Healthy premenopausal women share a common challenge when it comes to working out: exercising on your period.
Whether your cycle is every 28 days, every 30 days, or seems to be a bit sporadic, getting your workout in during your period can feel particularly unappealing because it is often accompanied by annoying symptoms such as fatigue, bloating, headaches, and a feeling of heaviness.
So, should you work out on your period?
In this article, we will answer basic questions such as, “Should I work out on the first day of my period?“ “Can you work out on your period?” and provide tips for working out during your period.
We will look at:
- Should You Work Out On Your Period?
- 4 Benefits of Working Out On Your Period
- What Is the Best Type of Exercise to Do During Your Period?
Let’s jump in!
Should You Work Out On Your Period?
Many women feel rather crappy over the first couple of days of their period.
You might have cramps, bloating, undue fatigue, cravings, and a heavy flow that can make exercise not only unappealing but you also might be concerned that your body isn’t up to the stress and vigorous output of working out.
If you are relatively new to a fitness routine and are concerned about how your period might affect your workout routine, you might wonder, “Should I work out on the first day of my period, or can I exercise during my period?“
The good news is that although you may physically and emotionally feel far from your best during your period, you can absolutely work out during your period. Moreover, exercising during periods actually may help attenuate some of your symptoms of PMS and periods.Therefore, even though you may be inclined to skip your workout during your period, going to the gym, going for a run, getting outside for a brisk walk, or any other type of exercise will not only help you stay consistent with your fitness routine but may actually help you feel better.
4 Benefits of Working Out On Your Period
Exercise always provides a bounty of physical and mental health benefits, and when you work out during your period, you certainly continue to reap these benefits of physical activity.
During the menstrual cycle, both progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest points.
This can reduce energy and make you feel more tired and lethargic, which can make it more difficult to muster the energy and verve to work out.
For this reason, you might not feel all that motivated to do a high-intensity interval training workout or go for a long run.
However, you can adjust your fitness routine and choose to do different types of exercise during your period that are a little bit lower in intensity and more approachable if you are feeling fatigued, heavy, and unmotivated.
In addition to the normal benefits of physical activity, here are some of the benefits of exercising during your period:
#1: Decreasing PMS Symptoms
Many women experience at least some symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, PMS, such as mood swings, fatigue, bloating, headaches, cramps, and increased appetite.
Staying consistent with your fitness routine and exercising throughout your menstrual cycle can potentially help reduce these symptoms.
Even though PMS happens before your period, and therefore you may wonder why exercising during your period is going to help quell PMS symptoms, regular aerobic exercise performed consistently can help keep levels more stable and manage some of the symptoms of PMS.
For example, one study found that doing a 60-minute yoga class once a week for 12 weeks helped reduce menstrual cramps and dysmenorrhea, which is the technical term for period pain.
If you stop your exercise routine every time your period comes around and then restart afterward, it is harder to stay consistent, and you may fall off your routine.
Additionally, many people continue to experience the classic symptoms of PMS through the first couple of days of the period, so moving your body can help lessen these symptoms at the moment as well.
#2: Improving Mood
Mood swings, irritability, and a general feeling of malaise and low mood are extremely common during your period.
One of the benefits of working out during your period is that you get the natural boost of feel-good and pain-relieving endorphins and endocannabinoids and a surge of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that can help elevate your mood.
#3: Decreasing Pain and Discomfort
Additionally, exercise increases circulation, which not only helps you feel more loose and comfortable but can also reduce cramps, muscle aches, low back pain, and headaches, which are often associated with your period.
Therefore, if you have cramps, headaches, or muscle aches during your period, exercising on your period can ease some of the physical discomforts as much as it helps you feel happier and more energetic.
#4: Maximizing Strength Gains
We often think that any exercise during periods will reflect reduced athletic performance, but some studies have actually found the opposite.
For example, one study found that the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle may actually be the best time to see a marked improvement in strength and power.
The menstrual cycle “begins“ with the first day of your period, so the first two weeks include the entire portion of menses or the bleeding phase.
Because estrogen and progesterone are particularly low during your period, it seems that the body is able to achieve greater gains in muscular strength and power from strength training workouts during your period.
What Is the Best Type of Exercise to Do During Your Period?
If you have a very heavy flow, particularly during the first couple of days of your period, you might want to do some light exercise rather than a vigorous workout. Here are some examples:
Low-Intensity Cardio Exercise
Although you certainly can take on a high-intensity workout, if your body is feeling run down or you feel too uncomfortable with heavy bleeding, try low-intensity, low-impact workouts such as brisk walking, elliptical machine, indoor cycling, or hiking.
Interestingly, there is some evidence to suggest that the respiratory portion of your cardiovascular system displays fluctuations in efficiency and capacity during the menstrual cycle.
For example, one study found that vital lung capacity during exercise—the volume of air you can inhale, and thus the amount of oxygen you can get— is highest during the mid-luteal phase of the menstrual cycle and lowest during the early follicular phase.
The luteal phase is the portion of the menstrual cycle that occurs between ovulation and getting your period. Therefore, potentially your aerobic exercise performance and capacity may reach their peak about a week before your period begins.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a good run or do a difficult cardio workout while on your period, but it is an interesting finding and might suggest that there are different portions of your menstrual cycle that may suit different types of exercise better than others.
Strength Training and Plyometrics
Although you might not feel like jumping around or lifting heavy weights during your period, it may be the best time to do so if you want to capitalize on your ability to increase strength and power.
Because evidence suggests that the potential gains in muscle strength and power are highest during your period due to the relative depression of estrogen and progesterone levels, one of the best types of exercise to do during your period is strength training.
Yoga and Pilates
If your low back is sore and you feel tight and stiff, and you have a heavy period that doesn’t make you want to run, swim or hop on a cardio machine, yoga and Pilates can be a great workout for the first day of your period, or a day or two before your period begins.
In fact, although both aerobic exercise, as well as yoga and Pilates, have been shown to alleviate symptoms of PMS, studies have found that yoga may be comparatively more effective at reducing cramps, fatigue, bloating, and other symptoms of PMS.
Therefore, as your period is approaching, if you are struggling with premenstrual syndrome, it might be a good time to roll out your yoga mat, and either swap your normal cardio workout for a good yoga or Pilates routine or add a quick flow to your standard workout to offset your symptoms.
If you are habitually struggling to work out during your period because of symptoms that make it seemingly impossible to exercise, speak with your doctor or gynecologist about possible oral contraceptives or ways to manage your flow and PMS symptoms so that you can feel your best.
The other thing to keep in mind is that although many women tend to experience the same sorts of symptoms and feelings during each period, every period is different, and what feels good for your workout routine when on your period during one month may not be what your body is craving another month.
Try to keep a flexible mindset and know that there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to exercise on your period.
Do your best to try to stay active, even if it’s just going for a quick walk after each meal or doing some gentle stretching and yoga.
When asking, “can you work out on your period” what about running specifically? For more information on running while you have your period, check out our helpful guide: Running On Your Period: How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Running Game.