What Menstrual Cycle-Synced Workouts Can (And Can't) Do For You

Folks on TikTok are quite confident and entertaining about delivering hard opinions as if they were facts, so when a health-related trend comes along, we recommend taking a closer look. Although the phrase was originally coined and trademarked by Functional Nutritionist Alisa Vitti, "cycle-syncing" your workouts is also a TikTok trend grabbed by the general public and put on blast.

The idea behind cycle-syncing is to alter the intensity of your workout routine to accommodate shifting hormone levels throughout your menstruation cycle. Although it's not something with much scientific research behind it yet, you might consider trying it as an experiment to see if you get some relief since many who experience PMS symptoms like bloating, cramps, headaches, and mood swings do skip workouts. Exercises and movements that put period cramps on pause are a welcome starting point. Cycle-synced workouts take this idea further by prescribing different exercises for each of the four main phases in our cycles.

What exactly are cycle-synced workouts?

The four phases of menstruation are the starting point for a cycle-synced workout. In the menstrual phase, you start your period, and estrogen and progesterone levels are low. In the follicular phase, estrogen and progesterone levels rise, followed by the ovulatory phase, with its corresponding highest estrogen level and rising testosterone and progesterone. Finally, there's even more fluctuation within the luteal phase as hormones are high but if you don't become pregnant, they drop again.

On a medical diagram, each phase is described with a suggested time frame. For example, ovulation is usually day 14 and the luteal phase is generally days 15 to 28. But these time frames vary from source to source but even more importantly, from person to person. People's menstruation cycles may last from 21 to 35 days. Or they can be wildly irregular if there are co-occurring issues that can stop menstruation, or extreme stress, which can dysregulate it.

Cycle-synced workouts use those time frames as an estimate. It's recommended that when you're menstruating, take it easy with walking and yoga. In the follicular phase, you might feel low energy, so try lighter cardio. Because of the peak hormone levels and testosterone in the ovulatory phase, you can go full beast mode with HIIT workouts and intense strength training. In the luteal phase, lighten it up again as your stamina may have lowered. If you're getting sidelined by menstrual migraines, cycle-synced exercise may not work.

What can they do or not do for us?

First, if you're experimenting, we suggest that you check in with your own body's needs as the number one priority over sticking religiously to a general chart's suggested timings. Even if you use a period tracker, your body's transition from one phase to the next will be a guestimate.

Marissa Baranauskas, Ph.D., an assistant professor of human physiology and nutrition at the University of Colorado, shared with Popsugar that indeed, you're most likely to cramp up and feel low-back pain caused by inflammation during your period. It does make sense that a HIIT workout could be quite uncomfortable then and you may feel less capable of giving it 100%. Lightening your workout is reasonable, especially if you feel like you've been a slave to a workout routine and feel run down during the month.

Per Healthline, cycle-synced workouts can help people who are overweight, who feel overtired, have polycystic ovarian syndrome, want to reconnect with their sex drive, or get pregnant. However, Dan Gordon, associate professor in cardiorespiratory exercise physiology at Anglia Ruskin University, shares with CNN Health that while cycle-synced workouts seem logical, there's too much hormonal variation to accurately match workouts to phases. Also, because of health conditions, some women don't have estrogen or progesterone. In a research article, "How Regular Is Regular?" authors Mitchell D. Creinin, Sharon Keverline, and Leslie A. Meyn stated, "the variability in menstrual cycle lengths is significant."