We’ve all been there: One week you’re riding a fitness streak, knocking out Dance Cardio and Strength classes right and left, feeling energized and ready to sweat. The next? Even that Yoga class you love feels like an uphill battle. If you’re a woman who experiences a natural menstrual cycle, your hormones may be the reason behind those ebbs and flows in energy and motivation during the month. And cycle-syncing your workouts can help you work with your energy levels instead of against them.
It’s more than another buzzword. Cycle syncing can be a great tool to help you navigate your fitness journey and improve your body literacy. That’s because hormone fluctuations related to your cycle can impact your mood, energy levels, metabolism, appetite, sleep, injury vulnerability, and more. Developed, owned, and trademarked by women’s hormone expert Alisa Vitti, this method can be an eye-opening guide for women looking to nurture a deeper connection to their bodies.
Cue obé’s new Working Out on Your Cycle Collection! Based on the principles of cycle syncing, this collection provides a clear example of how to train at each phase of your cycle, offering suggestions for classes that match the energy fluctuations you may naturally experience. You can also opt-in to Cycle Insights on the Insights tab of the obé app to get personalized tips, plus class recommendations based on where you’re at in your cycle.
By tailoring your fitness routine to your natural rhythm, you can tap into new benefits (including more sustained motivation), take advantage of your hormonal changes, and set new milestones. (Pro tip: Don’t wait until you’re on Day 1 of your cycle, you can start taking classes from this collection at any cycle stage.)
Here, women’s fitness expert (and obé instructor!) Melody D. breaks down some of the most common questions about cycle syncing to give you the ultimate crash course.
A note: Don’t treat this information as a movement prescription if it doesn’t serve you. Cycle syncing is simply a tool you can try—or not! If you experience irregular, painful, or extended periods, talk to your healthcare provider before making big changes.
What is cycle syncing?
Cycle syncing is a method (developed and owned by Alisa Vitti) that tracks where you are in your menstrual cycle so you can make informed decisions about fitness, nutrition, and your daily life, explains Melody. (Curious about nutritional cycle syncing? Read this!) If you’re cycle-syncing your workouts, you’ll modify your plan with classes optimized for the (predictable) hormonal fluctuations of each phase of your cycle instead of opting for the same workouts all month long.
“It’s a resource that helps you be mindful as you make training choices,” says Melody. By honing into your body’s signals, you can customize your workouts accordingly and prioritize the best forms of movement for your physiology.
There’s not much research focused on this method (yet) because it’s relatively new. Plus, historically, most research around exercise and sports has been conducted on men, who don’t experience the same hormonal shifts woman do. There is, however, plenty of research supporting the notion that a woman’s physical, mental, and emotional states (think: stress, energy, physical activity, sex drive, and energy levels) change during each stage of her cycle. Alissa Viti makes the case that following fitness protocols designed for men may not always be optimal for women.
What are the benefits of cycle-syncing workouts?
Exercise impacts your hormone balance—and your hormone levels also fluctuate during each phase of your cycle. Some find it beneficial to adapt their movement routines to their cycles to honor their energy levels or better manage period symptoms (reduced PMS and cramps are often reported benefits from those cycle syncing). Cycle-syncing workouts can also lower stress and improve mood.
By cultivating self-compassion and reducing the risk of fatigue or burnout, it can also be a useful tool to build a more sustainable relationship with exercise. “The more you know about where you’re at, the more you’re able to give yourself grace and be mindful of the different needs of your body,” says Melody.
If you follow a rigid, high-intensity routine, you may feel frustrated (or like a failure) if you can’t “push through” and stick with it on the days you feel off. “Cycle syncing gives you flexibility and permission to make adjustments” explains Melody. “If you’re at a certain stage in your cycle, you’ll probably feel a certain way, and there are options to keep you moving that meet you where you’re at. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.” If you’re able to move consistently throughout your whole cycle, you’re going to benefit from all the amazing physical and mental benefits of exercise all the more.
Can I try cycle syncing if I’m on birth control?
That’s up to you to decide! If you use hormonal contraceptives, cycle syncing may not make sense for you, since your body isn’t experiencing the natural estrogen and progesterone fluctuations of the menstrual cycle. However, it’s still important to pay attention to your body, suggest experts, regardless of your birth control method of choice. Cycle-syncing workouts can be helpful for adapting to changes in your mood and energy—it just may not make much of a difference!
What are the phases of the cycle, and how do I cycle sync my workouts to them?
Your menstrual cycle is typically broken down into four stages: the menstrual (~days 1-5), follicular (~days 6-14), ovulatory (~days 14-16), and luteal (~days 16-28) phases. Technically, the menstrual phase (aka menstruation, which starts off your cycle) is the first part of the follicular phase. Because every woman is different (and very few of us actually have the “average” 28-day cycle!), these day ranges are estimates. It’s best to use a cycle-tracking app or device to understand your unique rhythm.
The Follicular Phase: Start Making Moves
What’s happening in your body: At the start of menstruation, your progesterone and estrogen hormones are at their lowest. Estrogen, an anabolic hormone, increases your metabolic rate, strength, motivation, and recovery time—so when it’s low, you won’t feel 100 percent. Pro tip: If you’re getting cramps (hi, inflammation), movement can help (exercise has anti-inflammatory effects and redirects blood flow in a beneficial way).
As menstruation ends and the follicular phase ramps up, those estrogen levels rise, boosting your energy. Your body is primed and ready for higher-intensity movement!
You may be feeling: Tired to start, then increasingly more fired up. The hormonal drop at the start of menstruation can make you feel groggy, lethargic, and unmotivated. The cherry on top? Low estrogen levels can also suppress your happy hormones, leading to a sour mood (ugh). Luckily, by day 5 or 6, the tides turn, and the rise in estrogen takes you into the rest of the glorious follicular phase. You’ll feel more confident, motivated, and capable as your body naturally becomes more energized.
Movement to try: During menstruation, listen to your body. It’s perfectly okay to rest, embrace restorative practices, or stick to more gentle workout options like Yoga and Stretching (Day 1 of the Working Out on Your Cycle Collection is a Restorative Yoga class!). But don’t be afraid to try some movement either—studies have shown working out on your period can reduce period pain and other symptoms. Walks, shorter runs, and lower-intensity Strength and Sculpt workouts are great places to start.
Once menstruation ends, the world is yours. “This is the point in your cycle where you’ll feel most ready to train. We’re feeling like we can lift heavy things and move explosively,” says Melody. With increased stamina, energy, focus, and ability to build strength (that’s backed by science!), this is where strength training and cardio workouts shine. Go for higher-intensity Cardio Boxing, Dance Cardio, HIIT, moderate Strength and Sculpt, or any other classes you love. (While not included in this collection, Bounce, Ride, Dance HIIT, Run, and Jump are also super options.)
The Ovulatory Phase: Level Up and Challenge Yourself
What’s happening in your body: Just 3-5 days long, estrogen and testosterone peak during this phase while progesterone start to rise. The grand finale: The release of an egg from one of your ovaries. At this time, you’re experiencing a surge in energy and enhanced endurance, so you’re primed to hit your milestone moments.
You may be feeling: Euphoric, and that’s not an exaggeration. “You’re going to feel like you can take that HIIT class, lift your heaviest weights, and hit your PR,” explains Melody. You may also experience a healthy spike in self-esteem, according to research.
Movement to try: The most hardcore HIIT class (looking at you, Mary W.), a heavy Strength or Power, and explosive Cardio Boxing. A recent study found that strength and power are at their peak when estrogen is highest, around this exact time. You can also test yourself in any class type you love to reach a new benchmark (why not try to go for more pulses in Barre, if that’s more your speed?).
The Luteal Phase: Ease Up If You Need To
What’s happening in your body: After ovulation, your estrogen and testosterone levels start to drop again. Progesterone (hormone player #3) sneaks up and begins to rise to its peak. These hormones are shifting to build up your uterine lining (which will eventually be shed if your egg isn’t fertilized), demanding more energy and resources from your body. Your resting body temperature, resting heart rate, and breathing rate will all rise, which also means you’ll typically need more time to recover between exercises, suggests research.
You may be feeling: During the first half of this phase, you may still feel energized and ready to sweat—but that energy will decline in the second half as progesterone overtakes your other hormones. Cue lethargy, a sense of sluggishness, brain fog, trouble concentrating, and—you guessed it, PMS. It’s also not uncommon to experience feelings of anxiety and depression during this time, a study found. And let’s be real: Your motivation to move is also going to plummet (but that doesn’t mean working out won’t be good for you!).
Movement to try: In the first half of this phase, you’ll likely be able to do all the same classes you love from the follicular phase. Strength, Sculpt, your cardio of choice (pro tip: don’t forget you have low-impact options!)—all of it goes, you may just need to scale back a bit. “If you’re strength training, you may feel better going for slightly lighter weights or working more on mobility and skills as opposed to lifting,” explains Melody.
In the second half of this phase, try Yoga Sculpt, Barre, Pilates, Yoga, or a long walk. These lower-impact workouts are great for getting beneficial movement, without all the intimidation. Remember: if you start getting cramps in the days before your period, movement can be an amazing natural remedy (and relieve PMS, big time). “Don’t forget to use meditation to get your mind right!” adds Melody.
How do I track my cycle?
There are plenty of free cycle tracking apps out there—as well as wearable devices (like an Apple Watch or Oura Ring) that can track where you’re at. You can also do it the old-fashioned way: by putting your start date on a calendar and using averages to estimate the various phases.
When in a woman’s life would this method be most helpful?
Cycle tracking can be most helpful for women who are trying to conceive, as it helps them monitor ovulation. It can also be a beneficial strategy for managing the hormone fluctuations of those with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or women who have painful periods and extreme premenstrual syndrome (PMS). If you have a diagnosed medical condition, always consult with your doctor before making big lifestyle changes.
That being said, cycle-syncing workouts can benefit women at most stages of their lives. “We go through so many hormonal changes and adaptations,” says Melody. “It’s always helpful to be mindful of what your body is going through.”
Can I cycle sync with an obé Program?
Since they’re designed for specific time durations, obé Programs aren’t built with your unique cycle in mind. “If you want to try a program but be conscious of cycle syncing, just remember all this information as you go through it,” says Melody. “Let’s say you’re in the final week of a program and we’re asking you to hit a PR, but you’re in the back half of your luteal phase. You might not be there, and that’s okay. Progression is not necessarily linear.” Even if you need to take a beat or scale back a bit, you’re still going to reap the training benefits.
Are there any considerations to keep in mind before or while cycle syncing?
If you’re feeling good with the fitness routine you have now, stick with it! Don’t feel like you have to try cycle syncing workouts (or that you’re doing something wrong) if you’re already showing up consistently in your practice and feeling results. “It doesn’t need to be prescriptive, and it doesn’t mean you need to stop doing the movements you like to do.”
For example, if Yoga is your main movement modality, don’t force yourself to do HIIT if you don’t want to. Why not try Power Yoga or more athletic flow around ovulation instead? If strength training is your absolute jam, add more power during the back half of your follicular and ovulatory phases, then focus on scaling back weight in luteal. A HIIT fan? Go for low-impact options when you’re feeling sluggish. It’s all adaptable!
If you’re branching out of the Working Out of on Your Cycle Collection and doing your own thing, remember that this method is, first and foremost, about listening to your body. “Honor that if you feel sluggish and are in the second week of your luteal phase, that’s probably why,” says Melody. “It’s okay to scale back. That’s not being lazy, and it’s not cheating your progression. You’ll still continue to see results even if you need to adjust your training based on where you’re at.”
Try the Cycle Syncing Collection and more for 1 month free with code GRLPWR. Click here to sign up.
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