Cramps, nausea, fatigue and bloating. While there might be many reasons to avoid working out during your period, this article will help you understand 1) why you don’t need to skip your workout during your period and 2) how working out during your period can help you achieve your fitness goals.
Islam views menstruation as a natural process that normal, healthy women undergo for a certain time period every month.
Although some religious activities and sexual intercourse are prohibited during this time, there are plenty of things that you can do. And one of those things is working out.
“Working Out During Your Period? What?!”
One of the most frequent questions I get asked from my female clients as well as many readers is “can I workout while on my period?”
This question is a result of misconceptions that have been passed down throughout time. The idea that exercising during menstruation is harmful is totally bogus. And I’m here to tell you, with the help of research, that not only should you be working out, but that exercising during your period can help you achieve your fitness goals! Nope, your period won’t set you back any longer!
But before I discuss this, you’ve got to understand the basics of the menstrual cycle.
Your Menstrual Cycle Explained
First off, it’s important to note that your menstrual cycle can vary depending on many factors. Your cycle can range from anywhere between 21-35 days. However, an average cycle is around 28 days long and is broken down into two 14-day phases:
- Follicular phase – Day 1 through 14. During this time, the menstruation cycle begins on the first day of the follicular phase. After the period ends, on about day 12, the ovulation period starts (see the menstrual cycle wheel below for more information).
- Luteal phase – Day 15 through 28. This period is the period that follows the ovulation.
As you can see from the wheel, once a month, the uterus grows a new, thickened lining that can hold a fertilised egg (Ovulation). When there is no fertilised egg to start a pregnancy, the uterus then sheds its lining. This shedding is the bleeding that occurs during your menses (at the end of the luteal phase and the beginning of the follicular phase).
More About the Follicular Phase
During the follicular stage, you tend to feel more energised. When the menstrual bleeding starts to taper (that is, around 5 days into your cycle), your oestrogen levels begin to rise; this increase in oestrogen makes you feel strong, social and energetic.
What You Need to Know About the Luteal Phase
During the luteal phase, Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) starts to emerge. As part of PMS, you may start to have cramps (or pain) in your abdomen, back, or legs. You might even experience headaches, nausea and dizziness. This is also the stage when you may feel tense, emotional, or even angry.
You might also experience physical changes such as gaining water weight and feeling bloated. This is because high oestrogen and progesterone affect the hormones that regulate the fluid in your body. Most women also find it difficult to perform well during exercises in the luteal phase. It’s perhaps due to the less energy available at this time.
But there is one good thing that happens in the luteal phase: you burn more calories during this time. That’s because your metabolism increases by up to 10%.
Working Out During Your Period
No one argues anymore about whether or not women should be working out during their periods. Instead, the discussion’s shifted to whether or not exercising during menses affects athletic performance. Regarding the second issue, a study conducted by the University of British Columbia suggests that there aren’t any significant changes in athletic performance. In fact, we know that many female athletes set world records in their domains while performing during their menses.
In a study of 20 active females, researchers found that women who strength trained during their low-hormone phase made greater strength gains. So, what might seem like a setback can actually push you forward.
Since most of my readers and clients aren’t athletes, my focus in this article is about the average Muslim woman who wants to know whether working out is beneficial during her period.
And the answer seems to be a resounding “yes!”. Exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist Dr Stacy T. Sims explains in her ground-breaking book Roar:
“Ironically, when these hormones drop and a woman starts her period, that is the time when she is actually “most like a guy” in terms of what is known in sport physiology and nutrition research: Pain tolerance is increased; time to fatigue is increased; she has a lower core temperature and greater plasma volume, so she can sweat more and stay cool longer, and from a metabolic state, a woman’s body can tap into more carbohydrate stores and recover faster, as compared to the high hormone phase that leads into her period.”
The Type of Workouts You Should Be Doing
Physically, there is no reason why you should skip any of your scheduled workouts during your menses. If you’ve been doing strength training, continue doing it. If you’ve been running, continue doing it too.
You shouldn’t be worrying about the workout that you’re doing if you’re not an athlete (as I’ve mentioned before) and are doing a moderate amount of exercise during your period.
Here’s what I mean by a moderate amount of exercise:
- 1 hour of strength training a day for 5 days a week, and
- 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercises a day
Your Period Shouldn’t Stop You!
That being said, having your period can be physically and emotionally taxing. If you really can’t or don’t want to do any workouts, try low-intensity workouts such as walking, swimming, or yoga. They’ll help you alleviate some of the physical and emotional issues you face during your period.
Regardless of the intensity of your workout, make sure you hydrate yourself well before and after working out.