You’ve probably landed on this page because you’ve seen a lot of hype about cycle syncing aka cycling your workouts around your menstrual cycle. The idea is that by matching your exercise routine to your hormonal fluctuations, you can optimize your training and get better results.
The question: Is this really necessary and is cycling your workouts to your period going to get you better results? Or is this another trendy fitness myth?
Before we dive into if cycle syncing is necessary lets cover some basic education about the menstrual cycle and how it may be impacting your energy levels, workouts & nutrition needs.
There are 4 stages of your menstrual cycle.
The Follicular phase is typically the first 2 weeks of your menstrual cycle. The menstrual phase also occurs during this phase happening on D1-7. During this phase the follicle is developing which causes estrogen to rise. Progesterone remains low but steady.
When Estrogen is elevated & dominating over progesterone this is a prime time to build muscle & burn some fat which is why many people recommend strength training during the follicular phase. During the Follicular phase women should be able to train harder, eat a bit more due to the insulin sensitizing effects of estrogen, and not have as much stress due to the elevated levels of estrogen relative to progesterone. Hunger levels are also typically lower.
Then, the egg is released which signals the start of the next phase of your menstrual cycle, ovulation(around D14 in an average cycle). Hormone levels are at their peak here which can result in high energy.
After ovulation you move into the final stage of your menstrual cycle: The Luteal Phase. During this phase progesterone begins to steadily rise. Estrogen levels remain high but progesterone is slightly higher.
Progesterone does the opposite of what estrogen does. When progesterone is around women are a little more insulin resistant and are more stress reactive which is why hormone “gurus” and influencers suggest low impact exercise during the luteal phase. This is also where symptoms of PMS may occur as a result of hormone levels dropping.
So should you be cycling your workouts to your period?
Many are quick to say that your workout program needs to match these rising and falling hormone levels. You should only be strength training during the Follicular phase and during the Luteal phase you want to limit yourself to low impact exercise like walking & pilates. Fitness influencers & hormone “gurus” will claim that this is how you get the most “optimal” results.
But is that really the best choice? Should you cycle your workouts to your period?
Research suggests no…..and for a few reasons:
1. Results have been inconsistent across research studies and show no clear indication that any changes should be made based on your menstrual cycle.
A new systematic review pointed to no impact on strength related outcomes due to the menstrual cycle or such small differences that it was not likely to make a significant impact on training. Because of this, a conclusion can’t be made that fluctuating hormone levels & your menstrual cycle have an impact on strength related outcomes.
Research is also still inconclusive as to whether our hormones fluctuate enough within the cycle to really have any output or difference on resistance training
2. The benefits of following a strength training program uninterrupted far outweigh only strength training a few weeks out of the month.
When you look at the exercise recommendations for each period phase that cycle syncing is suggesting it becomes as follows:
Menstrual phase: light yoga, walking, rest
Follicular Phase: running, cycling, strength training
Ovulation phase: HIIT, heavy strength training
Luteal phase: light walking, pilates
This means only about TWO weeks of heavy strength training per month…not ideal.
It becomes quite difficult to build muscle & gain strength if you’re taking a few weeks off from lifting weights every month. You likely won’t be receiving adequate training volume to each muscle group to really stimulate growth.
We know that the best way to build muscle and gain strength is to follow a strength training program that applies the principle of progressive overload. Aka the program gets more difficult as time goes on by adding weights, sets, reps or another stimulus. It’s difficult to apply progressive overload if you’re taking a few weeks off from strength training each month. While adjustments during your period may be helpful(we’ll get to that in a minute). Taking weeks off and completely adjusting your training schedule will likely harm your strength gains more than it will help.
3. Menstrual Cycles aren’t created equal.
Adjusting your training to fit your menstrual cycle is assuming regulation in your cycle which isn’t always the case. Not every woman has a 28 day cycle & even cycles within the same woman can vary. This is why research surrounding how your menstrual cycle impacts training can be difficult. Unless you are monitoring body temperature, hormone levels, etc on a daily basis it’s difficult to know with 100% certainty which days you’re in each menstrual phase. Because of this, you’re changing training styles based on assumptions rather than fact, which isn’t the best strategy.
In addition, not every woman experiences the same level of intensity & symptoms when it comes to their cycles. You could very well experience minimal or no changes to your energy levels & training output during different menstrual phases. Adjusting your training schedule to account for changes that may not even happen is leaving a lot of strength & muscle gain opportunities on the table.
Because of all of the above I can’t say in support of the research that you SHOULD cycle your workouts to your period.
What can you do instead of syncing your workouts to your menstrual cycle?
Adjust your workouts as needed and listen to YOUR body. A blanket suggestion of completely changing your training style every few weeks isn’t very smart. But, since each woman's menstrual cycle & symptoms are often different, it can be smart to identify what you need during each phase of your cycle.
Your body is not in as much flux and you’re not as fragile as a lot of these hormone guru’s and influencers would lead you to believe. You can handle more intense workouts throughout your entire menstrual cycle.
This is where utilizing an RPE scale during your training can be helpful. During low energy periods of your cycle an 8 RPE could be achieved with a lower weight than a different week. Use the RPE scale to adjust your training as needed to account for these monthly changes rather than throwing strength training out the window for a few weeks each month.
But if you’re feeling lower energy during your period it may be helpful to use lighter weight and not push RPE. You could also adjust your nutrition and calories to better account for increased cravings & increased energy needs.
These are small changes I make with my online coaching clients on an individual basis. Many women require no changes to their training or nutrition during their period.
Rather than cycle synching I recommend staying the course and focusing on remaining very consistent. If changes need to be made in the future or month to month, make them! But no need for blanket changes or to completely ditch strength training for an entire month.
I hope you now have a better understanding of why cycling your workouts to your period aren’t necessary and aren’t actually getting you the most “optimal” results. If you have any questions on anything in this article please shoot me an email or a DM and I’d love to help.
Thanks for being here!
XOXO - Coach B