Cycle Syncing your Workouts: What does this mean and is it worth doing?

TikTok is not somewhere I’d expect to learn about new health trends in 2023 but here we are, and now I’m fascinated with cycling syncing! A concept developed by Alisa Vitti has taken Gen Z and Millennials by storm on TikTok. I actually met Alisa at a dinner this past Spring and her original concept is that we as women should be tailoring our fitness and nutrition to our menstrual cycles based on our hormones. 

Most of the fitness, health, and diet research we’ve been relying on for decades was based on sample groups entirely made of men and postmenopausal women. Why? Because often women were banned from participating at all, and when menstruating women participated they complicated the results so those data sets were just thrown out. 

Women’s bodies are not the same day to day, or even week to week! This could explain why one day you have a GREAT run and the next week it feels like you’re jogging through sand. The stereotypical suggestions society has accepted in the past don’t work for anyone with a menstrual cycle. So, what can you do to work with your body instead of against it?

Before we dive into what exactly “Cycle Syncing for your Fitness Routine” is… 

Let’s take a moment to review the four phases of the female hormonal cycle:

  • Menstrual: Most of us are fairly familiar with our menstrual phase, a.k.a. our period. This phase ranges from at least days 1-3 of your cycle, up to days 1-8, depending on your unique cycle. This is the period of time when you’re actively bleeding. During this phase progesterone, estrogen, LH (luteinizing hormone), and testosterone are in low supply; your body instead produces FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone, to help grow and mature the egg that will be released this cycle. You may feel low in energy at the beginning of menstruation, with a slight rise in energy around days 3-5 as you move into the follicular phase and your estrogen levels begin to rise.
  • Follicular: This is the period of time after you’ve stopped bleeding but before you’ve entered your fertility window, typically ranging from around days 3-9, up to days 6-11. During this phase estrogen increases and FSH begins to decrease; this is associated with an increase in energy. Around days 8-11 you may notice your energy and mood has increased quite a bit since the beginning of this phase.
  • Ovulatory: This is your fertility window, including the four days before ovulation, the day of ovulation, and the day after ovulation. In a traditional model of the female hormonal cycle, ovulation occurs on day 14 of 28, however both the length of cycle and day of ovulation will vary from woman to woman and even cycle to cycle. Typically an ovulatory phase will be days 10-15, but can be anywhere from days 7-12 to days 16-21. In a healthy cycle ovulation should occur sometime between day 11 and day 20. During this time estrogen, LH, FSH, and testosterone all spike; this is when you will be your most energetic– you actually need less sleep and calories here than in the rest of your cycle! Your basal body temperature will also rise right before ovulation and remain higher throughout the rest of your cycle, cooling off during your menstrual phase.
  • Luteal: This phase lasts from the end of your fertility window to the first day of your period. The luteal phase should last between 11-16 days, and a normal cycle should last between 25-32 days. Typically, if someone has a shorter cycle they also have a shorter luteal phase and vice versa. During this time progesterone increases, peaks, and decreases. Estrogen drops off sharply after ovulation, then has a smaller rise, peak, and fall in line with progesterone. FSH, on the other hand, decreases until it reaches its lowest point in your cycle, then begins to gradually increase. Meanwhile, testosterone abruptly falls after ovulation, and gradually rises throughout the rest of this phase. Because of the length of the luteal phase and the amount of hormonal variation, you’ll notice the most mental and emotional changes throughout this time. The beginning will feel similar to your ovulatory phase, with higher energy. In the middle of your luteal phase you’ll often have a medium amount of energy, and by the end you’ll have the lowest amount of energy in your cycle. During the mid and late luteal phase you actually need more than 8 hours of sleep and around 100-200 more calories daily!

So, what does this mean for exercise routines?

Your body isn’t the same week to week, so your workout routine shouldn’t be either! 

To optimize your exercise, work with your hormones to take advantage of the benefits of each phase instead of fighting to do the same thing every day and ending up burned out and discouraged. 

Each phase isn’t independent of the others. 

Your hormones gradually rise and fall throughout your cycle, meaning the end of your luteal phase looks a lot like the beginning of your menstrual phase, the end of your menstrual phase looks like the beginning of your follicular phase, and so on. So just because you’ve exited your fertile window doesn’t mean you have to immediately dive into late luteal cycle exercises. It can actually work best to stagger your workouts with each phase if that feels best to you. 

It’s important to listen to your body– if you feel up to a certain workout, go for it! Just remember to take the phase you’re currently in into account and make the necessary adjustments as you go.

So, what types of exercise are best for which days of your cycle.

Days 24-3 (Late Luteal and Early Menstrual): This is your “valley” in energy. It’s also prime time for PMS and feeling not great. Now is when you should focus on recovery from the past weeks and prepare for the upcoming weeks. Low intensity activities like yoga, swimming, long walks, barre, biking, simple strength training, and even just resting for a day or two are best for this time. Make sure to pay attention to your body, take breaks when you need to, stay well hydrated, and do a proper cool down to your workouts. My mental health needs movement during this phase so be sure not to skip your workouts to lift your mood. 

Days 4-9 (Late Menstrual and Follicular): This is your “uphill” in energy and muscle-building capabilities. Now is the time to increase intensity; HIIT workouts, mid to high weight strength training, and anaerobic cardio like running, dancing, and boxing are perfect for this period of time. Remember to warm up well.

Days 10-15 (Ovulatory): This is your “peak” in energy and strength. If you’re trying to break personal records, now is probably the time to do it– grab the heavy weights and try to hit a new PR, work on your sprints, try to run longer, hit harder, or go all in on that crossfit class. 

Some women might feel cramping pains or bloating during their ovulatory phase. If this is the case for you, instead shift this type of training to days 9-11 and days 16-19 and do lower intensity workouts like those recommended during days 24-3. Remember, the most important part of cycle syncing is to listen to your body!

Days 16-23 (Early Luteal): This is your “downhill” in energy and strength, but a peak for endurance! Your body has increased in temperature, so avoid hot workout environments, drink plenty of water, and aim for aerobic exercises. This phase is great for moderate to low intensity exercise over a longer period of time, like bike rides, hiking, light weights with a high number of repetitions, strength yoga, and swimming. Make sure to eat enough and take longer breaks, as your body uses more energy and needs more rest in the luteal phase.

Quick recap:

  • Menstrual phase: Low to moderate-intensity exercises are the best for the body. Restorative workouts to care for the body while hormone levels are at their lowest.
  • Follicular Phase: Moderate intensity workouts are best for the body as energy levels should be higher as ovulation is around the corner.
  • Ovulatory Phase: Estrogen and testosterone are surging so the body is capable of being most active!
  • Luteal Phase: Moderate or high-intensity workouts are encouraged, energy levels should be fairly consistent thanks to that progesterone. Metabolism and progesterone levels are peaking in the Luteal Phase. 

This is meant to serve as a general guideline for cycle syncing; the exact days will vary depending on the individual’s hormones. The most important part of cycle syncing is to become more in tune with your body and to work with your natural systems to achieve your goals. You don’t have to do or not do a specific activity because of the phase you’re in, but rather you have the freedom of knowing you won’t be the same everyday and it makes sense to adjust things according to your needs! Consistency for menstruating women should look like the moon – a little different every day, but hitting the same places with each cycle. Take the shame and frustration out of exercise by following the natural rhythms of your body.

Cycle Syncing and the FASTer Way

As a FASTer Way to Fat Loss coach, my clients perform HIIT workouts Monday and Tuesday. We strength train Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. So how do I recommend my clients lean into cycle syncing while also as a client in the FASTer Way? 

During your Menstrual phase, focus on your mental health and be kind to yourself. If you need an extra rest day, take it! Try yoga instead of one of the HIIT days. Practice meditation. Do shorter workouts. If you love your Peloton, instead of a 30 minute ride, just do 20. Go for a long walk and get outside for an extra dose of Vitamin D. This is also the “PMS” phase and first few days of your period, so have grace mentally with yourself. Have the chocolate! On these days, I often don’t feel like working out. Just put on your clothes and a good playlist and start your workout. You will feel better by the end and glad you started! 

During your Follicular Phase, follow our strength and HIIT programming as suggested! Easy, peasy!  

During your Ovulatory Phase, this is the time to go for a PR when it comes to strength training. Go for the heavier weights! For HIIT workouts, feel free to do a 30-45 minute Peloton Run, Cycle, Tread of Bike bootcamp to take things up a notch. Be sure to add in the cool down after your workouts prescribed if you have the time. On recovery days, feel free to do yoga, barre, easy outdoor run or long walk to take advantage of that energy.

During your Luteal Phase, feel free to follow our programming but utilize our resting periods taking full advantage. Go at your own pace. If HIIT is not your thing, feel free to swap out for a longer lower moderate intensity cardio like biking or swimming. 

Interested to learn more? Check out Alisa’s book here – WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source

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