Why does exercise before menstruation sometimes feel so heavy?

Why does exercise before menstruation sometimes feel so heavy?

Many women find that their menstrual cycle affects their athletic performance. How did this happen? Can they handle it in a smarter way?

Judith Harmson

Trained women who are passionate about home sports to keep moving across YouTube and Instagram talk about it with some regularity: Energy level can fluctuate dramatically during the menstrual cycle. One week you can continue your running session effortlessly with some strength training, but especially the week before your period, a short yoga session can feel like a huge undertaking indeed.

This is known to many women. But why does the menstrual cycle affect athletic performance so much? How do you deal with that as an amateur player? Is there a way not to work against the body, but to take energy fluctuations into account in training?

First things first: your period is a very personal thing. However, there are some general things that can be said about the way the menstrual changes experienced by the female body affect athletic performance, says gynecologist Marlis Bongers of Maxima Medical Center. She’s looking into it with a sports doctor at Merel Wielink Training.

In the flow through estrogen

In general, women feel their best in the first two weeks of their cycle, Bongers explains, when they’re only producing the hormone “estrogen.” “It makes you feel like you’re doing it all, being in the flow, as it were.” A great time for fanatical exercise.

After ovulation (on average around 11 to 14 days later), progesterone also plays a role. “Women’s reaction to this varies a lot,” says the gynecologist. One person has no problems with anything, and the other feels tired and irritable in the period after ovulation. However, exercise can also be good for those who aren’t feeling well, says Bongers. “For example, if you’re a little frustrated, it’s a good idea to get outside and be physically active.”

It’s a good idea then, Bongers says, “to be kind to yourself.” Even if you run a little less vigorously or could have lower weights in the gym than you used to. “Allow yourself to take it easy and use exercise primarily to feel better about your skin, rather than perform.”

The world record for cycling during menstruation

Most women don’t like to exercise intensely once their period starts, as evidenced by the survey by Bongers and co-worker Wielink. “Especially if your period is very heavy, it is uncomfortable.” However, there are also exceptions. For example, cyclist Leontien van Moorsel is known to have set her world record in 2003 while she was menstruating. In fact, she planned her matches so that she would have a period when it happened. She’s done really well. In her words, because her pain threshold was higher during her period, and her legs were fine.

Ultimately, it is important to get to know your body. According to Bongers, this can be done, for example, by mapping your menstrual cycle for a few months. “Nowadays, there are also very useful applications for that,” she says. “It’s also nice to look at yourself that way and make a picture of your cycle.” And who knows: maybe Leonten van Morsel is hiding in you?

Read also:

We need to talk about menstruation

Everyone knows the name of the male hormone that affects athletic performance: testosterone. The names of its analogues, progesterone and estrogen, are known only to those who have been interested in biology. It’s time to change that, columnist Marijn de Vries believes.

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