When your monthly flow comes to town, the last thing you probably want to do is hit the gym. After all, you’re likely fatigued with a side of cramps, so we wouldn’t blame you if you’d rather Netflix and chill. But it turns out, exercise could be the key to making your period symptoms feel a whole lot better.
A 2019 study from FitrWoman (a menstrual cycle tracking and exercise app) and St. Mary’s University suggests that working out can help alleviate period symptoms. Researchers analyzed responses from more than 14,000 women around the world, and 78 percent of those surveyed said exercise reduces their period symptoms.
Not convinced just yet to throw on your sneakers and break a sweat? Consider this your period workout survival guide.
How Your Period Affects Your Energy
In “Things You Probably Already Know”: Where you are in your menstrual cycle affects how you feel. But how? Here’s a week-by-week breakdown from the Office on Women’s Health (OWH):
- Week 1: Hello there, period! On the first day of your cycle, your levels of estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest (meaning you’ll feel zapped), but then their levels begin to rise, resulting in an increase of energy.
- Week 2: After your period ends, estrogen levels increase as your body preps for ovulation, meaning you’ll start to feel more active.
- Week 3: Your estrogen levels will peak around ovulation, then start to quickly fall while progesterone levels rise. You may feel more tired than normal during this time of your cycle.
- Week 4: Estrogen and progesterone both fall in the lead-up to your period, leaving you seriously drained.
Why You Should Work Out on Your Period
The benefits of working out on your period are actually two-fold—it can boost your energy and your mood. Joi Rychelle, Stretch Relief trainer and yoga instructor, explains that your period can drain energy and make you more tired than usual. “It can be beneficial to keep the body moving to create energy and vitality,” says Rychelle.
Your period can also be a very stressful, emotional time. “Coming to a workout allows you to channel your emotions in a healthy way and can also release adrenaline and cortisol, the body’s stress hormones and stimulate endorphins to change mood into a happier state,” adds Rychelle.
According to science, these are the top three benefits of working out while you’re bleeding:
- Improved mood: Per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), exercise can reduce depression associated with your monthly cycle.
- Reduced fatigue: The ACOG also notes that exercise can curb excess tiredness that occurs during your period.
- Decreased menstrual pain: A study published in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion finds that people who exercised three days a week for at least 30 minutes experienced less menstrual pain than those who didn’t.
The Best Exercises To Do on Your Period
Rychelle says slower-paced, gentle movements like restorative, chair, or yin yoga, or a mat Pilates class are all good options to try during that time of the month—especially the first couple of days when you’re at your most uncomfortable. Even an active recovery sequence like stretching on your yoga mat for 30 minutes can be beneficial, she adds. According to the pros at Yoga Journal, poses including downward dog, lotus, bridge, and half moon pose can help relieve bloating and other menstrual symptoms.
Keep in mind there are some workouts you may want to avoid while Aunt Flo’s paying a visit. Healthline reports that it’s a good idea to steer clear of intense cardio workouts—high-intensity dance or kickboxing classes will feel way more difficult when you’re already dealing with fatigue. Instead, stick to lighter cardio exercises like walking instead. (FYI, participants in the FitrWoman study said that “moderate-intensity workouts” were most effective at alleviating their period symptoms.)
How to Pack Your Gym Bag for Period Workouts
It’s important to stay hydrated when you’re working out during your period, according to Rychelle. Additionally, remember your comfort is most important: “Modify anything in the workout sequence that doesn’t feel good.”
To make sure you’re not pushing your body too hard, consider packing the below items in your gym bag when you’re working out during your period.
- Reusable water bottle to fill up at the gym or studio
- Breathable, comfortable workout clothing (include period underwear to avoid mid-workout leaks)
- Electrolytes or coconut water to replenish
- Protein bar or protein powder mix that you can add to water for muscle recovery
Don’t Overdo It
The OWH notes that working out too much can cause you to miss your period—or make it stop altogether. In fact, irregular and missed periods are actually more common in athletes and women who train hard.
If you’ve recently taken up an intense fitness routine after having not gone to the gym in a while, your period could become irregular or even stop. If this happens to you, talk to your doc about what you can do to get your period back on track, since a regular cycle is a sign of good health.