Be Your Best When You Feel Bad

July 8, 2022 – We’re on our way to the Wimbledon final this weekend, when the world’s best tennis players take on one of the most prestigious championships in sport. But as that excitement unfolded on the track, another drama unfolded in the locker room – where women players competed over the stress and anxiety of competition during their periods.

That’s at least what we can deduce from Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig, who sparked a public debate on the subject in May. In response to a tweet about “why women’s menstruation is never talked about as a possible factor in discussions about top seeds losing in women’s draw,” she said: “Definitely something that affects female athletes!”

“Finally bring it to everyone’s attention!” Puig went on. “Not to mention the mental stress of wearing all white at Wimbledon and praying not to have your period during those two weeks.”

In fact, more and more players are talking about the impact of periods on their game. Heather Watson, a tennis professional from the United Kingdom, spoke about it in 2015 when she was beaten in the first round of the Australian Open. Her menstruation started that day and left her light-headed and listless, she said.

The growing conversation around the seemingly taboo subject – in a relatively traditional and rigorous sport, no less – seems to indicate that things are changing, and not just for tennis players, but for all women trying to be active be.

After all, you do not have to be a world-famous tennis star to know that exercising on your period can be a real pain – literally. Many women have the cramps, fatigue and fear of leaking through exercise clothes (despite what feminine hygiene marketing would make you believe you can do) anything on your period as long as you use their products). For those with regular periods, the cycle affects all areas of life, including exercise routines.

The good news: You can find ways to help you not only feel your best, but also perform your best during your period.

Armed with the right mindset and information, you can achieve an impressive level of performance during your period, says Stacy T. Sims, PhD, an international exercise physiologist and nutritionist. It’s all about planning your workouts in a way that works with your body instead of against it.

“In training, we can utilize the knowledge about the ebb and flow of our hormones and how our bodies adapt to stress to our advantage,” she says.

And if you can do that, you will not only be able to keep moving when you may not feel like it, but also manage monthly symptoms. More good news: With the renewed public interest in the subject, there has never been a better time to talk about periods and achievement. So let’s talk.

How your menstrual cycle affects your energy

Step one is to educate yourself on your cycle so you can expect your less energetic – and more energetic – days, says Madalyn Turner, a certified menstrual trainer, chiropractor and women’s menstrual cycle expert in St. Louis. Petersburg, FL.

The menstrual cycle is broken up into four phases, she says. In order they are:

  • Menstruation: This is when the uterine mucus falls off and you get your period.
  • Follicular: It occurs between the first day of the period and ovulation.
  • Ovulation: In this phase, an egg is released from the ovary and estrogen is at its peak.
  • Luteal: This indicates the days between ovulation and the beginning of your next period, when the body is preparing for possible pregnancy.

How to adapt your workouts to your cycle

In the days before and during your period, you may feel tired, chapped or sore, possibly due to the body’s decrease in hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. Still, if you can move your body even a little, it can help relieve your symptoms.

“You don’t have to go to it every day of the month,” Sims says. “During the week of your period, it’s great to exercise as much as you can.”

Consider short bouts of moderate exercise, she says. “A short burst of activity such as a 20-minute moderate walk is a great way to increase pain-relieving endorphins in the body,” says Sims.

In fact, a 2015 study found that moderate aerobic exercise can help increase your energy and improve concentration during premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and a 2018 study found that 8 weeks of aerobic exercise reduced physical PMS symptoms such as headache, nausea and bloating have decreased.

Complete your workout with light stretching, Sims recommends.

The follicular phase, Turner believes, is a great time to give your workout really everything. This is because an increase in estrogen can make you feel energetic, she says.

You may want to try high-intensity interval exercises, or pick up with heavier weights and fewer repetitions, or do intense cardio, such as a cycling class.

During ovulation, estrogen reaches peaks. Your energy level and mental clarity are high monthly, Sims says. This makes it a good time for one last push before shifting gears into the next phase of your cycle. Sims recommends reaction exercises, lifting with moderate weight and higher repetitions, and high-intensity cardio such as running.

As you enter the last phase of your cycle – the luteal phase – your energy level is likely to remain high, although it may decrease as your period approaches and hormone levels change.

This makes it a great time to switch to moderate aerobic activities, such as using an elliptical trainer, taking a Pilates class, or lifting with lighter weights for a greater number of repetitions, Sims says. Hiking, rowing and cycling are also excellent options, she says.

Bottom line: Knowing what’s best for you and your individual cycle can help you feel better during all of your workouts, Turner says. And you do not have to be a professional athlete to do that.

“We are typically caught up in the idea that we can do nothing but lie on the couch when we come to menstruation,” says Turner. “But I believe we are the generation that leaves that outdated narrative behind and is truly empowered by learning how to work with the beauty of our bodies and not against it.”

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