Women experience much more frequent hormone fluctuations compared to men, impacting their workouts. Cycle syncing is part of a larger equation that entails food, movement, supportive relationships, as well as spiritual and emotional balance.
February 5, 2022
If you have researched how to lose weight, you were probably told that early morning workouts were the most effective way to shed those pounds
However, this advice are based on the of the male body and their hormone cycle
For men, each day is the same. Testosterone levels peak in the morning, and so does their ideal workout time. For them, the goal would be to fit as much as possible into the first half of the day before their testosterone and energy levels decline later in the day.
Women run on a 28 day cycle and hormonal pattern. The idea that we should workout at the same time each day, and with the same intensity can lead to avoidable problems
Yet, we are taught to think this is optimal
While it is okay to workout first thing in the morning during our Follicular and Ovulatory phases, it is better to meditate and ease into your day during the Luteal and Menstrual Phases.
We are able to use our energy much more efficiently, and don’t need to rush ourselves to fit everything into the first half of the day. There is simply no need, and it is better for our health and hormones to wait until later in the day
image from @SYD
Research states that women in the luteal phase (the second half of the 28-day cycle) fatigue faster during workouts and require increased recovery time. For this reason, you should implement higher intensity workouts during your follicular phase (the first half of your cycle) and save gentler movement practices, like yoga, for the luteal phase.
Lower intensity workouts in the first half of your cycle and higher intensity workouts in the other
We know from another study that a woman’s resting metabolic rate (also known as our basal metabolic rate) decreases during the follicular phase, reaching its lowest point one week before ovulation. Utilizing high intensity workouts in this phase serves as a positive counterbalance to a slower metabolism.
image from @tatumcreighton
How should you schedule your workouts? You should do high intensity exercise during the first half of your cycle. Your metabolism is naturally slower during the first half of your cycle and HIIT training will help increase it.
Who Should Try Cycle Syncing?
Anyone can benefit from cycle syncing, but it’s most successfully used to help those who:
- have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Experience crashes in energy during their periods
- are training extensively for an upcoming athletic event or competition
Results can certainly vary. If you’re struggling with PMS or infertility, I suggests discussing it with your doctor.
How to Get Started?
Learning how to get started with cycle syncing is the first step in optimizing your exercise routine. Women's wellness consultant Clare Rodea-Ryan states “The first step is to get in touch with your body and bring awareness to where you are in your cycle or ‘ your inner season’”.
It’s crucial if you’ve recently stopped using hormonal birth control, which throws on your natural hormonal rhythms.
This is important because your cycle stage can dramatically effect your performance. Stacy Sims is a PhD and leading global expert on female exercise physiology. She references a case report on middle distance runner Jessica Judd. She states, “Take mid-distance runner Jessica Judd: In 2018, she discovered that her 3000m time could vary by as much as 15 secs depending on what stage she was at in her menstrual cycle.” That's the difference between first and last place”!
1) Observe and track your Cycle
“Start with observation, then begin to track your cycle” - Clare
“Take note of what foods you’re craving or what your energy levels are like at different times of the month.” says Clare
You’ll also need to understand the length of your menstrual cycle. You can discover the length by using a period-tracking app like MyFLO, CLUE, Eve or simply mark the first day of your period on a calendar, and track the days until your next period begins. Stay consistent with this method for several months and you should have a good understanding of the length of your cycle.
2) Match your calorie intake
While the Cycle Syncing Method is a great tool to help guide your exercise plan, Vitti thinks you shouldn't let it completely dominate your life. She states, “Drop the perfectionism and instead embrace becoming dynamic and responsive. Listen to your body, track your cycle, track your symptoms, notice how you feel in each phase, notice how doing certain activities makes you feel in each phase, and reclaim the healthy relationship with yourself and your body you are supposed to have.”
3) Plan your exercise routine around your cycle
If you have a type-A personality like myself, you’ve probably already marked up your calendar and have already started scheduling next month’s workouts. Functional nutritionist Alissa Vitti is an expert on cycle syncing and the author of womencode.
image by @Gloria
Planning your exercise routine around your cycle acts as a cheat code for your metabolism. Vitti strongly believes in this and says “Your metabolism changes speed and your resting cortisol levels change in a cyclical pattern, since they are not the same every day, it makes no sense to eat the same amount of calories or do the same workout types or intensity each day. You want to match your caloric intake, workout type, and intensity with each phase of your cycle so you can optimize the use of stored fat as fuel and build lean muscle more efficiently.” Cycle syncing allows you to feel and perform at your best.
DAYS 1 TO 7: LOW-INTENSITY WORKOUTS
YOUR TRAINING: Gentle Yoga, Low-intensity swimming, pilates, walking
- This type of training reduces built up tension and alleviate symptoms by doing an activity that makes you happy
- Try muscle activating weight training workouts with moderate intensity to prepare for the next phase of your cycle.
- Recovery is critical during this phase because of increased inflammation
You have the least amount of energy at the start of your period, so listen to your body by setting aside time for sleep and self care.
For a few days focus on yoga, pilates and walking. Low intensity swimming such as the breaststroke is also a great option during this time. When you sense your energy levels starting to increase return, you can increase intensity again as this can be a great time to utilize the benefits of strength training and HIIT.
DAYS 8 TO 13: INTENSE TRAINING
YOUR TRAINING: HIIT classes, heavy strength training, hills and sprints
- Your body can handle the load of intense training during this phase so go for it.
- Ensure you warm up properly because rising progesterone levels may increase the risk of injury
- Your strength levels peaks in this phase but don't neglect your recovery
It's all about speed and power in this phase. Plan for high-intensity workouts and heavy weight training as testosterone and estrogen levels increase. Grueling workouts will make you feel happy and refreshed at this stage.
This is also an opportunity to try something new. HIIT classes, heavy strength training, all-out efforts, hills and sprints should feel rewarding and improve your mood. This is a great time of the month to shoot for personal bests on your lifts
DAYS 14 TO 21: ENDURANCE TRAINING
YOUR TRAINING: walking, stairmaster, long and easy run
- Keep cardio sessions at a light conversational pace
- Focus on stregnth and endurance during this phase
This is a great time to focus on strength and endurance because your energy is at maximum levels here during your 28 day cycle. Your hormone levels align perfectly for fat to be used as fuel, be sure to incorporate LISS (Low-Intensity Steady State) training, such as walking and the stairmaster. Focus on resistance exercises also. Long, easy runs or hikes in the hills are great options for cardio during this phase.
In order to ensure you’re using body fat for fuel instead of muscle glycogen, keep cardio sessions at a light, conversational pace. You should be slightly out of breath, but able to go for quite a while and still talk in unbroken sentences.
DAYS 22 TO 28: HIGH-INTENSITY WORKOUTS UNTIL ENERGY DROPS
YOUR TRAINING: High intensity workouts and Low intensity workouts
- Listen to your body and customize your workout
- keep high-intensity workouts until your energy level drops
- Prioritize technique and emphasize your form
Looking to burn fat? This phase is it!
You’ll want to start slowly decreasing your exercise load during this phase. Your energy levels will remain high in the beginning of this phase, so you could keep the high-intensity workouts until your energy levels begin to decrease. During the last five days your energy levels decrease, this is when you should move your focus to lower intensity lower-resistance workouts. Yoga, pilates or walking are good examples. Prioritize technique, emphasizing your form. Customize your workout for the day based on your energy levels and be sure to listen to your body.
Cycle Syncing Cheat Sheet
This calendar is a great example to follow and get an idea of how to create your own workout schedule!
For decades, mainstream fitness advice has been telling women that they need to train the same way as men in order to lose weight and build their best body. The problem is that women have a 28 day hormone cycle while men have a 24 hour hormone cycle. Cycle syncing is the term used to describe matching your workout plan and diet with the phase of your cycle. The four phases are the menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulatory phase, and luteal phase. These phases all lead to different hormone balances and require different methods of training in order to feel your best.
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