Phase-Related Exercise and Menstrual Cramps
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Phase-Related Exercise and Menstrual Cramps

Our bodies are marvelous examples of biological synchrony, operating on various rhythms and cycles. The menstrual cycle is one such remarkable biological rhythm, affecting numerous aspects of a woman's life, including health, mood, and exercise capacity. This article seeks to elucidate the relationship between menstrual cramps (primary dysmenorrhea), and phase-related exercise – an exercise regimen tailored to the different stages of the menstrual cycle.

Menstrual Cramps: A Closer Look

Menstrual cramps, clinically referred to as dysmenorrhea, are pains experienced in the lower abdomen, usually just before or during menstruation. This pain is a result of the uterus contracting to shed its lining. Prostaglandins, hormone-like substances involved in pain and inflammation, trigger these contractions. The level of discomfort can range from mild to severe, potentially interfering with regular daily activities. 

Understanding the Menstrual Cycle and Exercise

A menstrual cycle, generally around 28 days, consists of four phases, each characterized by hormonal fluctuations and specific exercise considerations. Hormonal changes characterizing these phases can affect exercise performance and recovery. Here are the four phases of the menstrual cycle and their respective exercise patterns: 

1. Menstruation Phase (Days 1-5):

During this phase, the uterus sheds its lining, resulting in menstruation. It is common to experience fatigue and lower energy levels during this time. It is recommended to engage in gentle exercises such as walking, light stretching, or restorative yoga poses. Listen to your body and adjust the intensity and duration of your workouts accordingly. For aerobic exercises, it is suggested that you should incorporate light aerobic exercises to boost mood and energy levels.

2. Follicular Phase (Days 6-14):

The follicular phase begins after menstruation and ends with ovulation. Estrogen levels gradually rise, leading to increased energy and stamina. In the follicular phase, levels of estrogen and progesterone are relatively low, which can facilitate High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and strength training. This is an ideal time to focus on strength training, cardio exercises, and high-intensity workouts. You may feel more motivated and capable of pushing yourself during this phase. 

3. Ovulation Phase (Around Day 14):

Ovulation occurs when a mature egg is released from the ovary. This phase is characterized by a surge in estrogen and luteinizing hormone (LH). You may experience increased energy, heightened senses, and improved coordination. Take advantage of this surge by engaging in challenging workouts, intense cardio, or trying new activities. For example, you may engage in:

  • Circuit Training, which combines strength and cardio exercises in a circuit format to maximize your workout;
  • Sports or Team Activities;
  • High-Intensity Workouts.

4. Luteal Phase (Days 15-28):

The luteal phase begins after ovulation and ends with the start of menstruation. The luteal phase, marked by high hormone levels, can affect temperature regulation, metabolic changes, and perceived exertion, often making exercise feel more strenuous. Progesterone levels rise during this phase, which may result in mood changes, bloating, and decreased energy. Focus on exercises that support relaxation and stress reduction, such as:

  • Yoga/Pilates, which can help you focus on gentle and restorative yoga, reduce stress and promote relaxation;
  • Low-impact activities (such as walking, swimming, or cycling). It's also important to listen to your body and prioritize rest if needed;
  • Mind-Body Exercises: Practice mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing exercises to manage stress and promote a sense of calm.

It's essential to remember that everyone's experience may vary, and these exercise recommendations are general guidelines. Pay attention to your body's signals, adapt your exercise routine accordingly, and consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified fitness instructor for personalized advice.

Phase-Related Exercise: A Personalized Approach

It is recommended that a personalized approach should be taken based on each individual's response to exercise performance across the menstrual cycle. The concept of phase-related exercise, also known as menstrual cycle-based training, is gaining traction as a personalized approach to fitness. It involves adjusting one's exercise regimen according to the different phases of the menstrual cycle to optimize performance and overall well-being.

Such a regimen could entail engaging in high-intensity workouts and strength training during the follicular phase, when hormonal conditions are more conducive to such exercise. In contrast, the luteal phase, characterized by higher progesterone and estrogen levels, may be better suited for moderate-intensity exercise, restorative yoga, and other low-impact activities. 

Optimizing Phase-Related Exercise

While the concept of phase-related exercise can seem daunting, here are a few ways to effectively implement it:

  • Track Your Cycle: Understanding your cycle is the first step. Using a menstrual tracking app can be extremely helpful in identifying patterns and pinpointing which phase you're in.
  • Listen to Your Body: Always respect your body's signals. If you're experiencing severe menstrual cramps, don't push yourself to exercise strenuously. Opt for lighter, more restorative forms of exercise instead.
  • Explore Various Exercises: Try different types of workouts to see which ones feel best during each phase of your cycle. Remember, what works for one person may not work for another.
  • Nutrition and Hydration: Proper nutrition and hydration are essential to support your exercise regimen and menstrual health. Eating a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients and drinking enough water can help manage exercise-induced stress and promote recovery.
  • Consult a Professional: If you're unsure about how to start phase-related exercise, consider consulting with a fitness professional. They can help you develop a personalized workout plan that aligns with your menstrual cycle, fitness level, and overall health. 

Caveats and Considerations

While phase-related exercise offers potential benefits, it's crucial to note that more research is needed to fully understand its implications and effectiveness. Everyone's body responds differently to exercise and hormonal fluctuations, so a regimen that works for one woman may not work for another.

Also, women with irregular cycles, hormonal disorders, or certain health conditions may find it challenging to follow a phase-based exercise regimen. Always consult with a healthcare provider or professional fitness coach before beginning a new exercise program, particularly if you have pre-existing health conditions.


The journey towards understanding our bodies better is a personal and continuous one. By exploring the interplay between menstrual cramps and phase-related exercise, we can potentially align our fitness journey more harmoniously with our body's natural rhythms. 

Phase-related exercise offers a promising way to manage menstrual discomfort, improve fitness performance, and promote a more in-depth understanding of our bodies. This approach, however, is not a cure-all, and it should be considered as part of a broader lifestyle that prioritizes balanced nutrition, adequate rest, stress management, and regular healthcare.

In essence, this personalized approach to exercise embodies a powerful principle: listening to our bodies and respecting their inherent wisdom. By doing so, we can navigate our menstrual cycles with greater ease and mindfulness, transforming a source of discomfort into a beacon guiding us towards enhanced well-being.

  • Pallavi LC, D Souza UJ, Shivaprakash G. Assessment of Musculoskeletal Strength and Levels of Fatigue during Different Phases of Menstrual Cycle in Young Adults. J Clin Diagn Res. 2017 Feb;11(2):CC11-CC13.
  • “Luteal Phase Defect”, WebMD, March 17, 2023,,prepare%20for%20a%20possible%20pregnancy.
  • McNulty, Kelly Lee, et al. "The effects of menstrual cycle phase on exercise performance in eumenorrheic women: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Sports Medicine 50 (2020): 1813-1827.
1.Menstrual Cramps: A Closer Look
2.Understanding the Menstrual Cycle and Exercise
3.Phase-Related Exercise: A Personalized Approach
4.Optimizing Phase-Related Exercise
5.Caveats and Considerations