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Menstruation is a topic that is little talked about in the fitness world (or at all, if we’re totally honest), but it is something that a lot of us can relate to and let's be honest, it has a massive impact on our bodies.
For anyone out there who has periods, you will probably be able to remember that time you used your period as an excuse to miss swimming practice. Or that time you were in so much pain you forged your Mum’s signature on a note, so you could skip your PE class. You’ve probably had to ask a friend to check you from behind if you braved a pair of tight leggings, and chances are you’ve had an unexpected visit from mother nature.
Periods really do impact exercise and training, so much so Gymshark Central are exploring what being on your period means for your training programme and whether or not you should be working out when you’re on your period.
First up, what does science have to say on the topic?
Generally speaking, periods can be broken down into two phases.
First up is the Follicular Phase, during which your oestrogen stimulates follicle growth. The second phase is called the Luteal Phase. This happens just after you ovulate and continues until your body realises that you’re not going to be housing a little human this month. Then, it all starts again...
If you wanted to break this down even further, which is surprisingly relevant in terms of training, the first five days after the follicular phase are known as the menstrual phases (you know, the naff bit) and then in between the follicular phase and the luteal phase is ovulation. On average it takes about 28 days, but this can vary from person to person.
Cool. So, what does this all mean when it comes to training?
Well, you know that awful bit when you’ve got the cravings and the cramps and the last thing you want to do is go to the gym? Well, these hormonal changes that are going on give you boosts in pain tolerance and muscle recovery that can pay off when you want to make the gains. Handy, right?
It might not feel like it, but, in a fancy scientific study done way back in the 1990s, scientists found that there was no significant difference in muscle strength and fatigue during your period.
Delving a little deeper in the world of menstruation, when you’re at the start of your cycle you’re more insulin-sensitive as your oestrogen levels are higher. You then become less insulin-sensitive during the second half of your cycle when progesterone is higher.
When the body is more insulin-sensitive, it means you need less insulin to get fuel into cells. This basically means the body shifts to burning fatty acids for fuel more readily (which, according to science means low intensity, steady state cardio is the way to go at the start of your cycle), When your period starts, your oestrogen and progesterone levels drop, which means you can access glycogen a lot easier. Put simply; this hormone shift means you can get access to energy far quicker.
This means you should be able to push harder and get more out of HIIT workouts than you would during other times of the month.
All this is well and good and basically means you can tailor your training to work in harmony with your body and your hormones. Essentially, you can work out when you’re going to be stronger or better suited for endurance.
Not only are our bodies able to exercise during your period, but it also comes with a lot of benefits. Continuing with some form of exercise while on your period has been shown to help keep fatigue and those dreaded mood swings at bay. It can also help to offer relief from the stomach cramps due to the release of endorphins that comes from training – turns out our PE teachers might have been right after all.
When it comes down to the question of whether you are training when you’re on your period or whether you sit at home with a tub of ice cream and your good friend Netflix, there is a lot more than just science to consider. Tight leggings, squats and sanitary towels really aren’t the best of friends.
Add some crippling stomach cramps into the equation and clicking ‘continue watching’ for the 5th time that day starts to look a hell of a lot more appealing – we’re sure that a lot of you don’t need science to tell you that.
The question of whether you should train when you’re on your period is, therefore, a difficult one and does come down to personal preference. Want to go and smash a squat session? Go for it. Want to sit at home with a hot water bottle? You do you. However, what you should do is remember that periods are a natural bodily function and not something to be embarrassed about or make you feel like you are less capable.
You’ve got this.
What would your top tips be to help others feel more confident in the gym whilst on their period?
Let us know in the comments down below.