Yes, you can exercise on your period (if you like) — here’s how
Laura Henshaw is TOM Organic’s latest ambassador and she’s keen to bust a few period work-out myths.
By Hayley Peppin
IT’S NO SECRET that exercising is tough … and periods bloody suck. That not-so-special time of the month sees some of us bloated, sluggish and understandably moody — all deterrents to get the joggers on. And why would you when bed, chocolate and Succession (or whatever your current binge is) sounds that more enticing than forcing yourself on a slapdash run?
But surprisingly, exercise can also be a source of comfort during that week of “ugh.” Research has proven that undertaking some form of physical activity while on your period may help decrease symptoms like painful cramps, reduce bloating and even help with blood circulation. Kic co-founder Laura Henshaw, the latest ambassador of TOM Organic (an Australian certified organic feminine hygiene brand), even told Harper’s BAZAAR Australia/New Zealand that she often feels “amazing” post-period workout. That’s not to say though, she doesn’t listen to her body when it requires rest on the rags.
With help from Henshaw, BAZAAR breaks down how to work out on your period — to ensure you gain those much-needed ‘monthlies’ endorphins.
What are some of the benefits of working out on your period?
From a hormonal standpoint, both progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest during your period — making you feel tired, less energetic and downright unmotivated. Elite athletes included. A study conducted by the International Journal of Sports Science, per The Fix (Australia’s first period supplement range), found that 82 per cent of athletes cited period pain and 83 per cent cited premenstrual symptoms as leading causes of fatigue and perceived reductions in performance.
During this phase of your cycle, your uterus sheds lining it has built up throughout the month — with the first few days of your period generally the most discomforting. But as the week progresses, such hormone levels gradually increase which may incentivise you to hit up the gym or take on more physical activities.
Listening to your body is key though. If all you want to do is hug a hot water bottle and do some light pelvic exercises, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, if your hormones seemingly signal the green (red?) light, it may be worth throwing on the athleisure and getting your sweat on — with research suggesting light workouts can alleviate discomforts and even enhance workouts. Benefits of working out during your period include:
- A decrease in PMS symptoms, such as fatigue and mood swings
- Taps into endorphins, a natural painkiller
- Possible greater strength and power gains due to low levels of female hormones, studies have shown
- Enhances mood and circulation
- Combats painful period, also called dysmenorrhea
Laura Henshaw, TOM Organic ambassador, admitted to BAZAAR that while she’s way less motivated than usual (more generally) while on her period, a little fitness often lifts her spirits.
“For me personally, when I am on my period I find I feel extra moody, and waaaaay less motivated than usual (both for general life and exercise). It is so important to listen to your body and rest up, but I find if I do feel up to some light exercise it helps to lift my mood (thank you endorphins).”
Which exercise is best on your period?
Like most things, there really is no straight work-out answer. But it’s generally advised one considers gentle or light exercise if you’re bleeding a lot — particularly, within the first few days of your period. Furthermore, John Thoppil, OB-GYN, told Healthline that the best workout is the one you most feel like doing. In other words, don’t force yourself to go to kickboxing class or do any high-intensity exercise … if all you want to do is go for a brisk walk to grab your morning coffee. There’s also something to be said about varying your workouts during the week.
Recommended exercise on rotation includes light walking or other light cardio, low-volume strength training and power-based activities and Laura Henshaw’s preferred period workout — yoga and pilates. Although, the Kic co-founder stresses she continually ‘checks in’ with her body to ensure she doesn’t push it.
“I’ve been loving Christina’s Mind & Body Pilates classes in the KIC app, she really helps you to tune into your body in the workouts and you always leave feeling so strong,” Henshaw began, before noting she also enjoys some simple stretching and walking.
“It is so important to listen to your body and not push yourself during your period and / or when you’re just not up to it. I will usually do a KIC Yin flow at home in my PJ’s because I normally don’t feel like going to the gym or putting on tight sportswear.
While a keen runner, Henshaw admits she often takes a much-needed break during this cycle phase. “I do love running so much, and if I know I’m up to it I might go for a light jog using KICRUN, but often I avoid strenuous or long sessions during my period, and continually check in with my body.”
Biggest myths about exercising on your period
There’s a lot. That you’ll get tired easily, you should skip certain yoga poses for energy purposes or pelvic health, your athletic performance will decline, working out on a heavy flow could make you pass out and that you’re more likely to leak — are some of the misconceptions of working out during your period.
But in short, Laura Henshaw said the biggest myth of working out while menstruating is: “That you can’t exercise at all on your period — as a blanket rule.”
She continued: “There are no rules and you should just do what feels right for you. Everyone is different, if you feel up to light exercise and you find it helps with your mood and how you feel, amazing, but if you feel like movement is too much on your body, then REST.”
“There is no one size fits all approach when it comes to our bodies and our periods.”
Track your period to know your cycle
If you’re not tracking your period already, here’s a friendly reminder. Not only a useful tool if you’re trying to conceive, or in fact not trying to conceive, cycle tracking can also be a really helpful way of managing your workouts logistically. While we can generally sense our moods during our hormonal cycle, cycle tracking can determine/schedule your activities for the week — be it; a decision to opt out of that bi-weekly HIIT burn knowing you most certainly won’t be on your fitness A-game, or mark in the calendar a long walk with mum.
Laura Henshaw told BAZAAR she personally cycle-tracks to tune into her body and organise her week, especially losing her period during her early twenties.
“I lost my period in my early twenties from excessively exercising and undereating (thank you toxic diet culture). Once I rebuilt my relationship with food / exercise, I got my period back, but I was absolutely not in tune with my body and was pushing against all of it’s cues,” Henshaw began.
“If you have lost your period, it is so important to go and talk to your GP about it. I use an app to track my cycle now, and reduce the intensity of my workouts going into my period and during (pending if I feel up to them).”
What products should you consider while working out on your period?
As the conversation widens on menstrual health — Laura Henshaw says she’s honoured to help “break down the taboo around periods” with TOM Organic — there’s now a quite a few products available to help you effectively exercise on your period. Aside from TOM Organic’s ever-so-cute and eco-friendly period briefs, Modibodi also has a chic and sustainable offering of leakage-free period underwear to help support the fitness girlies. We particularly love their new collaboration with Puma, specifically designed to be worn under white or tight sports uniforms.
As for targeted relief, The Fix, Australia’s first period supplement range, have a number of science-backed products which holistically alleviates pain. Their best-seller XCRAMP is made up of magnesium, a “superhero for cramping” according to founders Kate Everitt and Julie Moulder; Vitamin B1; Ginkgo bilob and ‘Cramp Bark’ (Viburnum opulus) — a traditional medicine, which as the name suggests, specifically treats pre-menstrual symptoms.
“The dried bark powerhouse is super exciting because it’s one of the few herbs that’s core focus is to alleviate menstrual cramping (hence the name), dysmenorrhoea, and for relief menstrual cramps,” The Fix says.
In even more exciting news, The Fix has even received backing by HASTA — the Australian sports supplement drug testing specialist — with elite athletes advised to turn to their supplements if they can’t manage period pain with analgesic medication (like ibuprofen). Now while the period relief offering is thankfully expanding courtesy of empowering women, Western Sydney University’s Dr Kylie Steel, an expert in sports science with specialised knowledge in menstrual impacts on athletes, told The Fix there’s still some way to go to offer women more support.
“There can be greater discussion around ways of managing one’s period rather than the standard ‘just go on the pill’, which has side effects and does not work well for all females.”
In short, the more we talk about our bleeds — the more likely we’re able to receive products, programs and effective planning so we can continue to kick-ass during that time of the month.
“Increasing menstrual literacy or knowledge about each phase of the menstrual cycle and the physiological, psychological, and cognitive variations that can occur for each person will enable
athletes, coaches, and sport scientists to design training programs that are more informed and effective.”