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If you’re someone who has to get your period regularly, you probably already know how your energy levels can change during your cycle due to hormonal fluctuations. Not only can this make the simplest of daily challenges difficult, it can also make it more difficult to stay motivated to stay fit and stick to your regular training routine, especially when you notice a drop in your performance.
However, according to some popular information on social media, a technique called “synchronization cycle” can help you avoid feeling like that.
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The premise of cycle synchronization is relatively simple. Instead of doing the same type of exercise throughout the month, you instead organize your exercise according to the current phase of your menstrual cycle. Some women also go further and adjust their diet for each stage as well. The claim is that, by doing this, it can help “balance” your hormones – which can lead to a range of health benefits, including better energy levels, fewer PMS symptoms and overall better health.
But while evidence suggests that certain phases of your menstrual cycle may be optimal for different types of exercise, there’s currently no evidence to suggest cycle alignment has any benefits beyond making it easier to stay fit. Not to mention that actually managing to execute the correct cycle synchronization may be easier said than done.
The menstrual cycle can be divided into four phases: menstrual, follicular, luteal and pre-menstrual. The concentration of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone changes with each phase.
During the menstrual phase (menstruation), estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels. But as you move into the follicular phase, estrogen begins to increase. In the luteal phase, which immediately follows, the concentration of progesterone also begins to increase. Both hormones reach their peak at the end of the luteal phase, before dropping dramatically during the pre-menstrual phase (days 25-28 of the average cycle).
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Research shows that because of these hormones, certain phases of your menstrual cycle are optimized for different types of exercise.
For example, the luteal phase can be an ideal time for strength training because it increases estrogen and progesterone. Research shows there is an increase in strength and endurance during this phase. Energy expenditure (calories burned) and energy intake are also greater during the luteal phase, along with a decrease in body mass. You may also find you feel more energetic and able to exercise during this phase. The concentration of hormones in the luteal phase can also promote the greatest muscle changes.
The follicular phase also shows some increases in strength, energy expenditure and energy intake – albeit to a lesser extent.
But when progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest levels during your period (menstrual phase), you’ll see fewer changes when it comes to building muscle. There is also a greater chance that you will feel fatigued due to low hormone levels, as well as loss of menstrual blood. This can be a good time to consider adjusting your training, focusing on lower intensity exercises (like yoga) and prioritizing your recovery.
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So based on how your hormones change during each phase of your menstrual cycle, if you want to improve your strength and fitness, you may want to plan your most intense workouts for the follicular and luteal phases to get the biggest benefits.
This all looks great, and you might wonder why more women aren’t following this trend. But the answer is that everything can be very good.
While the reported response is happening, actually implementing all of this is easier said than done. First, most research on the effects of the menstrual cycle on fitness assumes that the cycle has a regular 28-day pattern. But 46% of women have cycle lengths that fluctuate by around seven days – with a further 20% showing fluctuations of up to 14 days. This means that the regular cycle is different for everyone.
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The second key assumption is that progesterone and estrogen responses, which cause changes in fitness, remain. But this is often not the case, because both estrogen and progesterone show great variation between cycles and from person to person. Some women are also deficient in estrogen and progesterone due to certain health conditions. These responses make it difficult to track cycle phases by monitoring hormones alone – and accurately synchronizing them is also very difficult.
So while the idea of synchronizing your menstrual cycle with exercise seems logical, the results everyone sees can vary. But if you want to give it a try, a period tracker app – along with the use of ovulation test strips and temperature monitoring – can help you understand the stage of your menstrual cycle.
This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues that affect us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of starting a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and answers before navigating this tumultuous period of life.