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  • Writer's pictureCarly Gossard

Your Period Explained


Most of us have been having a period since our teens (granted maybe some irregular years due to pregnancy or birth control).  However, how many of us can actually say we understand the different phases of our menstrual cycle?  The different phases of our cycle greatly impact how our body functions during that time- from mood, motivation, temperature regulation, power output, sleep, strength, and so much more.  It may be helpful to track your symptoms throughout the month to see what symptoms correlate with each phase.


It is also important to note that a menstrual cycle is measured from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period.  The average length of a menstrual cycle is 28-29 days, but cycles can vary from person to person, cycle to cycle, and may also change over the years.  Even people with fairly predictable periods may not ovulate on the exact same day every cycle.  


Let’s take a deeper look at the main phases of our menstrual cycle and discuss what happens hormonally during each phase. 


Menstrual phase

The menstrual phase is typically day one through day seven.  During this time levels of estrogen and progesterone are typically at their lowest.  This causes the top layers of the uterine lining to release and leave the body.  Low levels of estrogen and progesterone can also make you feel less energized and less motivated to exercise.   Since you may not feel up to any fast-paced workouts, low intensity exercise such as yoga, pilates, sculpting with light weights, swimming, or going for a casual bike ride are nice options to consider.  Even going for a walk can be beneficial.  


Follicular phase 

The follicular phase is actually concurrent with menstruation, starting with day one of your period, but continues past the bleeding stage and ends with ovulation.  The follicular phase is typically 13 to 14 days long.  During this phase, the pituitary gland releases follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) to stimulate the production of follicles on the surface of an ovary.  The dominant follicle produces increased estrogen as it grows larger.  When estrogen levels are high enough, they signal the brain to create a significant increase in luteinizing hormone.  During this time the uterus lining thickens so a potential fertilized egg can implant and grow.


Thanks to the increase of estrogen, energy levels tend to increase during this phase.  The follicular phase may be the best time to participate in higher level activities such as HIIT, strength training with increased weights, and cardio activities like running, dancing, boxing.  


Ovulation 

The ovulation phase is a brief window of time, about midway through the menstrual cycle, when the high levels of luteinizing hormone cause the release of a mature egg from the surface of the ovary.  The egg travels from the ovary along the fallopian tube towards the uterus.  If the egg is not fertilized within approximately 24 hours it disintegrates. 


Your energy and endurance are likely to be close to the follicular phase due to continued elevated levels of estrogen.  You will probably feel up to continuing high intensity workouts during this time.  However, if you experience discomfort or bloating you should adjust your exercise routine accordingly.  


Luteal phase 

The luteal phase starts after ovulation and lasts approximately two weeks.  It is often the longest stage of the menstrual cycle and ends with menstruation.  The follicle that released the egg turns into a structure called the corpus luteum.  The corpus luteum releases progesterone and small amounts of estrogen to maintain the thickened lining of the uterus.  If a fertilized egg implants in the lining of the uterus, the corpus luteum continues to produce progesterone.  If pregnancy does not happen, the corpus luteum typically breaks down between 9 and 11 days after ovulation and progesterone decreases.  


During the first half of the luteal phase, you may feel similar energy levels of the follicular phase.  However this will start to decline in the second half.  People can start to experience premenstrual symptoms such as mood changes, headaches, ache, bloating, and breast tenderness.  It may be more beneficial for your body to follow a lower impact exercise routine during this phase such as yoga, stretching, or light aerobic exercises.  


Tracking your cycle is a great way to understand and become more in touch with your body.  There are a number of apps you can download to easily track your cycle and symptoms throughout the month.  Some of the apps we love are Flo, Clue, Ovia, or Eve by Glow.  If you experience irregular, extended, or very painful periods, it is recommended that you speak with your healthcare provider to rule out other conditions, such as PCOS or endometriosis.

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