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Cycle Syncing Your Workouts for Hormonal Acne

Have you seen those tampon ads where a woman is running, cycling or even riding a horse on her period with slogans like “don’t let it stop you”… or “a woman can do whatever a man does”…

But the real question is: should we be doing that much exercise on our period?

A global survey of 14 000 women found that approximately 72 per cent have never received any education about exercise and their period. I know I definitely didn’t. And all the studies online about the incredible results of certain workouts are all done on men or menopausal women. Why? Because menstruating women are more “complicated”. *eyerolls visibly*

But in a way it makes a little sense: Women are not little men. We are made completely different. Men have a 24 hour hormonal clock; it stays exactly the same 365 days a year. Forever. We have the same 24 hour hormonal clock, but for menstruating women, we also have a 28 day (on average) monthly hormonal cycle.

That’s why a man can go do crossfit every single day, whereas the thought of doing that on my period makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. And this is NORMAL. Because our hormones and energy are at an all-time low, and our body is doing a hell of a lot (it’s literally shedding the walls of your uterus!).

And in fact, doing forms of higher intensity exercise at certain times of the month can actually cause weight gain, increase your stress hormones, throw your hormonal balance out of whack and majorly impact your skin.

So what to do we do? In order to have balanced regulated hormones, clearer skin and feel your best, one of the best things you can do is to work with your hormones not against it. One of the best things you can do is to start cycle syncing your workouts.

The Benefits of Cycle Syncing Your Workouts

Cycle Syncing your workouts have been suggested to:

  • Reduce stress levels
  • Support healthy weightloss
  • Promote a regular cycle
  • Reduce PMS symptoms
  • Increase mood
  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce hormonal acne

So are you wanting more bang for your buck when it comes to exercise, like more energy and clearer skin? Then without further ado I present the Cycle Syncing Workout Method.

One thing to note: this is by textbook definition, only relevant for women NOT on the contraceptive pill or any form of birth control as your hormones are suppressed and you are not actively ovulating. Your natural cycle is altered. But that’s not to say you can’t use these methods to help get your body in a better rhythm as well. Every person is individual.

The Cycle Syncing Workout Method

How it works: I split up the cycle into 4 distinct phases or seasons if it’s easier to refer to them as this. For each season, there are specific workout examples based on what your hormones are doing in each phase. But you can play around and have fun with what feels right. Every woman is different so tune in and listen to what feels best for your body.

If you are in the early stages of cycle syncing and dealing with hormonal imbalances you want to keep your workouts to no more than 30 minutes. This means it’ll prevent excess cortisol being produced, adrenal fatigue and have you feel energised and not completely wiped.

*note that days are approximate and numbers are based on an average 28 day cycle.

Menstruation/Winter (Days 0 to 4-7*)

Focus: Rest and Gentle Movement

Your period marks the beginning of your cycle. Hormone levels are tanked and you might experience lower energy (and definitely feel less social). Give yourself some grace and listen to your body. This is the time to allow your body to rest (your body’s already going through a LOT during this phase).

Some women find benefit from doing some form of movement on their period, especially if they experience cramps and low mood (exercise releases feel-good hormones and helps increase blood flow)

Exercise Ideas: yoga, gentle walk, stretching, sitting on the couch reading a book or binging a Netflix show (and it’s absolutely okay during these few days)

Follicular Phase/Spring (when your period ends to ~day 14*)

Focus:  High Intensity, Strength training and Cardio

This is where we can step it up. Estrogen and progesterone levels are rising after your period so your energy is higher. You can take on higher levels of stress (because of the lower resting cortisol) and recover faster. You perform better, are more powerful and studies suggest will result in more muscle gain compared to the second half of your cycle [1].

Resting metabolism is suggested to be lower and your muscles utilise glucose more efficiently (more insulin sensitive) in the follicular phase meaning you can push harder and longer [2,3,4]. In general, you’ll feel powerful!

Exercise Ideas: high intensity training, strength training (this is the phase you want to up the size of your weight), running, swimming, dancing, spin class, any form of cardio really.

Ovulation/Summer (Day 14 to 16*)

Focus: High Energy & Cardio

You are on a high here – that peak of summer vibe. You’re feeling that surge of energy heighten due to the rise of hormones including testosterone at ovulation, so you can continue on with those higher intensity workouts from your previous Follicular/Spring phase.

This is the time where you’d want to be aiming for those fitness PB’s.

Exercise Ideas: HIIT, bootcamps, weightlifting + any of workouts in the follicular phase. Tip: you also might find yourself feeling more social during this phase, so ask a friend to join in. You always feel way better working out with a friend.

Luteal phase/Autumn (Day 17 to 28-31*)

Focus: low-intensity training with focus on strength training.

There are two hormonal changes that occur during this phase so it’s important to listen to your body and how it’s feeling during your Autumn phase: 1.) You initially experience a rise in estrogen and progesterone, with progesterone being the dominating hormone, and you still have a good amount of energy. 2.) Around a week before your period, your hormones drop preparing you for your period (and your energy drops with it).

If I could sum up this phase, you’d be wanting to focus on lower intensity activities and strength training but with increased recovery time between workouts.

Workouts may feel harder than the week before as high levels of progesterone are less effective at providing energy. In a sciencey way: you’re more insulin resistive meaning it’s harder for you to utilise the glucose (sugar) from your blood to get to your muscles This, alongside the fact that both the high levels of progesterone and oestrogen supress gluconeogenesis (making glucose from protein and fat), meaning that it’s harder for your body to access sugar needed for energy especially for longer training sessions [5]. AKA you tire faster.

Your body starts to burn more fat to use as fuel compared to the Follicular/Spring phase of your cycle during low to moderate intensity exercise [6]. But if you have a hormonal imbalance, like too much estrogen (which is SO common) the affects aren’t as good.

Because your resting cortisol levels are higher, thanks to progesterone, if you have estrogen dominance, and continue doing high intensity exercise, (raising your cortisol even more), it can backfire and cause any extra unutilised glucose to convert back into fat in all the wrong places [4,7,8]. Plus, the high cortisol levels from HIIT workouts mixed with an already high cortisol baseline in this phase can also cause your skin to freak out too (there’s a strong link between high stress levels and acne)

The high levels of progesterone also promotes protein breakdown and muscle wasting so you want to ensure you are eating more protein and prioritising strength training and lower intensity cardio over a HIIT workout [4].  

Exercise Ideas: In the first half of the luteal phase you can continue on with the strength training, pilates, lower-intensity cardio but you might feel the need to scale it back. Think lighter weights. More recovery time.

Around that mid-luteal phase or about a week before your period this is where progesterone is at its peak and then your hormones start to decline. This is where you’ll want those lower impact workouts. Think yoga, barre, pilates or a long walk.

CYcle Syncing and the skin

There’s no doubt that exercise is great for the skin. It stimulates the lymphatic system to remove hormones, waste and toxins from the body, it improves your gut health (which impacts your skin), as well as releasing more toxins out through sweat.

But when you exercise too intensely throughout the cycle it can put your cortisol in overdrive and mess up the delicate balance of progesterone and estrogen, suppress ovulation, increase your blood sugars, increase PMS symptoms (as well as a number of other factors). All of which can be a huge driver in your acne.

➳➳➳

I fully understand that some women are on the contraceptive pill, have irregular cycles or have different symptoms. And I don’t want cycle-syncing your workouts to be stressful, because it’s counterproductive and defeats the whole purpose. What I want this to do for you is to empower you to understand your own body and feelings. And not feel the immense pressure to push through a workout on your period or just cause you have to make your class membership worthwhile for the week. It’s the realisation that: hey, I’m feeling this specific symptom during this time of the month for a reason, so I’m going to be a bit kinder to myself.

Always do what feels right in your body. Workout smarter not harder.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4236309/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8475204/. 
  3.  https://appleheartandmovementstudy.bwh.harvard.edu/trends-in-glucose-levels/  
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7357764/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20199120/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7987364/
  7. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html#:~:text=When%20body%20tissues%20are%20exposed,develop%20into%20or%20enhance%20obesity.         
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32658929/

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