I’ve always had a fairly complicated relationship with exercise. At times in my life, I’ve used exercise as a punishment, and so it’s been fairly hard to see as something to benefit my body and feel good about. Over the years, my relationship with exercise has become more positive, but will get wiped out of my life by chronic fatigue and endometriosispain for a week or two at a time. It then becomes so much harder, motivation-wise, to get back into the swing of things.
Yet in the last year or so, I’ve encountered many leaders in the menstrual health space talking about exercise for your cycle. From Lisa Lister and Alisa Vitti to Vickie Williams, moving with the subtle energy shifts of your body and tailoring your exercise accordingly are now firmly on the radar.
I’ve been experimenting with this since reading the brilliant “Code Red.” Lisa Lister has created “SHE Flow Yoga,” which works with the body to deliberately support the female sex organs and evolves throughout the cycle. After reading “Womancode,” by Alisa Vitti, and pursuing my hormone-balancing quest, I’ve really come to understand this way of working with movement. It’s helped me get more out of my exercise routine during the phases when I feel good, and allows me to continue moving during my pre-menstrual phases and menstruation, helping me feel better about my body mentally, keeping myself healthy physically, and easing some of my symptoms.
So, in the following, I’ve broken down each stage of the menstrual cycle (remember the four seasons?) and the types of exercises you can take on during these phases. I’m still a reasonable newbie to this, so you may want to do your own research and always check in with how your body feels before any kind of exercise.
As I’ve mentioned previously, pre-ovulation is the time when we usually begin to feel a rise in energy (of course, when living with endometriosis, fatigue may prevent you from experiencing this). One of the reasons is because estrogen is rising, helping you to feel more positive and energized, so this a good time to challenge yourself and have fun with exercise. For me, that could be heading to the ’90s Hip Hop Workout I’ve been eyeing up at my local studio, or doing a fun full-body cardio workout on YouTube. If yoga is your thing, that’s fine, too! Don’t feel like you have to become a gym bunny if that’s not who you are, just keep in mind that you’ll be likely to have the stamina for a more challenging yoga class that week.
This is the time when most of us experience our peak energy levels, thanks to a mix of increasing estrogen and testosterone. However, bear in mind that testosterone will drop suddenly, so if you feel lethargic or not up to much exercise on a particular day, that’s probably what you’re experiencing, and it’s best not to force yourself through something if you don’t feel quite ready for it. However, because your energy levels are usually so high at this point, cardio and strength training are your friends. If you’re into running, rebounding, or even weightlifting, now’s the time to get the most out of these activities. Of course, you don’t have to stick to them if you don’t want to — find a form of energizing exercise that suits you, whatever it may be.
This is a key time to really listen to your body, depending on what your endometriosis and PMS symptoms are like around this phase. Typically, energy is still fairly good as you first move into this phase, and then as you get toward your period, you’ll begin to feel a lower level in energy and perhaps a rise in symptoms if this is a time when they affect you, so adjust your exercise accordingly. Personally, I find this is a nice time to focus on gentle pilates or barre sessions, or to do a few flow yoga classes.
So, for us endo warriors, I’m aware this may be a time when you simply can’t do anything. Over the years, I’ve come to notice that staying still actually worsens my pain, and it’s better for me to do a gentle restorative yoga session online that’s made for period cramps. However, getting in enough rest so your body can recharge and you can get through whatever endometriosis is throwing at you is most important. If you feel up to exercise, keep it gentle, light, and easy on your body.