You know how sometimes you do a workout and it feels great? Like, you are freakin’ Wonder Woman and totally unstoppable?
And then other days — despite eating well, sleeping enough, not overtraining and keeping your stress levels down — your legs just feel like lead or you just have no energy?
Well, I decided to do a little sleuthing on my own. To see if — after reading this interesting article on Women’s Health — my hormones and my cycle played a role.
Because that bad-workout-for-no-reason thing is not fun. And if there’s a hormonal reason, well, I’d like to get to the bottom of it so that I can work with my body instead of against it. Here’s what I found …
(And let us all remember that “normal” cycles can vary in length, so this was just my experience with my body — and just one month. I’m not a scientist. I just pretend to act like one on the internet.)
The science: Estrogen and progesterone are low and you’re on your period. But, despite the cramps, you’ve got a higher pain tolerance and your muscles recover more quickly.
My workouts: Over that first week I did a mix of workouts — a few hour-long Orangetheory Fitness (OTF) classes, a short but super hard HIIT session and a 90-minute OTF. Overall, I felt really great in the workouts — particularly early in the week. In the 60-minute OTF classes I had the energy and drive to go hard and the HIIT workout was tough but it felt good to push hard. The 90-minute OTF class though? I bonked hard at the half-way point and didn’t recover until almost the end of the class.
Conclusion: You really should work out when you’re on your period. Even if you don’t want to, it’ll most likely feel pretty good.
The science: Testosterone levels are up and it’s easier to build muscle, so weight training is a good choice.
My experience: This week I did a CrossFit workout of push-ups and pull-ups mostly, plus a few OTF classes. And you know what? I crushed the CrossFit WOD and felt so solid and great. The OTF classes though? Although I generally felt good on the rower and when using dumbbells and the TRX, I had heavy tired legs when running. In fact, I’d never been more excited to get off the treadie in my life.
Conclusion: Yup, the science holds for me in week two. (Off to make a note to lift heavier this week of my cycle … )
The science: It’s ovulation time! And, therefore, estrogen peaks, which can help your body to use fat for workouts. This make steady state cardio workouts ideal.
My experience: Let me first say that I generally ovulate a bit later than day 14, so take that into consideration, but I generally felt pretty “normal” this week. I did some Tabata early in the week and it felt good but not great (which makes some sense since Tabata is pretty much the opposite of steady state cardio), and my OTF classes (including both a 60- and 90-minute class) felt very doable but not fantastic.
Conclusion: For me, I wouldn’t say this week either lived up to the expectation or contradicted it. So, more study needed.
The science: We all know this one well. It’s PMS time, baby. Progesterone drops and you feel like a crazy person. Although there’s no scientific reason not to work out, basically, you’d rather crawl up and watch TV.
My experience: Like the other weeks, I did a mix of CrossFit workouts and OTF plus some walking (I always enjoy walking when I’m PMSing). I did take an extra day off this week because I just didn’t feel like it but the workouts I did make it to felt okay. Like, I wasn’t super pumped but I was glad I did them. I found the short and mildly intense ones to feel best — not too tough and not too long.
Conclusion: Science has it right. PMS sucks and totally messes with your motivation.
I’m already pretty aware of my cycle for fertility reasons, but this was pretty eye-opening when it came to my workouts. I’d never linked them before. And now, the next time I do a workout and wonder: why did that rock so much or suck so bad? I’m going to check where I am in my cycle. AND, depending on what my workout goals are, I’m going to hone in on my timing a bit more. Because you know what? Science is cool. Way cool.
Anyone else ever do this? Or will you try tracking your cycle and workouts together, too, to see if there’s any rhyme or reason for you? I plan to do it another month or two … especially to figure out week three! —Jenn