That time of the month… it’s so inconvenient. It seems as though just when you start to feel like you’re getting somewhere with your fitness routine, you get your period and with it cramps, bloating, and exhaustion that stop you in your tracks. Or, maybe you’re extra blessed with headaches or lower back pain.
Despite the fact that you may just want to curl up on the couch, exercise can help relieve pain and cramping. Here are some ways to ease the pain and keep moving during that week:
The Best Type of Exercise to Ease Pain and Cramps
Just before and during your period, you want to focus on loosening up the pelvis muscles and taking part in stress-relieving activities. Sports such as running, biking, or lifting can help lower stress levels; if you want something more low-key, go for yoga (no inversions). In conjunction with some pelvic exercises and stretches, you should feel much better.
How hard should you exercise?
How hard you can push yourself while you’re having your period varies from person to person. It really depends on how you feel. “During your menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone levels are low, which allows easier access to glycogen stores. This means you can push harder and get more out of a workout because energy is more readily available,” says personal trainer, yoga instructor, and lead trainer at Aaptiv, Amanda Murdock. “At the end of the day, it’s up to each individual woman and every cycle could be different, sometimes it will feel great to workout and sometimes it won’t.”
You’ll have to listen to your body and accept that some days you will crush it, and other days it will be a struggle just to workout. Do what feels right for you.
*Note: this just refers to women with normal period symptoms, not fibroids or cysts.
Loosening and Opening the Pelvis
Ladies, as we’re sure you’ve gathered, your pelvic muscles get tight and inflamed during your period. To counteract these symptoms, “Opt for poses that apply gentle pressure to the abdomen, which can help temporarily relieve discomfort. Also, they help release the low back, which can typically spasm or be painful during menstruation,” says Murdock.
You need to get that area moving to help lessen the inflammation and tightness. Sometimes, that means moving the area that hurts. “Any stretch that is going to relieve tension in your back, neck, shoulders (typically where we grip when we are in pain or stressed) and bring a little heat to your lower abdomen will help,” says Murdock. “This would include gentle twists, backbends, and mild forward folding. There are a thousand stretches that you can do but for me, if I am in a lot of pain, I want to stay low to the ground until the symptoms subside.”
Keep a running log of some mild twists and backbend-type movements that you can do during your period. These will help alleviate menstrual symptoms. “Again bringing movement, or heat, to the lower abdomen by being active will fight cramps, beat bloat by forcing hydration (you will drink water), and make you feel happier with those endorphins,” says Murdock.
Stretches to Relieve Period Pain
Cat / Cow
This one will stretch and open up the entire body, especially your abdomen, pelvis, and back—it’s perfect for that time of the month. Flowing gently between cat and cow will not only stretch your muscles, it’ll help balance your body and mind.
This one is simple, but effective. Seated, with legs out in front of you, you’ll draw one leg over the other, and twist into it with the opposite arm. You want to focus when you do this one. Controlled breathing and good posture will result in max benefits.
Any type of glute lift is going to help (think one-leg dead lifts or in table position). These exercises target both your abs and your glutes. Get your abs engaged when you do these. Working your glutes—a major muscle—will activate more than just your bum.
Bridges or Barbell Hip Thrust
Both of these two exercises are going to work your abs, glutes, and pelvis. Which one you choose to do depends on how hard you want to work. Again, make sure you focus on form and your breathing here. Along with your cramps, bridges can help relieve headaches and back pain.
*Bridge pose is a gentle inversion, so listen to your body here. If it feels uncomfortable, don’t do it.
Half Moon Pose
In half moon pose, you will have your right leg and hand on the ground, while opening your left towards the ceiling and left leg up, in alignment with your torso (always do both sides).
This pose opens the pelvis, which in turn will relieve cramping. Half moon also is said to help ease heavy bleeding.
Extended Triangle Pose
Extended triangle feels amazing, no matter what time of the month it is, but it’s especially helpful during your period. It opens your pelvis and abdomen in relaxing manner.
For extended triangle, your legs will be wide, with one foot facing forward, the other out. Run your hand down the leg with the foot facing out until you reach the ground. Then, open your opposite arm up to the sky. The pose should look like a myriad of triangles.
Continue to be as active as possible
It’s worth repeating: move and hydrate your body, especially during your period. You will feel better. Just remember: there is not going to be one overarching, correct answer. Do what feels right for you. “It is really important to empower women to take control of their own bodies. Whether it’s during your period or during pregnancy, do what instinctively feels right for your body,” says Murdock.
Rest assured, any exercise is helpful, regardless of whether you can run 13 miles or you just feel like going for a walk. “The best thing to do is to be active during your period,” says Murdock. “When you exercise your body releases its own ‘happy’ drug, endorphins. Endorphins help counter cramps, fatigue, and stress that can be symptoms of having your period.”