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Guys, before you dismiss this post as being irrelevant to you, think again! Women are all around you – as clients, family, friends… This article will help you plan their workouts smartly and also to understand them better!

Periods are often accompanied by a groan! Rarely is it announced with a bland expression. Referring to it as monthlies, menses, curse or chums, girls wear a look of consternation, exasperation or dismay. In the past, girls and women were made to “sit out” – for socio-cultural, religious reasons; ostensibly so that there is no physical exertion. This was a true ‘rest’ period(!). Drastic reductions in heavy domestic work and social change have done away with this practice in urban settings.

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Is there a physiological base needing the woman to rest on these days? What exactly is PMS? Why is a woman moody at a certain time in the month? Can a workout plan actually alter to match this time of the month? Let us see:

The 28 Days Menstrual Cycle

We have to understand that the menstrual cycle is integral to reproduction – to procreate – for the continuation of life. This monthly cycle varies around an average of 28 days per cycle. The high point of the menstrual cycle is the release of the egg for fertilization – ovulation – this would be around the 14th day. A woman experiences a number of changes within her during these 4 weeks. These changes are physical and emotional. For some, they can be so drastic that it’s like being on a roller coaster! Who is responsible for this? Hormones of course!! They are caused by the rising and falling levels of Estrogen and Progesterone – the female sex hormones.

The First Two Weeks

The first two weeks of the periods (follicular phase) is dominated by the feel good hormone Estrogen! As estrogen levels climb, the mood is upbeat! It has a positive influence on our disposition, thinking, perception, motivation, appetite, sex drive, anxiety and our response to stress. It promotes our sense of well being, making us feel relaxed and comfortable. At this time testosterone levels are also on the rise, boosting sex drive, energy and mood. Since knowledge is power, we can use this information as a resource to train intelligently…

Profiting From Estrogen

It is ideal to set exercise training goals during this phase of periods. Since the mood is upbeat and energy levels high, you can push yourself and raise the bar. Go for new levels of endurance and strength. Attempt Personal Records (PRs). You can run faster in cardio; you can lift heavier weights and improve on your explosiveness. This is also a good time to start a diet. The choice will be towards healthier foods. There is no craving for sugary foods, so adherence to a diet is better. There are greater chances of being disciplined.

The Next 2 Weeks

During the 2nd half of the menstrual cycle or periods (2 weeks leading to the period) hormone is ruled by the hormone Progesterone. This is known as the Luteal phase. The body begins to retain water and will feel heavy. It may show up as weight gain on the scale. The abdomen feels distended and bloated. There is a rise in basal body temperature. There may be feelings of moody blues, slight depression, and irritability. The basal metabolic rate (BMR) increases. Appetite increases and there is carving for food especially for fast-acting carbohydrates – sugars like ice cream, chocolates.

Lets Exercise Smart In This Phase

Avoid long distance running – body temperature is already high, water retention is making the body feel heavy – this can make you very uncomfortable and the workout a real drag. It will be good to increase the slow absorbing carbohydrates at this stage. This will have two benefits: Given that the BMR is already high, the body will burn off the excess calories coming in through the diet. Secondly, slow absorbing carbohydrates like certain whole grains can blunt the cravings and preempt binge eating of sugary foods. (This is just a guideline – consult a nutritionist for portion size and options). Avoiding salty food, drinking more water than usual and sipping herbal teas are other ways to combat water retention.

Now The Period Cometh!

The body undergoes further changes in the days immediately preceding and during the period, creating some amount of discomfort. Generally, there are complaints of backache, headache, abdominal distension, feelings of heaviness in the breast and in the body (due to water retention), cramping in the abdomen, anxiety, irritability, mood fluctuations, skin breakouts – pimples, tummy upsets, pain and cramps in the legs, etc. We call this PMS or pre-menstrual syndrome (though for some it sets in almost 10 days prior)!! All women do not experience all these symptoms and there are of course individual differences. Under these circumstances, the very thought of physical exertion can be a drag.

In reality, exercising in this period can prove pretty helpful. Exercising releases the feel good chemicals ‘endorphin’, leading to a positive mood. Body temperature goes up, blood circulation improves, and there is perspiration – eliminating water from the system. Moreover, since there is good water intake during the exercise session, the body flushes excess water instead of retaining it.

So it is clear that exercising during the 3 days is actually beneficial to the woman. Whether she will exercise or not depends on her level of discomfort. For some the discomfort is so much that they are grounded – daily life is disrupted. They may need to take medication or a hot water bag. Physical activity will not help ease their symptoms. And for others, it’s all in a day’s work – the period is not a speed breaker. Varying levels of discomfort depend on how sensitive the woman’s brain is to the shifts in hormonal levels. During the period, moderate intensity in cardio can be helpful – choosing the elliptical trainer as the best mode. Jogging or using the bike will depend on comfort level. In weight training, upper body training can be a comfortable option over high intensity leg training. Yoga offers certain asana and stretches to relieve the distressed woman. It is necessary to work with a good Yoga practitioner for guidelines and instructions.

Will working out stop periods altogether? Highly athletic women having body fat levels below 20% develop a condition known as athletic amenorrhea – highly irregular or absence of menstrual periods. The average gym member or an exercising person does not fall into this category.

It can be frustrating, at times, not being able to exercise when you want to. Period delay tablets, such as Norethisterone(prior physician consultation is suggested), are the answer to such problems.

Till we reach menopause, menstrual cycles are here to stay – not for nothing they are called “Chums”! While we cannot eliminate all the discomfort, we can do so many things to ease it. Learning about our body and understanding it gives us the power to assume control over our physical and emotional well-being. We can also accept and appreciate the incredible design of Nature and the Universe, which allows us to go with the Flow!