This is a transcribed excerpt from the Womensync Podcast, episode #1 All about the menstrual cycle and how you can influence it with Jenny Koos . Some adaptations of the text have been made. To listen to the podcast episode with Jenny click here . You can read Part I here and Part II here.
In the episode with Jenny Koos, we talk about exercise and how it can have an impact on the female body and what symptoms we can experience during the month. We get into how overtraining, running and high-intensity training (combined with too little food and recovery) can lead to irregular/stopped ovulation and thus missed periods . Jenny explains why this can happen, what happens physically in the body when we train hard in a way that is not optimal for our body and also about how you can use physical activity to reduce PMS.
How do I know if my training has a positive or negative effect on my menstrual cycle and fertility?
You were into this with energy resources in the form of exercise. How should you think about training? What do you usually see? We know that, for example, overtraining can have negative effects, but that there is also another side of the coin. How do you know if you should review your training?
Look at the menstrual cycle. It is a diagnostic tool where you constantly have a mirror of “ what happens when I do this? ". It is information we need to be realistic and humble about. Many people are very "attached" to their training, dependent on it, and feel that it is something they cannot do without for several reasons. Partly for the hormonal kick you can get from it and partly because you feel good when you have completed it.
It is important to be able to take a step back and see how things really are. Does my body really feel good from this form of exercise ? Training incorrectly, too much and with substandard fuel is something that is common and recurring in many people I have spoken to. It's also something that people don't want to hear. Many women who practice very high-intensity training in the form of: endurance, a lot of stretching, intervals experience the consequences that the body feels hunted. It becomes a form of stress, which is not so desirable if you look at hormonal health.
Here you can see Jenny's lecture on Training and hormones .
How does high-intensity training affect the menstrual cycle and ovulation?
What is happening in the body that in turn affects the menstrual cycle, when, for example, we train at a very high intensity or run a lot?
Physically, the body feels that you are being "hunted by a lion". Then the adrenal glands react with a stress response and then your ovaries don't think it's reasonable to have children in the middle of everything. In this situation, space is not created for the ovaries to push through an ovulation, but the body is wise and prioritizes the stress. The body understands stress and rest, it understands security and food. However, it does not understand the ideal of beauty that society often makes us strive for. Again, we must return to ourselves and what our body can handle in terms of exercise. Some can cope with high-intensity training, but then maybe thanks to eating meat, good with butter and enough food. Or because, for other reasons, they have better conditions to cope with that load. It is also one thing to run for pleasure versus squeezing in X number of kilometers before a work day, where you then stand all day and drink coffee for 8 hours to cope with work.
I usually recommend people who are obsessed with their training routines to maybe try something new, a new type of movement with a little more feeling and love for the body. The hormones are also affected by " why " you train as you do. You can absolutely ovulate and have a baby even with high-intensity exercise, but everyone is unique.
Many of us are used to "being" more in our heads than in our bodies. A question that becomes very valuable is therefore: “Why do I do this and do I enjoy it? Does this feel good in my body?”. That training should not only be about performance.
The performance most often causes a surge of stress hormones, which affects your entire hormonal system along with the reward hormones, the positive effect of the activity and so on - but you also need recovery. It is something we rarely give ourselves. You can run or something, but what do you do when you're done? Go to bed, meditate or eat something really nutritious! You need something that allows you to come back to your body so that it can let go of the feeling of being hunted. In today's society, we rarely get back there, as we are often more or less at a low-intensity, sometimes up to a high-intensity level, all the time. When will we receive the recovery? ( Here you can read more about how you can get back missed ovulation and periods through lifestyle.)
So really it's about how to train? That it's great to move the body, but to think about how I exercise and why I do it?
Yes, and above all if you have enough food and recovery to train as you do.
Can exercise be good for PMS?
Those suffering from PMS, can they use physical activity as a tool?
It has been discovered that in the cyclical, in the fluctuations, you can "ride" the hormonal waves and adjust your training so that it is optimized according to what you are capable of purely hormonally.
For example, when estrogen and testosterone are on the rise, you have an easier time building muscle and are more explosive. While in the luteal phase ( phase 3 ) when more progesterone is rising, then another type of exercise is better.
In a book called " In the flow " by Alisa Vitti, she has a training schedule where she breaks down weekly how to train. When I look at it, I think of all the clients I've had. If they had trained according to her schedule, according to what was physically possible , they would not have ovulated. The four weeks she advises to follow would not have existed because their bodies would not have been able to keep up with what they eat, how they feel and how they live in general. It bothers me that despite more knowledge about the female body and our unique circumstances, we still have a performance-oriented approach which I consider very masculine. I also write about this in my book. We should always push ourselves to the limit even though we don't have to. In today's society, there is no place to start from ourselves and listen to our menstrual cycle. I suggest that instead of looking at what you are capable of, create an understanding of why the training may feel different during the course of the cycle. We don't always have to push ourselves to the limit, as we need enough resources and peace and quiet to ovulate. It's not just about "results": it's about feeling good.
If you want to learn more about the phases of the menstrual cycle, how you can benefit from them and how you can use lifestyle as a tool to feel better during the month or different stages of life, we recommend you read Womensync - For a life in sync with your female biology which Jenny has fact-checked, and of course also Jenny's book "Understanding Fertility". If you want to read Jenny's blog about women's health, you can find it here . She also gives online lectures at Boon , where you can take part in 40 lectures about women's unique biological conditions. If you want to read more about Jenny, you can find her here .
Here you can take part in part I where we talk about what it's like to be cyclical as a woman and part II where we talk about how you can reduce and get rid of menstrual problems through lifestyle, food linked to the menstrual cycle and hormones and much more.