Exercise can be a double edged sword for people with endometriosis. We all know that exercise is beneficial. Resistance training helps to build bone density, muscle mass, as well as coordination, muscle strength, and endurance. Cardiovascular exercise helps improve our heart and lung health.
That’s great! The problem is that for many of us, exercise can also initiate pain that might last for a day or the rest of that week or month. It can be very difficult to exercise enough to stay mobile and strong, but not so much that we end up in bed with a heating pad.
When I was a personal trainer and Pilates instructor, one idea I learned about is periodization. This involves breaking down larger fitness related goals into smaller phases, which are organized with with increasing difficulty and rest periods.
In its strictest definition, periodization is most often applied to athletes or people training for strength gains. However, it’s an idea that can apply to anyone’s fitness routine, and I think it applies especially well to my menstrual cycle.
What works for me is to think about my exercise routine as part of my menstrual cycle, and tailor my workouts accordingly. Here’s what that looks like:
Days 1-3: When I’m on my period and my pain is the highest that it gets, I don’t even try to exercise. These are days where I’m taking lots of anti inflammatories, and I’m trying to just make it from the bed to the bathroom.
Days 4-7: As my period winds down, I’ll get back to what I consider my exercise foundation: stretching, walking, and basic Pilates mat exercises. I’ll spend thirty minutes or so stretching my quads, hamstrings, glutes, ab muscles, and back, and then I’ll either walk or do Pilates exercises for an additional 15-30 minutes.
- Kneeling Quad Stretch
- Supported Happy Baby Stretch
- Shoulder Bridge
- Activation exercises for Transverse Abdominus
- Spine Extensions
Days 7-14: This is where I begin to add to my workouts. Stretching, walking, and Pilates remain the foundation, and these things are now my warm up routine. I’ll also add in some bodyweight exercises like squats, planks, and lunges. I’ll aim to do 3-4 bodyweight exercises in a workout, generally around 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
- Bodyweight Squats
- Upper Body resistance band exercises
Days 14-21: If my body is feeling good, I’ll make some of those body weight exercises into weighted exercises using kettlebells or dumbbells. I might also add in some more vigorous bodyweight exercises like burpees or jumping jacks.
- Weighted Squats
- Walking Lunges
- Upper Body Dumbbell exercises
Days 21-28: I’ll begin to wind down my workout intensity, returning to bodyweight exercises. As I feel my period approaching around day 25 or 26, I’ll bring my focus back to walking, stretching, and Pilates.
- Bodyweight Step Ups
- Pilates Ab Series
- Pilates Roll Up
Incorporating this rhythm into my workout routine has been very helpful for me in maintaining my muscle mass, mobility, and weight. It feels like I’m spending less time fighting my body and more time exercising because I’m recognizing my own limits and working within them.
Maintaining consistency in my workouts also lets me track how my body feels over time. If my warm up exercises are feeling particularly challenging, then I’ll moderate my workout accordingly. But, if I get through my warm up and I’m feeling good, I might try for a few extra reps.
Sure, there are times where I either work out too much or not enough and end up in more pain than I would rather be in. It’s a process of personal trial and error, and keeping a journal to track your activity will be crucial in determining what exercise intensity is appropriate for you.
I would love to hear about your strategies to stay active while managing your endometriosis! Please share your favorite workout plans, YouTube channels, or exercise equipment that keeps you moving!