Oh joy, it's that time of the month again. If you can summon the energy to lace up your sneakers or grab your yoga mat from the closet when every ounce of your being wants to hibernate with Netflix a pint of Ben & Jerry's Brownie Batter ice cream, you've already won half the battle. As much of a struggle as it can be to exercise during your period, experts say the rewards of keeping up with your workout routine include better physical and mental health.
"Movement helps increase oxygen delivery and decrease prostaglandin release, which helps alleviate cramping," says U by Kotex partner Jessica Shepherd, M.D. "Exercise also triggers the release of endorphins, which can alter pain perception, helping women with menstrual pain and cramps."
But before you hit the gym, know that some workouts will probably feel better than others. Knowing which exercises are best during your period can actually help ease PMS and period symptoms like fatigue, headaches, anxiety, cramps, insomnia, and depression while boosting your body's ability to produce hormones that make you feel calm and happy. Try these five workouts and moves to feel like your best self during your most blah days.
1. Keep Blood Flowing With Cardio
Whether you're a fan of running, cycling, boxing, or the elliptical machine, cardiovascular exercises that raise your heart rate can improve blood flow to the uterus and increase energy levels when you're feeling fatigued, Shepherd says. But sometimes that's easier said than done. "Maintaining a high-intensity cardio routine throughout the month can be tricky for women, particularly during the days leading up to your period, when your energy levels really take a nosedive," says certified personal trainer Sia Cooper.
The riskiest thing about choosing a high-impact cardio workout like running during your period is that sometimes our digestive systems… well, you know. If you find yourself too pooped (heh) to run the distance, substitute sweaty treadmill sessions with mindful walks. "Now is also a great time to practice meditation and breathing," Cooper says. "Think about how powerful your body is, observe what's happening around you, and try to relax."
2. Get Down With These Pilates Stretches
When certified group fitness instructor and Blogilates founder Cassey Ho feels PMS and period symptoms taking hold, she hits the mat and turns to simple, effective Pilates stretches. "Anything that opens the hips and inverts the body to help with circulation is super helpful," Ho says. "Like wide straddle, butterfly, puppy pose, and child's pose."
Lucky for Blogilates fans, Ho's YouTube channel video "Stretches You Need After a Stressful Day" features a roundup of her top 10 favorite PMS and period Pilates stretches, which also include neck rolls, seated twists, and the always necessary hamstring stretch.
3. It Might Be Time to Try Something New
Been putting off that intro yoga class? Haven't touched your swim cap since college? Turns out your period might be the right time to get moving in a new way.
According to one study, the focus and mindfulness found in activities like swimming, dance, and yoga can subdue anxiety and release endorphins, which help ease period-related aches and pains. So go ahead and try your first ballet class during your lady-time—trying to remember all the fancy footwork will most likely take your mind off your uterus.
4. Melt Into These Yoga Poses For Pain Relief
No period workout list is complete without yoga. But while a vinyasa flow is great for increased circulation, if you're feeling crampy and sluggish, Cooper stresses the importance of choosing specific restorative moves over more intense poses—although if you really love a good headstand, you can relax about the whole inversions-cause-endometriosis-rumor because it's not a thing.
Cooper recommends reclined bound angle pose to lessen pressure on your pelvic area and relieve cramps, supported pigeon pose to loosen tight hip flexors, corpse pose for complete relaxation, and even a basic child's pose.
Want to make your practice even more comforting? "Try hugging a pillow or placing a yoga bolster between your legs so it can support your body weight," Cooper says. "These poses are often things we find ourselves doing naturally in bed when we wake up reeling from yucky period pains—it's just a more intentional way of giving yourself time for relief."
5. You Don't Need to Stop Strength Training
"Lifting sometimes isn't recommended during the first few days of your period because muscle inflammation can make water retention worse," says Elliott Upton, senior personal training specialist at Ultimate Performance. So if bloating (which most women report feeling on the first day of their period) is your worst nightmare, you might want to skip the weight rack.
But don't stop for long; this Swedish study saw #gains from women strength training in the first two weeks (which includes the crappiest part) of their menstrual cycles. All in all, the physical and mental benefits of strength training are huge, so there are few reasons you should press pause on your routine. The caveat here is to pay close attention to your energy levels—if you're feeling foggy, it's probably not the best time to go for that overhead squat PR.
Bottom Line: Listen to Your Body—Especially During Your Period
Even if you feel motivated to continue working out during your period, your body may have a different plan. Self-care involves listening to your body and respecting its wishes to slow down and take breaks when needed—especially during menstruation.
"If you feel pain, slow down and stop," says Diana Ramos, OBGYN, co-chair of The National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative. "Brisk walking a few minutes a day counts. If there is an exercise you enjoy, try to continue that exercise during your period with realistic expectations. Listen to your body as you go. If you start to feel fatigued, take a step back."
Remember that your fitness goals don't have to be met in a day, so above all, be kind to yourself. Work out to make your body feel its best during your period and save the heavy lifting for the rest of the month.