There are experiences in life that every woman shares. One of the most universal (and most notorious) happens at a certain “time of the month”—getting our periods.
It can be inconvenient at best and at worst really affect us from living our lives to the fullest. Our workouts are often one of the biggest casualties, and understandably so; when you’re feeling bloated, achy, and cramped, the prospect of lugging your sluggish self to the gym can be less than appealing.
But that doesn’t have to be the case. Here are a few easy steps you can take to have a more effective workout when Aunt Flo comes to visit, because one week a month is too much time to take away from your training—period.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
If you can successfully ignore the siren call of your couch and make it to the gym, you’ll actually feel better.
“There is this prevailing myth that you can’t work out on your period,” says Donnica Moore, M.D., host of the women’s health podcast In the Ladies’ Room With Dr. Donnica. “Not only can you work out, but you should. Few things can combat that ‘blah’ feeling like a good workout.”
The main reason being that exercise is proven to boost energy levels and release endorphins that make you feel good, as well as beta-endorphins that relieve cramps.
It’s important to take note, however, of how your body feels and reacts at different stages of your cycle. Leah Casciano, an internationally Elite-ranked powerlifter and nationally ranked weightlifter, says that the week before her period is when her strength suffers.
“I try to take it easy if I need to and keep working through my physical PMS,” she says. To combat bad cramps in her lower back, Casciano focuses on mobility and makes sure to stretch a lot. “I find that moving does help. I’ll row or use a stationary bike. If I’m in too much pain, I’ll try not to pull a lot off the floor—I’ll do squats instead. Then the week I’m on my period, I gain my strength back and am hitting my regular numbers again.”
BE CONSCIOUS OF WHAT YOU’RE EATING, DRINKING, AND WEARING
While you should aim to eat clean and stay hydrated constantly, it’s especially important when you’re menstruating. Water, in particular, is a magical elixir; it reduces bloating and cramps and even shortens the length of your period, since it keeps your blood thin, which helps flush everything out faster. Caffeine and carbonated drinks, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect.
Remember, too, that you are actively bleeding. “About 25% of menstruating women become anemic,” Moore says. Having a healthy amount of iron in your diet is vital to combat potential tiredness, weakness, light-headedness, shortness of breath, and poor focus when exercising.
Blood can also be a burden when it comes to clothing choices, especially at the gym. You’ll perform better if you’re not worried about leakage, odor, or extra soreness. If you typically wear shorts, opt for leggings instead, and choose tampons or a menstrual cup over wearing a pad. A good sports bra is also key if you experience soreness, particularly during cardio.
BE FORGIVING OF YOURSELF AND UNASHAMED
Menstruation is still highly stigmatized in society, but it shouldn’t be. The moment you shed the shame associated with having your period, the more comfortable you’ll be at the gym— and in general.
“Seek encouragement from other females at the gym, if you can,” Casciano says. “Don’t go to the gym to beat yourself up about it; go to feel good.”
And if, after everything else, you still feel crummy, medicate as needed. “You don’t get bonus points for suffering,” quips Moore. “Exercise is a great natural treatment, but there’s nothing wrong with taking an ibuprofen or even prescription medication if the cramps are severe.”
BY JENNY HART