characterized by the development of follicles in the ovaries, which is stimulated by rising estrogen levels. Ovulation marks the midpoint of the cycle, occurring around day 14, when a mature egg is released from the ovary. Finally, the luteal phase begins after ovulation, during which the empty follicle transforms into a structure called the corpus luteum, producing progesterone to prepare the uterus for potential implantation. Estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate throughout these phases, influencing various aspects of physical and emotional health. The typical duration of the menstrual cycle ranges from 21 to 35 days. Understanding these phases and hormonal changes is crucial for effectively managing health and fitness across the menstrual cycle.

Additionally, it is essential to remember that energy levels may vary daily, and listening to what the body needs is vital. For example, if a high-intensity workout is scheduled and the client is sluggish that day, lower the intensity by using lighter weights, lower reps, or both. This helps to ensure that the client is not at unnecessary risk for injury and shows that you care about the person rather than being the stereotypical drill sergeant associated with being a personal trainer.

Impact of the Menstrual Cycle on Energy Levels

The menstrual cycle is a complex interplay of hormones that can significantly affect a woman's energy levels and overall well-being. Throughout the cycle, hormonal fluctuations lead to varying energy levels and motivation. During the follicular phase, which occurs in the first half of the cycle, rising estrogen levels can boost energy and mood, making it an optimal time for more intense workouts. However, as estrogen peaks, some women may experience a dip in energy. This is followed by a surge in energy during ovulation, thanks to a spike in estrogen and testosterone.

In contrast, the luteal phase is marked by a decline in estrogen and progesterone levels, specifically in the late luteal stage. This decline can lead to fatigue and reduced motivation for strenuous exercise. Common symptoms such as bloating, cramps, and mood swings may further impact energy levels, influencing workout intensity and preferences. Understanding these fluctuations can help trainers adapt exercise routines to align with women's energy levels throughout the menstrual cycle. Syncing training with the menstrual cycle offers several benefits, including improved performance, reduced risk of injury, and enhanced overall well-being.

Example Exercises for Each Phase of the Menstrual Cycle

Women sitting on the ground in a park stretching

Menstrual Phase (Days 1-5):

Energy levels might be lower during the menstrual phase, and some women experience discomfort. Focusing on gentle exercises that promote relaxation and alleviate symptoms is essential. Gentle stretching exercises help to relieve tension and improve flexibility. At the same time, low-intensity cardio activities such as walking or pilates provide a light workout without putting excessive strain on the body. As the end of this stage approaches, incorporating some light weights is a great way to slowly transition the body back to higher-intensity exercise.

Follicular Phase (Days 6-14):

As energy levels rise in the follicular phase, strength training exercises to build muscle and improve overall strength are a good exercise choice. Incorporating compound movements like squats, lunges, and deadlifts can be beneficial. Additionally, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be effective during this phase to capitalize on increased energy levels and boost metabolism. Cardiovascular exercises like running or jumping rope can also be great additions in this phase.

Ovulation Phase (Day 14):

Energy levels tend to peak around ovulation. At this point in the overall cycle, energy levels are typically in a place where the woman can do any type of exercise, including sports, HIIT, interval training, etc. You can also focus on workouts that challenge core strength and stability. Pilates or barre workouts are excellent, as they target the core muscles while promoting balance and flexibility. Outdoor activities like cycling or swimming can also be enjoyable options to take advantage of the increased energy and mood. 

Luteal Phase (Days 15-28):

During the luteal phase, energy levels decline, and symptoms like bloating and mood swings can occur. Choosing exercises that are gentle on the body and promote relaxation and stress relief is essential. Transitioning from high-intensity to moderate and lower-intensity is recommended. Exercises include low-intensity weight training, pilates, and barre. Lower-intensity cardio activities like brisk walking or gentle cycling can also provide a soothing workout and aid in managing stress levels. Lastly, stretching is essential to relieve any tightness the body may start experiencing. As the menstrual phase nears, the intensity of activity should be low. Incorporating pilates or barre is a great option here.

Understanding the menstrual cycle's impact on exercise is essential for women to optimize their fitness routines effectively. By recognizing how hormonal fluctuations influence energy levels and performance throughout the cycle, workouts can be tailored to suit their body's needs. Additionally, working with these energy levels reduces undue stress on the body and helps ensure optimal recovery. It's crucial for women to listen to their bodies, adjust their exercise intensity, and type accordingly so that they do not overextend themselves and put themselves at risk for injury and hormonal issues. While training professionals are free to do what they deem best, working with the cycle can maximize the benefits of workouts while minimizing the risk of injury or burnout. Emphasizing a balanced fitness approach that considers individual needs and cycle phases promotes overall well-being and helps women achieve their fitness goals more effectively.


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