Training According to Your Cycle: How to Make the Best of Hormonal Shifts
The MOST common questions i get via DM on instagram revolve around motivation; ‘how can i get motivated’, ‘how can i stay motivated?’, ‘what happened to my motivation? I had it a few days ago and now i just ate an entire box of donuts and fell asleep missing my workout for today’. Motivation really seems to be an issue as it is merely an emotion that comes and goes.
I decided to do some digging on the topic and found a bunch of reasons why motivation fails and is renewed week-to-week. What i found is that our motivation levels closely correlates to hormone shifts in your menstrual cycle.
Your 28-day (on average) menstrual cycle is basically a series of hormonal shifts. These shifts have the potential to hinder you from reaching your goals, but when recognized and planned for' they can also be used to your advantage.
When you learn what your body is asking for during these hormonal shifts, training throughout the entire cycle can make it much easier to stick to fitness goals you’ve committed to and can decrease your recovery time from workout to workout, making each workout increasingly efficient.
In addition to optimizing motivation as your body shifts through its hormonal phases, when you train according to your cycle, you are showing the body that you aren’t trying to fight against it, rather to build it up; which makes a HUGE difference internally.
Your body goes through 2 phases (each lasting around 14 days). The first phase is the “follicular phase” which starts the first day you get your period and lasts until the day you ovulate. During this phase, your estrogen will increase to stimulate follicle growth.
The second phase is called the Luteal phase, which again lasts 14 days, starting after you ovulate and goes until you start your next period. During this phase, a hormone called progesterone increases. Estrogen also increases during this phase but they both come back down to regular levels if the egg isn’t fertilized, to re-start the cycle.
How do these phases influence our motivation and training?
The shifts that happen in our hormones throughout these phases affects our temperature and insulin sensitivity levels. Our temperature, when it rises, slightly increases our fatigue response when we are working out or doing any kind of strenuous activity. This slight change of temperature can even deter you from going to the gym after a long day of work.
Insulin is yet another hormone that is produced by the pancreas to move glucose (sugar) out of the blood stream, into our muscles, liver, and fat cells. This hormone works to regulate blood sugar levels.
The fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone influence insulin sensitivity and changes the way your body readily uses and stores the food that you are eating. Your body becomes more insulin sensitive at the beginning of your cycle when estrogen is higher. During this time, carbs are used more efficiently, which means that strength training and high intensity training should be prioritized as these types of exercises will allow you to use more carbs as energy, and build muscle!
In the second half of your cycle, progesterone takes the lead and you will become more insulin resistant. This means that your body has a hard time properly storing glucose and will resort to sending it to your fat cells. This is the time that steady state (ones that are not high intensity, or high power) workouts are best performed. Steady state workouts (cardio or lifting weights) allow you to reach into fat stores to use energy, rather than using carbohydrates. In addition to this, in the second phase you will feel a shift in energy, which will also prompt you to back off the crazy workouts.
Knowing and understanding these shifts can make a huge impact on the way you structure your workouts and can really make a difference long term.
Let’s take a look at how we should be training week to week.
Week 1 (Days 3 – 9): The Ramp Up (Increased Load or Intensity)
Week 1 happens in the first half of your follicular phase. During this time, you can increase the intensity of your training and start lifting heavy. Think of this time a week to get your body and mind ready for maximum load and intensity. This is a great time to do interval workouts. Make sure that you are warming up properly. This is especially important this week as you are coming off of a week of less activity.
Week 2 (Days 10 – 16): High Load or Intensity
This week is the second half of the follicular phase and ovulation. During this time, you may find that you are the most energetic! To take advantage of this, make siure that you do a few workouts that use maximal efforts. Now’s the time to attempt a personal best in your weight lifting efforts. This is the best time for you also to be doing your HIIT workouts.
Week 3 (Days 17 – 23): Aerobic Efforts
This week is the first half of luteal phase. During this time, you may find you do better with aerobic training. Moderate loads and longer, less intense workouts are ideal. Try an outdoor workout that takes you out of your element or work indoors on training for that jog personal best. As you start to move towards the end of this week, taper your training off according to how your body is feeling as you experience PMS symptoms. Be sure to remain hydrated and be mindful of the fact that your core temperature has increased.
Week 4 (Days 24 – 2): The Down Week
This phase starts when your PMS symptoms start to become more prominent. During this time, you can do light activities like yoga, light home workouts (perhaps a growwithjo follow along at home) or just relaxing and working on some self care.
A Final Note
The training guideline for weeks that i have provided are meant to be a general guideline. We all have slightly different cycles (some ranging from 23-32 days instead of the average of 28), and have different types of daily influences on our routines, so it may not be spot on for you. The key is to recognize what is going on in your body so that you don't feel helpless when you feel sluggish and un-motivated.
Another important thing to mention is to not feel guilty when you take that little break from the gym. If you are coming to the end of your cycle and are just really not feeling it, take a couple days just to relax and do something else for yourself in the time that you would usually go to the gym. I like to do face masks or have a little movie marathon with my boyfriend and pup. Perhaps go shopping or go for a long walk with a friend? Ultimately it is the inner you that needs all the love for the outer you to shine!
For more information and/or blog posts on hormonal shifts and changes in your training, comment below! I’d love to hear if you train according to your cycle or if you have any additional tips that you would like to share with this community!