Understanding Exercise and PMS with Expert-Recommended Workouts

If you’re a menstruating person, chances are, you’re well familiar with the concept of PMS —AKA premenstrual syndrome. It’s all those physical, emotional and even psychological changes that you often experience in the days leading up to your period each month.

PMS: A Common Experience

While PMS can look quite different from person to person, an estimated 90 percent of menstruating individuals reportedly experience it in some way, shape or form, per a study published in the Annals of General Psychiatry. That’s a lot of people experiencing a serious shift in their day-to-day functioning in the lead-up to their monthly cycle!

Hormonal Changes and Impacts

PMS most often typically occurs in the later half of the luteal phase, or the second half of the menstrual cycle just after ovulation, explains Debby Dy, P.T., D.P.T., O.C.S., Board-Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist and Pelvic Health Physical Therapist. During the luteal phase, the egg that was released during ovulation develops into a small yellow cyst, called the corpus luteum, which then secretes hormones progesterone and estrogen that causes the uterine lining or endometrium to thicken and to be able to nourish a fertilized egg.

If the egg is not fertilized and an embryo does not implant, the corpus luteum deteriorates and the progesterone levels will fall. Without this key hormone, progesterone, the lining of the uterus isn’t maintained, which causes it to shed, thus starting the menstruation cycle.

It is the hormonal turbulence that occurs during this phase of the cycle that researchers suspect causes what we know to be PMS. For example, during the premenstrual phase, progesterone levels rise, impacting metabolism and potentially leading to increased hunger, explains McKinley Tennant, yoga instructor, women’s embodiment coach and founder of Kinretreats.

Exercise and PMS

Given the hormonal upswings involved with PMS, it’s no surprise if you’re feeling a little less inspired to work out. Factors such as fatigue, mood swings, and discomfort can make exercise way less appealing. However, physical activity can also alleviate some PMS symptoms, such as bloating and mood swings, Tennant adds. In fact, research supports this—one cross-sectional study published in Frontiers in Public Health found exercise to be an effective treatment for PMS.

Expert-Recommended Workouts

If you’re looking to continue your exercise even when you’re experiencing PMS, consider these 5 expert-recommended workouts.


Since yoga combines physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation, it can be beneficial for your body and mind when you’re experiencing hormonal fluctuations. “Many yoga poses give some stretch to the abdominal muscles and can stimulate increased blood flow to your abdomen and internal organs for pain relief,” says Dy. “Breathwork is also a focus when doing yoga which can promote full body relaxation and mindfulness.”


Walking is a low-impact exercise, which means it’s easy on your joints and doesn’t put significant stress on your body the way that intense cardio or strength-training might. It also increases circulation, potentially alleviating bloating, explains Brooke Taylor, fitness instructor and creator of TFIGNITE PROGRAM and Taylored Fitness. Another plus is if you’re walking outside you get the added benefit of vitamin D exposure, which can help give you a mood boost. 


“Gentle movements and stretching can alleviate muscle tension and reduce stress,” explains Tennant. “There are so many benefits to stretching: Improved flexibility, reduced muscle soreness, and stress relief.” If you’re doing stretching moves during the luteal phase of your cycle, she recommends focusing on gentle poses, deep breathing, and mindfulness and avoiding strenuous poses that may increase discomfort.


Pilates exercises, especially those performed on a mat, are low-impact and focus on strengthening the core muscles, improving posture and enhancing flexibility, explains Taylor. This is a great workout to do when you’re looking to keep your breathing low and slow, but maximize your efforts without feeling winded. 


Water supports your body weight, making swimming and water aerobics excellent low-impact exercises, notes Tennant. “Buoyancy in water reduces impact on joints and muscles and provides resistance, helping to strengthen muscles.” She recommends swimming at a comfortable pace, focusing on gentle strokes and avoiding intense or competitive swimming, which may increase fatigue.

It’s especially important to listen to your body when you’re experiencing PMS symptoms. “Stay hydrated, prioritize rest, and consider adjusting your exercise routine based on how you feel on a given day.,” says Tennant. “Modifications can make workouts more manageable and enjoyable during this phase.” She also recommends  incorporating stress-reducing activities like meditation or deep breathing, which can complement physical exercise and contribute to overall well-being during PMS.

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