Some people tell you to slow it right down, while others tell you to go for it. But what’s best when it comes to working out on your period? We turn to Jennis physiologist, Dr Emma Ross, and Jess Ennis-Hill for the facts..
Reviewed by: Dr Emma Ross
When it comes to the subject of periods (‘the bleed,’ ‘time of the month,’ menstruation, whatever you call yours), as a society we simply don’t talk about them enough. Whether that’s periods and fitness; periods and lifestyle; or periods, well, period, accessible information about how we can work with our menstrual cycles is surprisingly hard to come by.
Keen to change all that, Doctor Emma Ross , Jennis Head of Physiology, is on a mission to get us talking about our periods so we can all have healthier relationships with our menstrual cycles and bodies. “We've got to stop period silencing and we’ve got to open up conversations that are completely non judgemental about our cycles,” says Emma.
You can ease abdominal cramps with yoga flows that encourage blood flow and heat to that area
So, what’s happening when you’re on your period?
“Once your womb lining starts to shed, you experience bleeding – aka the period phase – and a whole host of symptoms can kick in, including cramping, headaches, mood swings, back ache and so on. When it comes to what's causing those symptoms, it used to be that oestrogen got all the bad press, but it's usually a group of hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins (pronounced: pross-tah-gland-ins) that are to blame. "We need prostaglandins to have a healthy period," says Emma, "as it’s prostaglandins that trigger the muscles in your uterus to contract so that you expel the lining.
"But, too much prostaglandins and the contraction can be intense and you experience painful cramps. To add to that, if we produce too many prostaglandins, they can leak into nearby areas like the gut and you can experience lots of unpleasant side effects, such as cramping, headaches, nausea and diarrhoea.”
Can exercise reduce those period pain symptoms?
If you’re one of the 84% of people who suffer cramps and aches , there are a whole range of studies that show how exercise can ease the symptoms,” says Emma.
“Exercise can help to counteract those feelings through the production of endorphins (pronounced: en-dor-fins) – the feel-good hormone. These lift your mood, help you feel more positive, reduce anxiety and make you feel more in control.”
What style of exercise should you do on your period?
“There’s no right or wrong way to exercise on your period,” says Jennis founder, Jess Ennis-Hill. “And the key is to tune into what your unique symptoms are telling you and how you are feeling. There are, however, certain styles of exercise that can help with particular symptoms.
"When you sign up to Jennis CycleMapping , we'll ask you a few questions about your personal period experience, then map in sessions that help."
Best for aches and cramps
“The reason we experience abdominal cramps during our periods is because there's not enough blood flow and oxygen getting to the abdominal area. If this sounds like you, you can encourage blood flow and heat to your stomach though specific Jennis yoga flows,” says Jess. “You can find a selection of yoga circuits that may help in the Jennis app.
“If you suffer from back pain on your period, another good tip is to try yoga moves that will stretch out your back, such as the happy baby pose.”
If you don’t feel like leaving the sofa?
“If you really don’t feel like doing anything, we know that doing something is probably better than doing nothing, so try to do something small and analyse whether you feel better for it,” says Jess. “In this instance, I’d suggest getting out for a walk or doing a gentle Jennis stretch session to take advantage of the endorphin boost.”
What if you feel ready to go for it?
“If you’re someone who wants to do a more intense workout, that’s absolutely fine, too,” says Jess. “Some women experience a boost of energy as soon as their periods arrive, so do whatever you feel like, but listen to your body, and make sure you stay hydrated and well fuelled.”
Movement is good
“The big takeaway from all the work I have done over the years is that moving during your period can help," assures Emma, "and even if you feel pain or you feel tired, a small amount of activity will make you feel better both physically and emotionally.
Giant caveat: If you are someone who experiences very high levels of pain on their periods and really can’t move, I would suggest you seek your GP’s advice.
Map your training to your menstrual cycle with Jennis CycleMapping. Sign up to try it first
Read: How to eat smart across your Period Phase