The derby community is largely made up of people who menstruate, and as a trainer, I often get questions related to how to adjust for or work around one’s period. The most common questions are related to workouts themselves, but some people have concerns about other things that affect their workouts like sleep, energy levels, and appetites. Based on the most common questions and concerns I’ve ever had to address, I put on my habit coaching hat to explain what I believe are the four most important habits one can implement in order prevent menstruation from derailing your workout routine.
Often, when we think of how menstruation affects workouts, we think of those first 2-3 days of a period, and maybe the few days before if we have noticeable PMS symptoms. However, it’s possible that our energy levels, appetites, mood, sleep habits and weight may change throughout the month, so it’s a good idea to keep track of those things to make an easier time of picking up on patterns that may affect one’s workouts or results. If you already journal regularly, you can keep a separate journal for this or just make a small section before or after each journal entry to jot a few words down about each potentially impacted category:
If you don’t journal at all or don’t journal regularly and keeping track every day proves to be challenging, start by tracking the 5-7 days before your period. I recommend starting with the week before, because most of us are less likely to remember the details of what we experience on those days than what we experience once our period starts. Then you can add the week of your period and then all days throughout the month. Keep in mind that since this is a monthly occurrence, it may take a few months to build this as a consistent habit and/ or start noticing patterns.
Journaling may also help with prevention of certain PMS symptoms or minimization of their impact. Record not only what you experience but also if anything helps alleviate symptoms or conditions. This way, if you notice, for example, that you start sleeping poorly 3-5 days before your period starts, but drinking a certain type of tea helps you get to sleep and stay asleep, you can automatically start the habit of drinking the tea on the night of the 5th day before your next period instead of realizing at 2am that you can’t get to sleep and THEN doing something about it.
Because of how we may be affected by menstruation, it’s important to develop a habit of being compassionate to one’s self so that we can look at our behavior changes in response to menstruation as necessary adjustments in response to our condition as opposed to beating ourselves up for not being disciplined or working hard enough.
For those of us that have goals that are related to or impacted by our diet, we might feel like we’re sabotaging ourselves if we eat a little differently. There is some evidence that suggests, however, that our bodies may need more calories, especially from carbs, during the 3-5 days leading up to as well as the first few days of our periods. Not
enough research has been done to get this down to a science, but if you track your macros, you might find that if you increase your carb intake by about 10% for a few days, you may be able to keep your cravings at bay. Something that may also help is adjusting the verbiage used to refer to those days where calorie intake is higher. Instead of referring to it as “giving in to cravings” (because giving in suggests a certain amount of weakness) or as a “cheat meal” (because cheating is usually considered bad or wrong), we can simply say “These are my high calorie days,” or “I’m adjusting my macros based on my cycle.” This way, we aren’t subconsciously reinforcing the idea that we’re doing something wrong or that we’re weak because we’re eating differently for a few days.
In addition to eating habits, we also want to be compassionate in regards to our appearance, results, and approach to our workouts. For some people, the uterus could triple in size which could make a person feel heavy or even make one’s stomach appear slightly bigger. Also, bloating and water retention could change how clothes fit, change
the appearance of muscles, and cause the numbers on the scale to go up. If these things happen to you, it is important to be mindful and not assign too much weight or significance to conditions that might only occur for a few days each month.
3) Adjusting Workout Schedule
One of the most common questions I receive related to fitness and menstruation is – is it okay to skip workouts during your period? The short answer is yes. What we each deal with during our periods varies from person to person. Because of that, there is no blanket rule that applies to everyone. We each have to personally decide whether we
need rest or recovery or if we have the proper energy levels and mindset to safely and effectively get through a workout.
One alternative to skipping workouts, however, is adjusting the workout schedule. For most of the people I talk to, the toughest days to get workouts in are days 1, 2, and/ or 3 of a period. If you notice that a workout day falls on one of those days, you can move that workout to the week before or week after in order to maintain exercise volume
without struggling through a workout on one of those days. Another way to maintain exercise volume would be to take the exercises from one day and split them up throughout the other days of that week. If you work with a fitness
professional, they can help you make those types of adjustments in ways that make sense according to your programming.
One more way is to split up a workout into time blocks. Let’s say you normal workout for 60-90 minutes, but on your period, you have a hard time working out for that long. Perhaps do half of your workout early in the day and half of your workout in the afternoon or evening. This may help you get to all of the exercises with less discomfort
than doing them all in one session. Lastly, if you can, schedule a deload week on the same week as your period. Knowing that your workout will be less demanding may provide enough mental or emotional relief to decrease the urge to skip workouts.
4) Adjusting Workout Movements
This is another area where journaling and working with a fitness professional can be very helpful. If you’re able to get a workout in during your period, you should still take notes about HOW you get through it.
● Did the movements feel more difficult?
● Did the weight feel heavier?
● Are your agility movements slower?
● Do you need more recovery time?
● Is there anything that feels uncomfortable?
By taking note of these things, you can work with your trainer to make adjustments that will allow you to work on the proper movements and muscle groups in a more comfortable way without having to skip any workouts or exercises altogether. If you are not working with a trainer, you might have to do some research to find alternative exercises that accomplish the same goals. For example, I’ve worked with a couple of people that, once a month, find it very
uncomfortable to do heavy back squats. Bulgarian split squats or reverse lunges turned out to be a good alternative with much less discomfort.
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