Have you ever complained about feeling like you only have one or two good weeks a month? Same. I set out to better understand what my body is going through during each of the four phases of the menstrual cycle, and how it effects me holistically. The four phases are based on a 28-day cycle, says Westchester, NY OBGYN Alyssa Dweck, MD, but she notes that normal cycles can vary from 21 to 35 days.
“Each phase brings different changes to the mood and body,” says founder of cycle-based wellness app 28, Brittany Hugoboom. Mood, nutrient needs, energy and more shift with each cycle. Hugoboom recommends adjusting exercise and diet based on your cycle to maintain a healthy balance in your weight, hormone levels, and overall mood.
This is likely the phase you’re most familiar with, as it’s the main one we’re most educated about. This phase tends to be days one through five or seven, and it begins when you start bleeding. “Bleeding occurs due to shedding of uterine lining if pregnancy does not occur,” says Dr. Dweck. She explains that during this time, estrogen and progesterone levels are low.
Due to the drop in these hormones, Freehold, NJ OBGYN Angela Jones, MD, says you “may experience symptoms such as cramps, breast tenderness, bloating and mood swings.” Hugoboom says this is when energy levels are lowest, noting that it’s a great time for self-care. This is also the perfect time time for stretching-based restorative workouts, she adds.
Days six or eight through 14 mark the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle. “The pituitary gland in the brain detects low hormone levels and makes more. These hormones travel through the bloodstream to the ovary where they induce follicle formation,” explains Oklahoma City, OK OBGYN and medical advisory board member for O Positiv, Tyler Lloyd, MD.
Then “a dominant follicle develops in the ovary in preparation to release a mature egg for potential fertilization,” says Dr. Dweck. During this time, there’s an increase in follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which “causes follicles in your ovaries to grow and eventually form a mature egg called an ovum. During this phase, estrogen levels rise, causing the lining of your uterus to thicken,” says Dr. Jones.
“During the follicular phase, you might notice higher energy levels, glowing skin and increased sex drive. This is due to increasing estrogen levels,” says Dr. Jones. As estrogen and testosterone levels increase, it’s a great time for building muscle or creativity, says Hugoboom.
On approximately day 14, luteinizing hormone (LH) causes the follicle to burst and release an egg to be shuttled through the fallopian tube into the uterus, where it waits to be fertilized by sperm, says Dr. Lloyd. This is your most fertile time—and often when your sex drive is highest, says Dr. Dweck. Additionally, she notes body temperature might rise slightly just prior to or around ovulation.
This is when you look the most symmetrical, and your face is glowing, says Hugoboom. Expect a positive mood, high sex drive and more energy, she adds. Hugoboom says it’s prime time for more intense exercises like HIIT or kickboxing. “During the ovulation phase where energy is higher, perhaps clients try amplifications offered such as heavier spring loads or core-based exercises on the toes,” says director of training & development at solidcore Taylor Bogenschuetz.
Days 15 to 28, progesterone is elevated, resulting in the thickening of uterine lining in preparation for pregnancy, says Dr. Dweck. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, there is a subsequent decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels.
Dr. Lloyd admits days 21 and 22 generally aren’t great, noting fatigue and acne are common occurrences. “If you struggle with PMS [days 23 to 28] is when symptoms begin. Mood swings, anxiety, fatigue, breast pain, bloating, headaches, food cravings and problems focusing begin and worsen as hormone levels decrease,” he says. This is where supportive supplements like FLO-PMS Gummy Vitamins ($35) could come in handy. Since energy is lower during this phase, Bogenschuetz recommends modifying workouts as needed, like core-based exercises on the knees or less resistance.