Feel good fitness: Your guide to cycle syncing workouts

Fitness & Sports Health

by Gillian Koskie

May 7, 2024

Moving your body each day is an incredibly important part of your health and wellness. But have you noticed that on some days you feel full of energy and on others you can’t face heading to the gym? It may be related to your menstrual cycle.

This is where an approach called “cycle syncing” comes in, where you adjust your choice of exercise or even cycle sync your diet based on your menstrual cycle. But what is it and how can it impact your workout routines?

What is cycle syncing?

Cycle syncing is the practice of altering your health and lifestyle routines in relation to which stage of your menstrual cycle you are in, and the hormonal changes that come with each phase. Your body requires different levels of energy through the menstrual cycle in preparation to either ovulate or menstruate.

The benefits of cycle syncing your workouts

Knowing which part of your menstrual cycle you are in and syncing that to your workouts can help you have a better mind-body connection, thus optimizing your workouts and recovery. It can also help with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause symptoms.

Depending on which part of the cycle you are in and the level of energy you have, you can shift your focus to either rest and recovery or higher-intensity workouts.

Menstrual phases

The menstrual cycle is made up of four distinctive phases. Although the exact timings vary from person to person, it takes place over 28–35 days:

  • Menstruation (days 1-5): Your levels of estrogen and progesterone drop as the uterus sheds its lining. This is when menstrual bleeding happens.
  • Follicular Phase (days 6-14): In this phase, ovarian follicles develop and produce estrogen, stimulating the thickening of the uterine lining to prepare for the egg release.
  • Ovulation (day 14): This phase occurs around mid-cycle when estrogen levels peak and ovulation occurs.
  • Luteal Phase (days 15-28): Your body produces progesterone to prepare the uterine lining for a potential fertilized egg. If this doesn’t occur, your body will start to get ready for menstruation.

How to cycle sync your workouts

By understanding when your energy levels are either high or low due to hormonal changes, you can adjust your exercise routine for the best results.

How to track your cycle

You can start to track your cycle with a simple calendar and by paying attention to any symptoms or changes you may feel throughout the month. There are also many apps and tools out there that can help you understand which phase you’re currently in.

How to plan your exercise routine by each menstrual phase

The core philosophy of cycle syncing is adjusting your workout routine by each phase. Your energy is highest during the follicular phase (due to a rise of estrogen levels), so focusing on higher-intensity workouts during this time will allow you to gain the most from your workout.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can prioritize rest, recovery and low-intensity exercise during your luteal phase, when your body may already be telling you it’s time to slow down, instead of trying to power through.

Listen to your body during your cycle

Chances are, what works for you throughout one cycle may not work the next. While syncing your lifestyle to your menstrual cycle, it is important to listen to your body. Our bodies require substantial energy to support each cycle stage and the hormonal changes that come with each. Give yourself grace and allow yourself downtime when you are not feeling your best.

Being in tune with the changes that are happening within you can help curb the “guilt” that many women feel when they skip the gym or indulge in a sweet treat, as you will understand why you innately want or need that. Balance and grace are key!

Listening to your body will help you maintain more consistency with your workout routine and prevent burnout, which often occurs when we force ourselves through an intense workout despite our body’s best efforts at telling us not to.

Monitor and adjust your routine

Tracking not only your menstrual cycle but also your mood, symptoms and habits throughout the month can help you pinpoint any areas where you may need to scale back, or vice versa. You also may feel more in tune with yourself and realize you feel okay to still lift weights or go for a run despite menstruating, and that’s great too!

Every cycle varies, so tuning into your body's cues is key. It helps you regain control of your lifestyle and feel your best.

Cycle syncing workouts and tips

If you are someone who doesn’t want to change the type of workout you are doing with each stage of your cycle, you can also adjust your routine in small ways. If you love to lift weights and still want to do so even on lower energy days, consider decreasing the weight and opting for higher repetitions rather than lower repetitions and heavier weights, which would require more exertion.

Another important consideration when cycle syncing is to be patient. It may take a few cycles for you to notice some patterns in your body and get into a rhythm with your new workout changes. This is when listening to your body is key before being able to “predict” how you are going to feel on a certain part of the month.

What workouts to choose with each menstrual phase

When your period starts, the hormones estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest, which means lower energy levels and therefore strength. While some people find that exercising while on their period helps alleviate symptoms like cramping, it can also be beneficial to allow your body to rest during this time, due to the natural feeling of tiredness and lack of motivation.

Exercises that can decrease the intensity of menstrual cramps and reduce bloating include:

Follicular phase

After your period passes, you may notice you are starting to feel more energized and motivated. This will likely allow you to exercise at higher intensities and improve your overall fitness during the second half of this stage of the cycle.

Take advantage of this energy with some of these exercises:

  • Running
  • Strength training
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

Ovulatory phase

Ovulation usually takes place once a month, about two weeks before your next period and is typically a 24–36-hour window. Estrogen and progesterone levels are at their highest now, so you will likely feel strong, energized and happy. This can allow you to place an increased effort in your workouts, improving overall fitness and strength. Good exercise options include:

  • Cycling
  • Jogging
  • Hiking

Luteal phase

The final stage of the menstrual cycle is the luteal phase. Similarly to menstruation, this is likely a time when rest and recovery could be prioritized due to the lower hormone levels, which cause a decrease in energy. This is when you will experience pre-menstrual cycle symptoms, such as mood swings, cravings, low back pain and cramping.

With low energy levels, it may be beneficial to partake in lower-intensity exercise such as:

  • Yoga
  • Mobility or functional training
  • Going on a light walk

Cycle syncing workouts during perimenopause and menopause

Cycle syncing can be especially beneficial for women going through perimenopause due to the unpredictability of periods as you start to enter menopause. Estrogen levels will begin to drop, leaving you feeling tired and unmotivated. If you’re experiencing perimenopause, focus on shifting your exercise routines toward more low-intensity style workouts such as:

  • Light walking or jogging
  • Pilates
  • Yoga

Is cycle syncing the best approach for you?

Listening to your body is never a bad thing. If you’re looking to enjoy different exercises throughout the month that are in tune with your body, cycle syncing your workouts could not only improve any side effects of the menstrual cycle but also move you closer to your fitness goals.

Looking for more advice on your health and wellness routine? Subscribe to the weekly Scrubbing In newsletter today.

About the Author

Gillian Koskie is an exercise physiologist at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center — Fort Worth.

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