Hormones – They’ve got a lot to answer for!
No, it’s not an excuse, but it is a very valid reason for why things can go terribly wrong in your Fitness programme if you don’t understand how your hormones are affecting your training.
Our hormones don’t stop and start. They are constantly flowing through our bodies at fluctuating levels throughout the month and this can mean constant changes to how you feel emotionally and physically during your menstrual cycle.
There’s the ‘Good Weeks’ – When you’re full of energy, your skins glowing and your libido is boosted (make the most of it!)
Then there’s the ‘Bad Weeks’ – When you seriously can’t be bothered to do anything you don’t have to; you feel like a fat pig and you could eat everything in sight!
It’s not surprising that these constant changes in hormone levels mess up our fitness goals!
Our changing hormone levels throughout the month can really affect your ability to exercise and knowing how your menstrual cycle influences your workouts can be really helpful – e.g. If you’re able to push your workout or if you should just go for an easier option. We’ve all been there – frustrated at not running our fastest 5K, not lifting our heaviest squat weight, or just not having the energy for our usual workout. It’s frustrating!
‘Time of the month’ is not a reason NOT to exercise (I remember forging letters from my mum to excuse me from PE because I had my period!). You just need to plan a workout to suit your hormones.
Although everyone’s menstrual cycle is different, here’s a guide to what’s happening during your cycle and which type of exercise is more beneficial at each stage.
‘I’ve just started so I’ll watch a Netflix series and eat pizza’
There’s actually no medical reason why you shouldn’t be able to exercise during your period. In fact, it can be beneficial and for many women it can help ease the symptoms of PMS due to endorphins (which are the body’s natural painkillers) released during exercise. It might be the last thing you feel like doing and you might not reach a PB during this time, but you’ll probably feel better for it.
‘Woohoo I’ve finished!’
After your period your oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone levels start to increase which is when your energy and motivation rises, so now is the perfect time to use that energy for your most intense workouts. Testosterone (usually associated with men) affects women too and while its in high levels you can really use it to increase your strength training capabilities. So now is the time to go for your deadlift PB!
And just when you’re back on a roll….
On around day 14 of your cycle (usually when your workouts are back on top form) – you ovulate – and this rapidly decreases your Oestrogen levels! You probably feel more tired and workouts become a huge effort again. However, at this stage of your cycle, your lungs function better, so it’s the perfect time to progress your cardio workouts! And according to research, women tend to burn more calories during this phase too – so fuel up!
If you’re going to have a rest week, then this is the time.
At some point this week your body will begin preparing itself for your next period. Tummy ache, fluid retention and your mood turning slightly psycho! Your body temperature rises which might cause you to sweat more during exercise. If you don’t feel like an energetic workout, this is the week to focus on stretching and Yoga is the perfect workout. Your training may not be at its best, but just give yourself a break – your body probably won’t thank you for pushing it to the max this week.
It really is worth Listening to your body and trying to work with your cycle, not against it and by doing this, you may find you don’t lose the plot completely while your hormone levels are constantly changing.
Taking your Workouts Outdoors
Fresh air, open space and (if you’re lucky) sunshine! What’s not to love about outdoor training during the Summer season!
As the weather warms up, if you’ve been training indoors throughout the winter months, the Outdoors provides the welcome change of new surroundings, new visual stimulation and adds a fresh new approach to your training sessions.
You’ve certainly got a few different challenges training outdoors – ever changing weather, variable ground conditions, avoiding dogs running around the park! but you’ve also got the opportunity to get creative with your sessions and add in different elements that are much more suited for the outdoors – even walking and running are far more interesting and challenging outside than on a treadmill.
Many of my clients welcome the change to training outside as a new challenge to their usual indoor sessions and they appreciate the change of scenery too – training in the park rather than inside at home or in the same 4 walls of the gym. I personally benefit from it too. Being someone who loves the sunshine, it’s a lot nicer way to train clients being outdoors than it is being stuck in a gym all day!
However, taking your workouts outdoors, you’ve got to consider:
Weather – If wet or recently raining, the ground and park equipment may be slippery. Stick to exercising on areas you know are pretty much slip proof and avoid the grass. Also, direct sunlight can make it too hot for training so try to find a tree covered space.
Hydration – Especially important when the temperatures rise, carry an extra water bottle, as its easy to underestimate how much you’ll need.
Depending on where you’re training outdoors, many parks now have Outdoor gym areas – some equipment is great, some not so great, but nearly all have benches and playground equipment that can be utilised without having to lug around your weights.
Benches – Great for Step ups, Press ups, Dips, Single Leg Squats and Lunges, Mountain Climbers, Seated abdominals etc.
Trees – Great to use as marker points and for use with TRX and Resistance bands.
Playground Equipment – Climbing bars for pull ups, rows, hanging knee raises or just climbing up.
Swings – Great for challenging balance on otherwise static exercises such as single leg squats, Press-ups and Planks.
Make use of the differing ground conditions too – steps, hills, bridges, grass and pathways all provide new training challenges.
Or just take your usual workout session outdoors and enjoy the change of scenery!
Exercise for Mental Health and Well-being
We know how exercise improves our general Health and Fitness, but along with the physical benefits, exercise can also have a huge impact on your mental health and well-being. Exercise is not only great for the body, but also great for the mind. It’s a mood changer!
There’s a strong link between being physically active and improved mental well-being, especially when we learn that depression is strongly associated with illness and even cardiovascular mortality. People who engage in regular exercise at any intensity are less likely to suffer from mental health problems and there’s a vast amount of research showing that exercise can be as effective as medication when it comes to treating certain conditions.
Physical activity is proven to have positive effects on:
Physical activity that is practised as a group also helps enormously in combating social isolation. During a group activity – such as running, classes, dance, team sports, etc. a person is included and engaged in a group of like-minded people. This helps improve motivation levels and alleviate stress and anxiety.
Exercise really can make you feel better WHATEVER your mood is: Motivated, Tired, Angry, Sad or Stressed, so make sure you plan your workout accordingly. Although you may have a training plan to follow or a class you regularly attend, if you’re not on top form that particular day, change your usual workout for something else to suit your mood. There’s really no point in doing a workout that you’re not going to enjoy as it will only worsen your mood if you fail. If you tailor your workout to your emotional needs rather than physical needs, you’ll not only avoid a meltdown but you’ll enjoy the session much more!.
There’s no point in enduring a gruelling run if you’re feeling really tired – go for a brisk walk instead. If you’re feeling angry or stressed, do some weightlifting or boxing (you’ll give your best punches!). But if you’re feeling at your best that day – give it all you’ve got!.
Sometimes the hardest part of a workout is actually getting started, but lace up your trainers, take a deep breath and just do it – I guarantee you’ll feel better for it!.
A Day in my Life
As a Personal Trainer, Class Instructor, Writer, Business owner and a single Mum, I have no choice but to lead a super organised lifestyle. In fact if I haven’t got each day planned out in advance I get too stressed out to manage it all, so being organised is my No.1 priority. I’m very lucky to be able to say that although my weekdays are hectic, I really love my lifestyle and all the challenges that go with it!
The Morning routine……
My alarm goes off at 5.45am each morning. I’ll be completely honest here – I don’t jump up full of motivation. I hate getting out of bed BUT once I’m up, dressed and I’ve talked myself round, I feel ready to tackle the day ahead.
After my breakfast (usually porridge) I generally train with clients from 7am to 12.30pm. Now that my children are older I’d rather be out of the way of the usual ‘are you up and dressed and ready for school yet?’ chaos!. If I don’t have to leave until later, I use the time to go for a run before work (again I don’t always feel like it but the feeling of going out for a run before I start my day is great so I have to talk myself into it!).
I always make the time every day for my own training (I schedule it in my diary at the beginning of each week). I usually go to the gym or go for a run as soon as I’ve finished training with clients. My clients sessions inspire me, especially if someone’s done a kick ass session – I go to the gym and do the same!
Going back to the diary……I’m a creature of habit. I like to do the same thing at the same time everyday which may sound really boring to some, but it helps me feel more organised and in turn I get more done.
After my gym session or run, I go home and have lunch which is generally some kind of salad, chicken or eggs and rice combination. I’m not the greatest of cooks but I try to be as creative as possible and if I’m taking a photo of my lunch to post on social media, I find I try a little bit harder with the presentation and in turn it actually tastes nicer. I then walk my dog and I use this time to re-charge my brain.
If you’ve got a hectic lifestyle it’s so important to look after yourself. As the saying goes ‘You can’t pour from an empty vessel’. It’s not being selfish, its self-care. I switch my phone off for just 20-30 minutes and try to clear my mind of any stress that’s going on. It’s not always easy to turn off from the outside world, but it’s very beneficial to your personal well-being and mental health to take just a bit of time each day to get some head space. Just breath and live in the moment without any distractions – even if it is while walking the dog in the rain!
So, after my half an hour of calm, the madness begins for round 2!
As the kids are returning from school I have my crazy 2 hours of the day. You know the scenario……I’m sat at my laptop trying to write, do my admin, pay bills, sort client folders etc. and the kids are asking ‘When’s tea ready?’ ‘Where’s my rugby shorts?’ ‘Can my friend come for tea?’ the dogs running around like a lunatic, the window cleaners knocking at the door and while you’ve successfully managed to sit and have a wee in private you get interrupted by a PPI call!
I constantly feel like I should do more with my kids – they always see me working, on my phone or going out to work. However, I was a stay at home mum whilst they were both pre-school so I suppose its good for them to see me now running a business and I’m hopefully inspiring them to do something they love and to work hard at it.
After our evening meal (which I always try to sit down as a family to eat) I’m back out to work to train my evening clients or class members. If it wasn’t for the fact that I love my job, there is no way I’d leave the house on a night. I’m a real home bird and could quite easily stay at home all day, but when I get to my class and see my class members giving it their all, I just love it! I’ve got a great team at my classes and along with my PT clients, as much as it’s MY job to motivate them all to work hard – they really motivate ME to do my best too.
I usually have a couple of hours on an evening before I go to bed and if I’ve got everything on my list done for that day I get chance to put my feet up and watch TV or read. Actually, this very rarely happens if I’m honest! In reality, I tend to walk the dog (again), pick up my phone, text clients, google workouts and post on social media (I’m working on not doing this as much BUT it’s a vital part of my job!). Then just as I’m about to get into bed I’m usually reminded that I haven’t washed a P.E. kit that needs to be ready for the next day!
Now I’d like to say I switch my bedside light off at 10pm and fall fast asleep but I currently have a bit of a problem with my sleep pattern. Sleep is so important for good health and I know I should go straight to sleep but my brain doesn’t seem to agree – this again, is an area I need to work on, but it’s so hard when you have a zillion ideas buzzing though your mind when your head hits the pillow.
So, this is my daily routine Monday to Friday and by the time the weekend arrives I generally switch mode. I’m an all or nothing type of person and although I love going for a long run on a Saturday morning, I also love slobbing on the settee in the afternoon. It’s the same with food, I eat healthily 90% of time but, I can eat A LOT, so I really look forward to my Saturday night Meal out or takeaway – it’s all about the overall balance. I haven’t drunk alcohol for over 2 years now and it makes a massive difference to my weekends, in fact it makes a difference to my working week too. Since giving up the booze I’m more productive, I perform my job a lot better and I seem to have more time as I don’t have to nurse a hangover which is a good job really as when my alarm goes off at 545am on Monday morning, I’m ready to do it all over again!.
Rest and Recovery
No matter how extensive your fitness program may be, the time you spend working out is only a part of the process necessary to achieve your fitness goals. If you’re planning your training but not your recovery, you’re not going to fully reap the rewards from your Workouts.
One thing that is often misunderstood is the fact that your body becomes stronger AFTER you exercise and NOT during the actual workout itself. The real secret to getting results depends on what happens during the recovery period following the workout. This is why the correct recovery and rest is so important.
There are different types of recovery – Short-term (which happens immediately after a workout set) and Long-term (the period of time between workout sessions).
Short-term recovery can be anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes and it’s important to replace energy stores within this period. But the longer recovery period between workouts is the one to focus on, because it’s the time after the workout when the body adapts to the training session. The correct care of your muscles and connective tissue, eating the right type of post workout nutrition, the quality and quantity of sleep and, even the types of clothes you wear, can all promote the post-workout recovery that’s necessary to help you maximise the results from your time spent exercising.
During exercise, your muscles expend energy and experience stress. After exercise, the body needs to replenish energy with carbohydrates and repair tissue with protein so having a post-workout snack with the correct ratio of carbohydrate and protein can help massively. The correct nutrition also assists the release of the muscle-building hormones to repair and build new muscle tissue.
Stretching and Myofascial Release
Stretching, Massage, Foam rollers, Compression balls and Rolling sticks can all help to reduce muscle tightness. If a muscle doesn’t cool-down properly, the collagen fibres (which are part of the connective tissue surrounding each muscle) can create knots. Massage works by manipulating muscle tissue to break up knots and can help reduce muscle tightness and improve joint movement.
Sleep is probably one of the most important factors that can help improve your overall health and fitness. Your body produces most of the hormones needed for tissue repair during sleep so it’s vital to get enough to assist in the recovery process.
Ice, Cold Baths and Cryotherapy
Cold treatments are extremely effective for recovery as they can help cool down the body’s core temperature, reduce inflammation and promote healing in tissue that was used during the workout. The cold temperature brings increased blood to the area, which brings nutrients and oxygen to help promote healing.
Sauna or Hot Tub
The heat from a sauna or hot tub increases the body’s circulation, which removes metabolic waste products while also carrying oxygen and other nutrients necessary to help repair tissue used during the workout.
Alternating between high and low intensity workouts (muscle confusion) either daily, weekly or monthly and taking a few days off every few weeks to allow the body to rest and recover fully.
Wearing Compression clothing before and after a workout is a relatively new form of recovery treatment that may also be effective. The pressure from the tight clothing can improve circulation which will help remove metabolic waste and promote blood flow to help the tissue repair and rebuild.
Too much exercise without enough rest and recovery can lead to injury or illness, both of which could prevent your regular workouts. There are dangers to overtraining without the correct recovery periods between and If you don’t take enough R&R for your muscles to adapt this will certainly affect your ability to achieve your fitness goals.
NEVER forget to include RECOVERY into your Fitness programme!