Do you crush intense HIIT sessions one week only to slog through burpees the next? If so, cycle syncing your workouts can help you create a routine that honors your energy levels and improves your exercise results. Understanding how your hormones impact your training empowers you to choose the best form of movement for your body no matter where you’re at in your menstrual cycle.
Medical professionals and wellness experts have recently begun highlighting the importance of altering your exercise routine throughout the month to match your hormone levels. Functional nutritionist Alisa Vitti first introduced women to this concept in her book WomenCode. She’s since trademarked her hormone balancing protocol called the Cycle Syncing® Method. The Cycle Syncing® Method helps menstruating people move, eat, and work in a way that respects their hormones through each phase of their cycle. People who practice cycle syncing workouts often experience mental and physical benefits, including better sleep, reduced PMS, and increased energy.
What are the benefits of cycle syncing your workouts?
According to Vitti, planning your workouts around your cycle can help you bio-hack your metabolism, increasing your workout’s effectiveness. “Your metabolism changes speed and your resting cortisol levels change in a cyclical pattern,” she said. “Since they are not the same every day, it makes no sense to eat the same amount of calories or do the same workout types or intensity each day. You want to match your caloric intake, workout type, and intensity with each phase of your cycle so you can optimize the use of stored fat as fuel and build lean muscle more efficiently.”
Not only does cycle syncing help you burn more fat and build more muscle, but it also encourages you to reconnect with your body. Once I removed the pressure to exercise at peak intensity all month, I could listen to what my body needed. Some days I had the energy for an outdoor run, on other days I just wanted to stretch on my yoga mat. No matter the day, I knew I was moving in a way that aligned with my hormones and my energy level.
What to keep in mind before you start cycle syncing your workouts:
If you’re a type-A gal like myself, you’ve likely already pulled out your calendar and begun meticulously scheduling next month’s workouts. While the Cycle Syncing® Method is a great tool to help guide your exercise plan, Vitti recommends letting go of perfectionism. “Drop the perfectionism and instead embrace becoming dynamic and responsive. Listen to your body, track your cycle, track your symptoms, notice how you feel in each phase, notice how doing certain activities makes you feel in each phase, and reclaim the healthy relationship with yourself and your body you are supposed to have.”
How to exercise during each phase:
During your menstrual phase (AKA when you’re bleeding), your estrogen and progesterone tank. This causes you to have low energy and feel generally less social. If you’re feeling a little sluggish, don’t push it. Swap your high-intensity workouts for something more restorative, like walking or gentle yoga. Research shows that an hour of strenuous activity during your period can increase your chances of exercise-induced inflammation. You don’t want to add aching muscles on top of an aching uterus, so skip your intense workout class during this time.
Your follicular phase starts on the first day of menstruation and ends at ovulation. During the middle of your follicular phase, your estrogen and progesterone begin to rise. You’ll likely notice increased energy and begin to feel more social. Now is a great time to check out a fast-paced group fitness class or see if a buddy wants to join you for a run.
During ovulation, your estrogen and testosterone peak, and your body is at its most fertile. You’ll likely feel full of energy, so this is a great time to hit fitness PRs (AKA personal records), like your max squat or fastest 5k. Thanks to your high hormones, you’re also your most aroused and confident. So go ahead and talk to that cutie you’ve been eyeing in spin class. Your spike in confidence might just lead to a hot date.
After ovulation, you enter the luteal phase of your cycle. Elevated progesterone levels will cause your energy to decline and you may feel more withdrawn. When you notice your energy taking a dip, scale your workouts down a notch. Replace high-intensity workouts with lightweight circuit training, walks, and yoga. It’s also a good idea to take your workouts indoors if you live in a warmer climate. Since your basal body temperature is higher in the luteal phase of your cycle, you may notice a decrease in your athletic performance when working out in the heat.