For many women, there’s a time of the month when the only acceptable workout is a Netflix marathon. Crying through two whole seasons of Downton Abbey has to burn some calories, right?

Hey, we’re not here to judge! But you may be surprised to learn that those pesky period hormones can actually boost your workout results. By working with your natural cycle, you can not only minimize the bummers of the menstrual roller coaster, but unlock some powerful hidden benefits of hormone swings. After all, it’s about time you got some period perks!

Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Workouts

Ever finished one of your favorite workouts and wondered why it felt much easier or harder than usual? You might thank your hormones. Research has indicated that each stage of the menstrual cycle has specific effects on muscle strength, fatiguability, flexibility, and soreness. In other words, certain types of activities become easier or harder depending on which stage of your cycle you’re in.

This is just one more good reason to keep track of your period on a calendar. Once you get to know your body’s regular monthly phases, you can work with them to enhance the ease and effectiveness of your workouts. Not only will you know when it’s all right to take it easy, but you’ll be able to take advantage of hidden hormone surges to boost your workout results. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!

Ovulation Boosts Your Strength

It’s no surprise that your menstrual cycle affects your strength, but did you know the effects can actually be positive? Studies show that women see an increase of up to 11 percent in quadriceps and handgrip strength during ovulation, roughly midway between periods. Researchers believe the power boost is related to the surge in estrogen coinciding with that phase of the cycle.

So mark your calendar for the 13th day after the start of your period, and use the next few days to hit those weights! You might find strength training to be much easier than usual, so take advantage.

There’s a caveat, of course. High estrogen levels have also been linked to increased muscle pliability, particularly in the hamstrings, which could have an influence on knee injuries. So before you hit those weights, be sure to take extra care to warm up your joints and muscles with some light squats and lunges.

Dealing with the Dark Days

After the estrogen high wears off is when you may start to feel those clouds a-gathering. In the days leading up to your period, estrogen levels fall while progesterone soars. Thanks to this awkward mix, you may be more sensitive to heat thanks to a delayed sweat response. You might also struggle with high-intensity workouts as your metabolism turns to burning fat instead of carbs, which yields a slower release of energy. Not to mention the cramps, bloating, fatigue and irritability that might have you wanting to hide under a rock.

But the fact is, if you can make it to the gym, you’ll probably be glad you did. Hormonal fluctuations don’t really impact endurance levels, so there’s no reason to let PMS disrupt your routine. Plan ahead for the week before your period by firmly scheduling your workouts and preparing meals ahead of time to help fight the decrease in motivation. If workouts are still a challenge, try opting for more relaxing activities, like a nice head-clearing jog or some soothing yoga moves. But if you’re really feeling too under the weather to cope, don’t be afraid to take a break! If your mind and body are begging you to chill, then by all means, chill.

Use Your Period for Power Workouts

During your period, estrogen levels are at their lowest, and you may still be feeling fatigued, bloated, and sore. But fear not! This is when your body starts to burn those carbs again, and burn them hard. That means your fuel levels will be back to normal for your workout, so you won’t feel as drained as in the days before your period. In fact, you’re likely to feel an extra boost!

This is where you can really reap the benefits of your menstrual cycle. “Despite fatigue and muscle soreness, fast workouts are ideal and may feel easier on these days,” says Ohio physician and hormone and fitness specialist Rob Kominiarek. “This is the time to train and make gains in your fitness regimen.” In other words, use the week of your period for high-energy workouts. Schedule some high-intensity interval training, an intense spin class, or some major cardio.

Work with Your Cycle

The main lesson here is to work with your cycle. Don’t let your period trick you out of missing out on the benefits of fitness. Instead, try going with the flow and taking hormones into account as you approach your workouts. And, of course, remember to relax! Hormones affect your mind as well as your body, and emotional wellness is just as important as cardio when you’re feeling under the weather. If you really can’t bring yourself to crawl to the gym, run a hot bath and light some candles instead. Sometimes the best way to be well is just to take it easy.

Do you usually take it easy on the exercise when you’re on your period? Tell us in the comments section below!

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