This week in class I had two conversations with clients that got me thinking about our knowledge around our own bodies. I always encourage my clients to be the advocates of their own health especially, of course, when it comes to pelvic floor dysfunction and any musculoskeletal issues, however I realised this week the scale of the issue when we consider our menstrual cycle as well.
One client was complaining of severe period pains keeping her up at night - ironic as her baby was now sleeping better - which was a new issue since she had her first baby 14 months ago, and the other has had long standing issues with not being listened to about the pain she experiences with endometriosis and limited treatment prospects offered, mainly “let’s whip out your uterus, that’ll solve everything”!!!
Thankfully this week I also got Maisie Hill’s new book “Period Power” https://www.maisiehill.com
which is “the handbook to periods and hormones that will leave you wondering why the hell nobody told you this sooner”. I LOVE this book, it’s loaded with science backed information and age old wisdom alike (also mainly because there is such a shockingly limited amount of research into “women issues”), it goes carefully through each part of your cycle and also the areas that could be of concern - changing phases in life, and “when things fall apart”.
When it comes to exercise it’s important that we all listen to our bodies and our response to various stressors in life to work out what’s energising you and what’s draining you. Sometimes we can’t avoid the drains, but we do have a choice when it comes to exercise and that can change week by week in our cycle. I have certainly noticed that on the 4th day before my period starts I have a limited amount of energy, I can do just what’s needed and little else, that’s my day to take a lie down when I have a spare 15 minutes as often I just need to get off my feet and let my body rest even if just for a short time. I also notice that I’m much more unstable in the days around the start of my period and so any strength work I do then is based on stabilising and supporting not on stretching or really pushing it. This is my experience, it may not be yours, we all have different balances of oestrogen and progesterone as well as other androgenic and stress hormones that will affect us and how we respond. My greatest tip in this area is to get tracking. You can use a period tracker app on your phone or just the notes section, I use “Period Tracker” but there is also Flo, Clue and Eve which seem to be similar - the important thing is being able to actually record various factors really easily - your cycle, your mood, your feelings, your activity level response, your energy, possibly your temperature and your cervical fluids if you are interested in getting pregnant or avoiding it.
Another brilliant app is Fitr Woman: https://www.fitrwoman.com which is especially designed to help women get more from their training by recording their cycle and then giving training plans and nutritional tips to get the best results. If you are serious about your training this is the app for you.
In the first phase of your cycle - “Winter” when you are having your period - exercise helps to reduce symptoms from cramps and keeping moving feels much better for most of us than staying still. You may not feel like doing anything too heavy, I’d strongly suggest keeping away from the heavy weights, HIIT sessions or Crossfit, but something very nourishing like a walk in nature especially with someone you love will help you to pass this time without depleting yourself. As I mentioned above, it’s a time to focus on rest and recuperation so do as your body feels and don’t get frustrated by it - all your gains are made next week. If you are in serious strength training, your needs may be different, you may want to keep lifting and training hard. Strength capacity is potentially not affected but your response may need to be monitored to check you are not causing further depletion.
“Spring” or your Warrioress phase: this is the time to go for it, you will have a greater training capacity and can make greater gains with more energy, less muscle fatigue and an easier recovery. This is the week to do HIIT sessions, more intense weights sessions and so on and you may also feel more like doing multiple activities in a day.
“Summer” phase: in the 3rd week (ish) of your cycle from pre-ovulation to a few days after, this is a changing time when you feel full of beans and ready to run that 10k challenge or do 3 circuits of that HIIT class you sometimes struggle with, however around your ovulation it has been shown that ligament laxity can increase offering a potential for injury if you are doing, for example, a trail run on downhill paths or a football/rugby game on a grass pitch. Just something to watch out for, maybe laxity might be something you would notice and track if you are susceptible to mobile joints or pain related to instability.
“Autumn” phase or your Sorcoress phase: this is the part of your cycle helping you to go inward, connecting to yourself, nature and spirituality and you might notice yourself detaching and withdrawing. Tracking your feelings and responses may help you to monitor this so that you don’t feel like a highly depressive crazy person or a hermit who doesn’t actually like people - this is completely normal, and understanding what’s normal for you is the important thing. You may be fine about exercising just as you like, you may find this is a good week for you to keep some consistency, however it is also a week to really notice and feel your responses as you may feel sluggish which might mean yoga, swimming and brisk, invigorating walk outside, or really getting lost in dancing to some music you really connect to is the best thing for you. As I mentioned above, my experience of this phase is that I need to rest well to get the best out of myself and that rest can help for the following phases of your cycle as well.
I hope you found this very brief guide useful and interesting, I’d love to hear your comments and own experiences, especially if this is new information to you and like my clients you’ve just thought you ought to just “push on through”. I encourage you to take back the power of your cycle now!