The Magic Behind Period Exercise: How to Work With the 4 Phases of Your Cycle for a Better Life

There’s a strong misconception in modern women that the word “cycle” refers to your period, and that your period is something of a curse, a week in your life that is to be dreaded. With that mindset, period exercise becomes an extension of that misconception: period exercise is either for women who possess some sort of wild willpower the rest of us can only dream of, or another something that we dread and push through despite our physical discomfort for the sake of achieving fitness goals.

With this mindset, your period becomes an inconvenience, causing cravings, bloating, cramps, and fatigue, all of which get in the way of any fitness goals you may have for yourself.

But what if that entire mindset was incredibly wrong? What if women paid attention to their full monthly cycle—the approximately 28 days that their body cycles through from day one of their period to the last day before their next period—and worked with each phase to improve their quality of life and, by extension, any fitness goals they have?

Such a mindset shift is entirely possible and overwhelmingly beneficial. And period exercise is a small portion of the equation.

The Magic Behind Period Exercise: How To Work With The 4 Phases Of Your Cycle For A Better Life
Read More: Is an Online Period Tracker Still Safe – Especially When it Comes to Data Tracking in 2023?

4 Phases of the Female Cycle

It’s essential to understand the phases of the female cycle before exploring the kinds of exercises, including period exercise, to support your body. Let’s start by explaining the term “cycle”.

Modern society commonly refers to a woman’s period as her cycle. It’s possible this phrasing is the result of social stigmas surrounding a woman’s period—let’s be honest, it’s still a bit taboo to talk about your period, especially in social or public settings and platforms. But the term cycle actually refers, by definition a series of events that are regularly repeated.

As such, the female cycle isn’t just a woman’s period. It covers the entire 28-day span from the start of her period to the end of that 28 days, just before the start of her next period.

In total, the female cycle includes four key phases:

  1. Menstruation – this is the first of the four phases, and probably the one women are most familiar with. Menstruation is the phase during which you get your period. This is your body’s physiological response to not getting pregnant, and estrogen and progesterone levels drop, causing your uterine lining to shed in preparation for another month (aka, your body readying itself for another chance to get pregnant). Because of the common symptoms of discomfort, period exercise is uncommon. (Though, as we’ll discuss below, period exercise can have a host of benefits when treated as part of your comprehensive cycle.)
  2. Follicular – this is the second phase of your cycle, but it overlaps with the menstruation phase. Beginning at the start of your period and ending roughly sixteen days into your cycle, this phase focuses on preparing your body with a mature egg and your body produces hormones for that exact purpose.

    An important side note: whether you intend to get pregnant or not (or any host of possible scenarios in between), it’s important to understand that at a very basic physiological level, your cycle’s entire purpose is to ready your body for the possibility of pregnancy each month. Understanding this can help you understand and work with your body through each of its different phases.
  3. Ovulatory – this third phase of your cycle is the brief window, usually between days 14-16 of your cycle, where your body releases a mature egg from the ovaries into the uterus for fertilization. The fertile window is typically around 24 hours, after which the egg dissolves and your body begins preparations to repeat this process.
  4. Luteal – the final and fourth phase of your cycle is essentially the part where your body determines if it is pregnant and whether or not it needs to repeat the above cycle. Your estrogen and progesterone levels will fluctuate. If your body determines it is not pregnant, you may begin to experience common PMS symptoms as your body prepares to have its period again.

These four phases are interconnected and work together each month, producing your full cycle.

The Magic Behind Period Exercise: How To Work With The 4 Phases Of Your Cycle For A Better Life
Read More: How Period Panties Changed the Conversation About Women’s Health

Working With Your Cycle, Including Period Exercise

When you understand the four phases of your cycle and the hormone changes that go with them, you can begin to support your body (and your fitness goals) with the nutrition and movement that each phase needs to optimize your cycle. Then, instead of dreading the week of your period as something that just gets in the way of life, you can focus instead on the strengths of each phase for maximum growth and restoration.

Menstrual Phase

First is the subject of period exercise. But before that, it’s critical to remember that your body is cycling. Each phase is connected to the next. So while we start our conversation here with your period, each of the subsequent phases comes after your current period and before your next. They are a loop, a repeat, and what you do in each phase affects the next dramatically.

Because your menstrual phase (your period) is both the start of your new cycle and the end of your previous cycle, it is often the point at which your body feels most fatigued. Your hormones drop rapidly and your body is shedding a part of itself and regenerating in preparation for the possibility of growing a new life. That’s a lot of work.

Period exercise, then, should be a reflection of that work. Your body is already doing a lot of hard work and doesn’t need the added physical stress of heavy lifting, cardio, or HIIT workouts, for example. What it needs are restorative stretching and low-impact activities. Consider light walks and yoga or similarly restorative and gentle activities that still get your body (and blood flow) moving, but are not demanding on your already taxed body.

In addition to period exercise, you may want to consider some basic nutritional modifications to support the work your body is doing. Add in a good B vitamin and magnesium-rich foods or supplements, as your body needs these a little extra at this time. (Not to mention that magnesium is a great relieving agent for cramps and general PMS symptoms!) Reduce caffeine intake to avoid additional stress on your adrenals.

Follicular Phase

During the second phase of your cycle (specifically after your period), you can begin stepping up your cardio. You can support your body with light cleansing foods like salad, broccoli, micro greens, and sprouts.

Ovulatory Phase

During this third phase of your cycle, focus on going harder in your workouts. This is a good week to focus on reaching and setting personal records. For nutrition, focus on supporting the liver with anti-inflammatory foods and a good B vitamin.

Luteal Phase

And finally, in the last phase of your cycle, focus on strength workouts. Weights are a great addition here to build overall strength, even if you aren’t looking to build considerable muscle. For food support, focus on leafy greens, quinoa, magnesium-rich foods, and cucumber, and decrease dairy and caffeine (or try gentler forms of caffeine, like matcha).

The Magic Behind Period Exercise: How To Work With The 4 Phases Of Your Cycle For A Better Life
Read More: Why You Should Go “Green” on Your Period

Your cycle in its entirety is an incredibly intricate and interconnected part of your body. If you work with each phase of your cycle, you don’t have to compromise your fitness goals or a comfortable life because of your period. Working with your cycle, including period exercise, can improve your fitness goals, increase your cycle health, and help you get more in touch with your body.

Check out Daily Mom’s Healthy Living Section for more advice, tips, and tricks.



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The Magic Behind Period Exercise: How To Work With The 4 Phases Of Your Cycle For A Better Life
Photo Credits: Unsplash
Lacey Peek
Lacey Peek
Lacey is a born and raised Floridian and is outside as often as she can be, but she also enjoys a good book paired with delicious snacks. She grew up outside and loves to garden, explore new trails, travel, and slip in and out of tide pools on long beach walks. She adores Danish mid-century furniture, her three cats, houseplants, a clean home, and fresh homemade food. A former high school teacher turned professional marketing copywriter, you can find her work on her site, The Written Way.

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