If you too had the absolute pleasure of being raised by a mixture of Gen X and Baby Boomers, periods probably weren’t one of those ‘talked about’ things growing up. Aside from a few awkward high school health classes, no one has probably explained to you what happens on the inside each month.
That’s totally okay, because in the next 5 minutes, that’s about to change. Around 50% of the population has a period for the majority of their adult lifetime, and for that to be considered taboo is rather messed up.
So here it is. A no-fuss run down of the four phases of the menstrual cycle. Apply to your own life and educate the next generation as you see fit.
If you were to learn about the menstrual cycle from a textbook, it would probably talk to the 28-day cycle with ovulation occurring at the perfect half-way point of day 14.
As it turns out, our bodies aren’t always ‘textbook’, they’re all so different and beautiful in their own way, and our periods are no different. As a general rule, any cycle length between 24 and 35 days is considered ‘normal’.
Periods spaced longer than 35 days apart are considered irregular. There are all sorts of reasons for irregular periods that we won’t go into right now, but feel free to if you want to talk more about what this means for you.
We’ll do our best to talk you through an average cycle, in a way that can be applied to your unique cycle, whatever length it may be.
There are four phases to your cycle, and each represents a change in the choreography that makes up your hormonal balance.
Each phase has a slightly different vibe, and once you tune into it you’ll start to notice distinct differences in your desires, energy levels and moods as you cycle your way through the month.
period & early follicular phase (roughly days 1-6)
Your cycle quite literally kicks off with a sweet release, letting go of your last cycle and welcoming the next with the arrival of your period.
During this phase, you’ll probably notice that you feel a bit more introspective. The idea of Netflix and naps may feel much more appealing than intense workouts and social gatherings.
These cosy, stay-at-home feelings are partly brought about due to your hormone levels dipping to allow for you to shed your uterine lining and menstruate. Our hormones help us to feel energetic, outgoing and motivated so it’s natural that when they drop away we might swing into a more introverted phase.
During the first few days of bleeding, you’ll probably want to conserve energy and focus on walks, yoga or stretching and being gentle and loving with yourself. As your period comes to an end and your energy levels start to pick up, you might find this low hormone phase advantageous if steady-state endurance exercise is your jam.
Follicular phase (roughly days 6-13)
The follicular phase is generally a pretty sweet time. Any PMS or period-related symptoms have melted away, our oestrogen and testosterone levels are on the rise giving us energy and vibrance, and life is good.
Oestrogen helps us to feel more outgoing, adventurous and positive; like we can take on the world. Whether it’s starting the project that’s been buzzing around your brain, going to a string of social events, or upping your weights at the gym, this is a great time to harness your oestrogen-fuelled outward energy to get sh*t done.
Exercise-wise, during the follicular phase our increased energy levels make this the time in your cycle when you might want to do a HIIT class or two. Your body is set up to be able to handle it well, and to thrive with the physical challenge.
Ovulation (roughly days 14-21)
Once oestrogen has risen to a nice juicy peak, it triggers the spike of two important ovulation hormones - Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinising Hormone (LH).
This chain of events eventually sends a matured egg on its way from its follicle into a fallopian tube, where it waits patiently for 12 to 24 hours for a good-looking sperm to wine and dine it.
If you want to get pregnant this is your window to get busy. If you’re not looking to create new life right now, this is the time to be extra careful.
Hormonally speaking, this is when oestrogen and testosterone are both at their peaks, making you feel more as confident, sexy and Beyonce-like as ever.
With your hormones at their peak, weight training is a great movement choice as you’ll feel your strongest during this time of your cycle.
luteal phase (from ovulation until the start of your next cycle)
After all the excitement of the follicular and ovulatory phases, the luteal phase brings the mood back to chill.
As your oestrogen and testosterone levels start to ebb away during the luteal phase, they make way for progesterone to take the stage.
Progesterone is an anti-anxiety aid and is the chill pill of the hormone world, hence the more horizontal approach to life you might find yourself wanting to take during the final phase of your cycle.
The luteal phase is a quieter, more inward-focused time where you’ll likely find slower-paced activities like reading, journaling, meditating and pottering around at home more attractive than the previous few weeks.
Due to the hormonal changes during this time, the later luteal phase is also when things can start getting interesting with PMS-type symptoms such as mood swings, cramping, breast tenderness, insomnia and feelings of anxiety.
knowing your unique body & cycle is power
We are all unique, and tuning in to each phase of your cycle and the symptoms that may pop up in each can tell you a lot about your hormone health energy and tendencies throughout the month. Knowing where you are in your cycle is a bit of a self-care cheat sheet, signalling exactly what kinds of activities are going to serve your body the best.