When it comes to exercise, do you avoid it during your time of the month? Period pain has always been something that I’ve suffered with, and it definitely puts me off working out. I’m not alone; of course,—80 percent of women have period pain. Mine always lasts the first two days of my period, and it usually consists of the following: pain in my lower stomach, my back, the tops of my legs, and being a bit shaky. My usual way of coping with that was to grab a hot water bottle, chuck a few Aleve down my throat, and eat a lot of chocolate (hi, cliché). But when I was training for 10ks and then a half marathon, the curling-up-and-crying-at-adverts thing wasn’t really an option as it would mess up my training schedule.
It turns out that staying active during your period is perfectly fine, as long as you listen to your body, remember to stay hydrated, and switch up your routine to make the most of these changes.
Board-certified sports physical therapist Dr. Leada Malek provides some key insights for working out during your period—what works, what doesn't, and how to make adjustments to your favorite activities.
Keep reading for seven activities to keep you moving during that time of the month, including an at-home workout how-to video from fitness trainer Traci Copeland.
Meet the Expert
Leada Malek, PhD, is a board-certified Sports Physical Therapist. She is one of the 9 percent of therapists in the U.S. who are specialized in sports therapy. She has worked with patients of all ages and has treated professional dancers, athletes, weekend warriors, and young athletes.
Walking is incredible for many reasons. For starters, it has been found to help with cardiovascular disorders and general health if you undertake just 30 minutes of walking every day. But how does this fit into aiding period pain? According to one study, a group undertaking aerobic exercise found an improvement in PMS symptoms.
During the worst of your period symptoms, a low-key activity like walking may be the best bet. "During menstruation, low levels of estrogen/progesterone may make you feel unmotivated and sluggish, not to mention whatever personal symptoms you have like inflammation," says Malek.
The Fresh Foam 1365 is specifically designed for walking with plushy midsole cushioning and midsole support. They keep you cool with mesh for optimal breathability.
From a personal point of view, running has helped ease my PMS symptoms and reduced my pain every month. However, I have been mindful not to overdo it when I'm feeling a bit shaky. That said, there is evidence that points towards running having a positive effect on period pain. In one study that looked at women exercising on a treadmill "three times a week for up to four weeks followed by aerobic training at home for up to four weeks," it was discovered that these "exercises may be effective in reducing the pain associated with [menstrual cramping]."
Just remember that now might not be the time for high-intensity. "Opt for less of a HIIT workout with sprints, and try a LIIT workout (low-intensity interval training) with walking," recommends Malek.
The Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit running shoe is extra cushioned to help prevent injury and keep you running longer. With 15 colorways, there is a pair for every taste.
Okay, we know the last thing you want to do is squeeze your bloated body into a swimsuit when it's your time of the month, but swimming is one of the most relaxing and gentle exercises you can do. What's more, research has shown that swimming can help ease the physical and psychological symptoms of PMS, including anxiety, depression, tension, mood changes, weak coordination, headache, tiredness, pain, breast tenderness, and cramps.
The Springboard suit by Sweaty Betty is built for performance and includes a built-in shelf bra for the support you need. It's also got 50+ UV protection and chlorine resistant fabric to keep it looking new for years to come.
Focus On Form With Home Workouts
Of course, the home workout, whatever you choose to do, is ideal for anyone who can't face the world when they're feeling a bit emotional or are worried about starting your flow during your class or set. Staying home and using the time to focus on your form can be extra beneficial. "Towards the end of the luteal phase, you may start to experience PMS symptoms like irritability, fatigue, and breast tenderness. Because it’s just before your period, it’s a good time to resort to lighter workouts and good form in preparation for the cycle ahead," says Malek.
How To Do Lateral Resistance Walks
Resistance bands are perfect for home workouts. They are easy to store, highly versatile, affordable, and come in various resistance levels to keep you challenged.
A review of studies has proven that practicing yoga can help with period pain. Published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the review looked at 15 studies, which clearly demonstrated a link between helping with PMS symptoms (including anxiety and headaches) and actual period pain.
However, these studies mainly looked at women practicing yoga daily or near-daily, so those two classes every week you do might need upping. If you're not sure how to start your practice, check out our guide to beginner’s yoga.
"You can focus on lower-intensity exercises like mobility, yoga, or gentle and restorative exercises. Gentle stretching can help facilitate some healthy movement and reduce back pain and cramping," says Malek.
A lightweight and durable yoga mat that's full-sized and a padded 1/4 inch thick. This mat is latex-free and not made with any heavy metals. The best part—the beautiful serene design.
While trying to get your one-rep-max might not be ideal during your period, strength training is a fantastic form of activity for the start of your period when intense cardio or plyometric style jumps and leaps may feel like too much. "Reducing the volume of exercises and intensity is a great way to modify your workout to fit what your body can tolerate. So if you’re used to doing three sets of everything while strength training, opt for two sets or lighter weight," Malek suggests.
However, near the end of your period, you can take it back up a notch due to favorable hormonal changes. Malek explains: "During the end of your period, you may start to feel more energized. This is a great time to increase your weight in the gym."
Rubber encased dumbbells with a hex shaped design to keep them from rolling away. Choose a weight that's challenging for the last few reps.
Pilates, like yoga, can be a more gentle and at-your-own-pace activity that is perfect for when you'd rather stay on the mat. Some research shows that Pilates is better than aerobic activity for relieving physical and psychological symptoms of PMS, decreasing stress, and balancing brain chemicals.
A six-piece set of the most popular home Pilates equipment, including a 15-inch ring, loop band, 9.8-inch ball, strap, grippy socks, and a resistance band. This set will help you build a solid Pilates foundation right at home.
Choose the Activity That's Best For You
Period symptoms vary greatly per individual. On top of that, there isn’t much reliable research that clearly states what to avoid or what to do. "There’s actually no evidence that says exercising during your period is “bad” for you; in fact, it may even make you feel better," says Malek. It's vital that no matter what activity you choose, you listen to your body.
"However, because fatigue and perceived exertion are real indicators of exercise performance, it’s important to do what you feel like and what you think your body is capable of doing. Monitor your intensity, and be sure to give yourself breaks," recommends Malek.
British Menopause Society. Period Pain. Women's Health Concern. 6 Apr. 2020.
National Health Services. Walking for Health. July 2019
El-lithy A, El-mazny A, Sabbour A, El-deeb A. Effect of aerobic exercise on premenstrual symptoms, haematological and hormonal parameters in young women. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2015;35(4):389-92. doi:10.3109/01443615.2014.960823
Kannan P, Claydon LS, Miller D, Chapple CM. Vigorous exercises in the management of primary dysmenorrhea: a feasibility study. Disabil Rehabil. 2015;37(15):1334-9. doi:10.3109/09638288.2014.962108
Maged, Ahmed & Abbassy, Amr & Sakr, Hend & Elsawah, Heba & Wagih, Heba & Ogila, Asmaa & Kotb, Amal. (2018). Effect of swimming exercise on premenstrual syndrome. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics. 297. DOI:10.1007/s00404-018-4664-1.
Oates J. The Effect of Yoga on Menstrual Disorders: A Systematic Review. J Altern Complement Med. 2017;23(6):407-417. doi:10.1089/acm.2016.0363
Samadi, Zeinab & Taghian, Farzaneh & Valiani, Mahboubeh. (2013). Effects of Pilates and Aerobic Exercise on Symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome in Non-Athlete Girls. Journal of Isfahan Medical School. DOI:30. 1880-1891.