There is a common belief that you will only achieve your health and fitness goals with consistent hard work. However for women, this couldn't be further from the truth. Over exercising can cause a number of health and hormonal problems from irregular cycles and PMS to trouble conceiving. Yes, consistency is important, but the secret to optimised wellbeing, hormonal health and fertility is working with the ebb and flow of your hormones throughout the menstrual cycle, which means resting is just as important as getting your heart rate up.
Healthy menstruating women have biphasic menstrual cycles, the first half is called the follicular phase and the second half is the luteal phase. The two main sex hormones oestrogen & progesterone ebb and flow throughout the two phases of the cycle like a beautiful dance; in the follicular phase, oestrogen is at its highest and in the luteal phase, progesterone is highest.
The rise and fall of these hormones directly impact your energy, strength, endurance, libido, mood, pain threshold, stress tolerance and how easily you recover post exercise. It is worthwhile mentioning that this hormonal pattern is very different to men, who experience hormonal fluctuations over a 24 hour cycle rather than over a 21-35 day cycle.
We live in a society that expects women to feel and function the same way each and every day, however this does not take our biology into consideration.
Understanding where you are at in your cycle and syncing the ‘right’ exercises to this phase can be your biggest super power when it comes to supporting your hormones and optimising fertility.
How sex hormones impact your ability to exercise
Rises in oestrogen & testosterone in the follicular phase causes:
- Increased muscle gain as oestrogen is anabolic (builds muscle)
- Increased level of endurance
- Higher pain and stress tolerance
- Increased insulin sensitivity so you’re able to process sugar more efficiently for energy
A decline in oestrogen and rise in progesterone in the luteal phase causes:
- Muscle and tissue break down as progesterone is catabolic (breaks down tissue)
- Metabolic rate increases, appetite increases and on average women need an extra 270 calories a day
- Increase in all macronutrient requirements - protein, fats and carbohydrates
- Body composition shifts to higher fat storage and lower glycogen use
- Inspiration drops
- Cravings increase
- Potentially more insulin resistant
- Changes occur in electrolyte balance, redistributing water into cells causing more puffiness, bloating and fluid retention
- Lower energy and more easily worn out
- Increased rate of perceived exertion
- Slower recovery times
Finding a balance with exercise for hormonal health
Finding a balance between cardio, strength, restorative exercises and rest days is key to supporting hormones and overall health, here are some examples of how to do this.
During the follicular phase
Take your time to ease into exercise after your period stops. Focusing on
- Lower intensity pilates classes such as Traditional Flow 2, Full Body Barre and Booty Burn 5
- Yin Yoga
As you near ovulation and oestrogen is increasing you will feel your energy and power increase - you can now start to increase strength & high intensity training such as:
- Higher intensity pilates classes such as Feel Good Pilates Essentials, Reformer Full Body and Set Intentions and Sweat
- Spin classes
- Interval training
This is the phase where you can push yourself to your limits as you will recover and repair more efficiently. Focus on:
- HIIT pilates such as 80’s Inspired Workout, HIIT Those Goals and Sweat 4 and Strength and HIIT 3
- Cardio training
Luteal phase & Menstruation
As oestrogen eases and progesterone rises the focus should be on slowing down, enjoy:
- Low intensity, stretch focused pilates such as Stretch and Meditate, Stretch Class 3 and Active Stretch
- Yin yoga
- Slow walks
- Tai chi
- Light swimming
Over exercising and the impact on hormones & fertility
Women who predominantly focus on high intensity exercises consistently throughout the month are at a higher risk of hormonal imbalances due to the amount of stress this places on the body. High intensity exercising increases the release of cortisol and adrenaline, which places the body in a sympathetic nervous system state (also known as fight or flight). In small bursts this is not a problem, the body is capable of regaining balance - however couple regular high training with a busy work schedule, social events, relationships, family responsibilities and everything else in between, you can see how it becomes fuel to an already heightened nervous system fire.
Over time this can result in hormonal imbalances that may present as irregular periods, anovulatory cycles (not ovulating), period pain, PMS mood changes, low libido, anxiety, stress, fatigue and trouble conceiving.
Fortunately, there are many natural ways to improve overall hormonal health and optimise fertility from the food you eat, to the environmental toxins you’re exposed to, the way you manage your stress and as you now know, to the way you exercise. It is all about nourishing yourself from the inside out.
Ema is a Degree Qualified Naturopath, Clinical Nutritionist and Certified Fertility Awareness Educator.
Emas mission is to help you understand your miraculous body's wisdom, find harmony with your hormones and optimise your fertility so you can live a more empowered, joyful life and truly thrive.
Ema supports women worldwide via online 1:1 consultations (https://www.emataylor.com/appointments) & helps couples consciously conceive with ease through her Fertile Foundations offering (https://www.emataylor.com/fertilefoundations).
You can connect with Ema over at @emataylornaturopathy
- The secret to optimized wellbeing, hormonal health and fertility is working with the ebb and flow of your hormones throughout the menstrual cycle, which means resting is just as important as getting your heart rate up.
- Take your time to ease into exercise after your period stops. Focusing on lower intensity pilates classes, walking, swimming and yin yoga.
- As you near ovulation and oestrogen is increasing you will feel your energy and power increase - you can now start to increase strength & high intensity training such as: higher intensity pilates classes, weights, boxing, spin classes, running and interval training.
- When ovulating, you can push yourself to your limits as you will recover and repair more efficiently. Focus on HIIT pilates, boxing, spin, cardio training and running.
- As oestrogen eases, progesterone rises and menstruation begins, the focus should be on slowing down, enjoy low intensity, stretch focused pilates, yin yoga, slow walks, tai chi and light swimming.