Ever wonder why some days you feel like you are absolutely crushing a Barre FiiT class and other days you feel like you can barely make it through the first leg series? It’s not just you – it’s your hormones!
If you are a woman in your reproductive years, you’ve been sold a false basket of goods about your hormonal cycle. You’ve likely been told that it’s a “curse”, a burden, something to be ashamed of and hide. As a culture, we’ve been conditioned to ignore our hormonal cycles until something inevitably feels out of whack. From an early age, we are literally taught to suppress our feminine biology because we think it will help us keep up in a man’s world.
The truth is, our body’s natural cycles can actually be our greatest gift if we understand how to work with them. Our biological femininity isn’t something to ignore, it is something to fully embrace and utilize. Despite what we’ve been told, women in their reproductive years have an inherent hormonal advantage – when those hormones are in balance they can infuse you with energy, ignite your creativity, and help you achieve your fitness goals.
So, are you ready to stop fighting against your body’s natural rhythms and start embracing them? Are you ready to stop exhausting yourself day in and day out and start tapping into your unbounded feminine potential?
The Stigmatization of Women’s Reproductive Health
All human beings have a circadian rhythm that is responsible for regulating our daily bodily processes. On a 24-hour cycle, we have natural spikes and dips in our hormone levels, starting with a cortisol spike in the morning to get you up and moving and ending with the secretion of melatonin around 9:00 pm to help your body prepare for sleep. You can think of the circadian rhythm as your body’s daily timekeeper.
However, women in their reproductive years also have a second clock that has largely been ignored by the scientific community and media – the 28-day infradian clock. This infradian rhythm is attached to your monthly menstrual cycle, which includes four distinct phases: follicular, ovulation, luteal, and menstrual. The inner working of this infradian rhythm has a profound impact on our health, moods, and physical performance.
It’s no secret why most women are just now learning about our infradian clocks – we live in a culture that ignores them. Modern life is structured around the biological clock of men – our entire concept of time is predicated on the male-patterned 24-hour cycle. Each and every day we are expected to function essentially the same way as our male counterparts: go as hard and fast as we possibly can until we finally crash.
This male-energy paradigm along with the general stigmatization of women’s health has created a major lack of understanding of female biochemistry. As a result, most of us have no idea what is really going on inside our bodies. We can’t achieve hormonal harmony because we are largely unaware of what it even looks or feels like. We believe that the answer to getting the results we want is pushing even harder, even when we feel like we have no energy left to give.
This disparity is especially apparent in the health and fitness industry. The reality is because men only have one biological clock without consistent hormonal fluctuations, they are easier and cheaper research subjects. In fact, women only account for about 37% of participants in exercise studies.
That’s right – the majority of diet and exercise research has been done on men, not women. In the rare case that women are included in sports and exercise research, they are often only studied during the first half of their cycles when hormone levels are low OR if they are taking synthetic birth control pills.
Finding Hormonal Harmony Through Movement
If you want to perform, feel, and look your best it is essential that you bio-hack like the strong woman you are. Considering that your body’s systems fluctuate in tandem with your changing hormones, it makes sense to adopt an approach to exercise and movement that is also fluid and adaptive. When you start intentionally aligning your workouts with your infradian rhythm, rather than feeling totally wiped out and depleted after exercising you will instead feel energized and fresh.
For many women, working out has almost become a fear-based practice. A lot of us have become indoctrinated by the “just do it” mentality, the notion that more and harder is always better. We fear that pulling back on our exercise routine in any way may cause us to gain weight or set us back on our health goals. A lot of the time we work out believing we are doing something healthy and beneficial for ourselves, but in reality, we are only compounding your hormonal imbalances. To work towards our health and fitness goals without wasting precious energy, we must acknowledge the role hormones play in achieving them.
Syncing Your Cycle With Your Workouts
During each phase of your 28-day cycle, your body will respond differently to different kinds of exercise based on your evolving hormone levels. In the first half of your cycle, due to higher testosterone levels, your body is capable of burning fat and building muscle much more efficiently, giving you access to greater energy and stamina. This is why you can breeze through a HiiT class and still feel great afterward. In the second half of your cycle, estrogen, testosterone, and blood sugar levels dip, sapping your energy and making that HiiT class feel a hell of a lot more challenging than it did just a couple of weeks earlier.
Your feminine rhythmic biochemistry provides a clear roadmap for planning workouts that will be the best for your body. Some phases of your infradian rhythm ask you to do less if you want to achieve more. While this might feel counterintuitive to your conditioning to “just do it”, yes, it is possible to do less and get better results.
Syncing your movement with your cycle is all about knowing where you are in your 28-day cycle and using that information to support yourself as your hormone levels fluctuate. Following this guide will help you maximize your body’s natural energy while minimizing the moments where you beat yourself up for “not doing enough” – rather than feeling “lazy” for skipping a class or a workout, you will feel empowered to know you are doing what is best for your body and hormonal health.
Breaking Down the 28-Day Cycle: Curate Your Ohana Classes to Achieve Hormonal Balance
The Follicular Phase
In the days following your monthly bleed, you will start to experience a natural spike in energy as your estrogen and testosterone levels begin to rise. During the follicular phase, your body will react more efficiently to hardcore workouts that help you boost your metabolism and shed weight. This is a good time of the month to focus on cardio and strength-based class formats such as Yoga FiiT, Dynamic Yoga, and Yoga Move.
The Ovulatory Phase
In this phase, estrogen and testosterone reach their peak levels. This is the time in the month when you will feel the most energetic and social. With energy to burn, it is the time to go for the most intense workouts of your cycle that build lean muscle – this week, try classes like Barre FiiT, Barre Burn, Barre Flow, or if you’re pressed for time Barre BLAST.
In the first few days of the luteal phase, estrogen and testosterone levels are still elevated, and now progesterone enters the scene. You should still have a decent amount of energy, but not quite as much for the more high-impact workouts. In the second part of the luteal phase, all three of these reproductive hormones begin to lower, taking you out of that muscle-building zone. In the first half of your luteal phase, opt for strength-based workouts like Barre, but in the second half, begin shifting towards less intense formats like classic Yoga Flow, Mindful Flow, or Vin Yin.
During your monthly bleed, hormone levels are at their absolute lowest and the same goes for your energy levels. Overexerting yourself during your menstrual phase has consequences – while your body naturally burns more calories during this phase as your metabolism speeds up, high-intensity exercise works against this by pumping out the stress hormone cortisol which turns on fat storage. This results in muscle wasting and stress on the cardiovascular system.
This phase is all about restoration and recovery. For movement, less is more. Restorative yoga is perfect for the menstrual phase as the slow pace and use of props allows your muscles to completely relax into each posture. Gentle Yoga is another great option for this phase.
Freeing Your Feminine
It is a long past time for women to awaken to their feminine power. The 28-day clock is the physical manifestation of the energies that govern all life – we all exist in cycles of creation, sustaining, and destruction. We cannot always be in creation mode, otherwise, we’d burn out. We cannot always be in sustaining mode, otherwise, we’d never make progress. We cannot always be in destruction mode, otherwise, we’d have nothing left.
Women are not inherently weak or less capable – when we embrace our femininity rather than hiding from it, we unlock our unbounded potential. We also unlock an immense sense of freedom – we now have the permission to do what’s best for ourselves rather than pushing ourselves to keep doing, doing, doing. When we allow ourselves to feel, we unlock our intuition.
Connecting with our cycles is the key to tapping into that elusive sensation of being in a “flow state”. Where it feels like things just “click”; where rigidity turns to malleability; where making progress is accompanied with a sense of ease. Achieving hormonal harmony through movement is a small step in reclaiming the power of our femininity – by reclaiming our energy and our bodies, we reclaim our natural gifts. We feel balanced.