What is cycle syncing, and should we have been planning our workouts this way all along?
Few things beat that post-workout feeling — sweaty, accomplished, empowered, and energized. But, have you ever had a workout where you felt dazed and sluggish the entire time? Have you ever stopped and considered where you might be in your menstrual cycle?
This is the basis behind Cycle Syncing®, a method created by Alisa Vitti, HHC, AADP, and functional nutrition and women’s hormone expert. The concept came to life in the early 2010s and has since gone viral on social media (“cycle syncing workouts” was even listed as a 2022 Google top trending search term!).
Essentially, cycle syncing syncs what you eat, how you exercise and other lifestyle activities with stages in the menstrual cycle (otherwise known as female infradian rhythm!) to support hormone health, reduce cycle symptoms and boost energy so that you feel your best.
We’re all about using data and science to fuel our workouts, so we wanted to learn more about the trend.
Breaking down phase-based care
While it may be easy to look at your menstrual cycle as just your period, your entire cycle is actually made up of four unique phases (concluding with your period!) that are indicated by hormone levels: follicular, ovulatory, luteal, and menstrual.
During your follicular phase, your estrogen and progesterone begin to rise, peaking during the ovulatory phase, when your body prepares to release an egg. After ovulation, your estrogen and progesterone levels start to dip as you near menstruation. This phase — known as the luteal phase — is often linked with PMS. The cycle concludes with the menstrual phase, when progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest levels as your uterine lining sheds, causing bleeding.
Since your hormone levels are fluctuating during each phase, cycle syncing is designed to work alongside them — not against them.
“Much like the circadian rhythm needs specific support, our infradian rhythm must be supported to perform optimally,” explains Alisa Vitti. “The Cycle Syncing® Method syncs your food type and caloric intake, your workout type and intensity and your projects to each of the four phases of your cycle so that you can not only support hormonal health in each phase and reduce cycle symptoms, but you can also reduce stress, boost energy and live with your unique feminine dynamic energy at the center of your life.”
As you’ve probably seen on social media, women who follow this method report that they sleep better, feel more alert and less stressed, and don’t experience PMS symptoms as severely as a result of “balancing their hormones.”
Syncing your sweat
So, what type of exercise is recommended to align with each phase?
Cardio is the name of the game when you move into your follicular phase.
“As you enter your follicular phase, you’ll feel your energy begin to lift as both estrogen and testosterone rise. Not only will you feel more motivated to workout, you’ll also find you’ll be able to really give it your all,” says Jenna Blake, Family Nurse Practitioner, Functional Hormone specialist, and owner of Her Rooted Wellness.
Recommended workout options include HIIT, plyometrics, cycling, and dance. Given that your hormones are on the rise, some medical professionals also recommend strength training.
“Once you enter the ovulatory phase, you’ll experience peak energy, motivation, and strength as estrogen and testosterone reach their highest levels of the cycle,” says Blake.
Since your hormones are peaking, opt for HIIT workouts or intense bootcamps that your body is primed to power through. It’s also a good time to grab weights. As your testosterone rises, it will be easier to put on muscle.
As you begin to approach menstruation and as your hormones begin to fall again, it’s time to decrease the intensity with slower-paced, strength-building workouts.
Dr. Sari Eitches, MD recommends low-impact resistance training, walks, stretching, and rest days depending on how your body feels. Pilates and yoga are also recommended to combat PMS that may occur during this phase.
It may be no surprise that doctors and phase syncing advocates stand by taking it easy while you’re on your period. When hormones are at their lowest levels, you may feel easily taxed and are likely to see fewer changes in building muscle. Plus, research shows that an hour of strenuous activity during your period can increase your chances of exercise-induced inflammation — not something you want to add on top of cramps!
“During your menstrual phase, most of your hormones are at their lowest point, so it’s normal to feel somewhat lethargic and have the desire to spend more time inward. Because low hormones can lead to a lack of energy and motivation, this is a great time to focus on rest and recovery,” says Blake. “Restorative yoga, foam rolling, stretching, and walking are all good choices. Long walks are especially great during this phase because the gentle rocking of the sacroiliac (SI) joint can be very soothing for cramps.”
Is period syncing worth it?
To be honest, there’s not a ton of solid published research yet on period syncing your workouts. But, studies do show that hormone fluctuations affect energy, sensory processing, mood, appetite, and sleep. So, knowing when your hormones are up or down might help you optimize your workouts.
While there are no full clinical studies out yet, healthcare professionals still recommend the Cycle Syncing® method to patients to help them feel their best — and to increase their mindfulness, which boasts both physical and mental benefits.
“Women are naturally cyclical beings. We have built-in periods for pushing and pulling back, and cycle syncing can help reconnect us to that. Cycle syncing can help us know when to push and when to pull back in our workouts. It provides structure in a way that feels good and nourishing — not in an overly regimented or ‘hustle culture’ way,” says Blake. “It provides rituals to lean on which is so important for women. Learning how to cycle sync can increase your body literacy and help give you the language and confidence to begin to understand your hormones.”
“Cycle syncing can also help us be more intentional and aligned with our rest days,” adds Eitches.
This intentionality and increased body awareness can help you better connect to your feelings — and can help put you in tune with changes in your hormones if you’re trying to get pregnant or trying to identify or remedy a diagnosed hormonal imbalance.
With all of this in mind — and with anecdotal results — it’s worth giving it a go to see how phase syncing impacts your blood sugar stability, stress levels, gut health, PMS symptoms, moods, sleep, and productivity.
We’ll give one warning though: if you’re on hormonal birth control, period syncing likely isn’t for you.
“The only women that cannot truly engage the Cycle SyncingⓇ Method are women who use hormonal birth control. Unfortunately, you don’t have any cycle phases when you are on that medication. You are in a sort of menopausal state with low levels of all hormones, no ovulation, occasional breakthrough bleeding that is not a real period, and no phase changes,” says Vitti.
How can I Cycle Sync?
It’s all about individualization.
The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days but can vary from 21 to 35 days. Tracking your cycle for at least three months with an app like Vitti’s MyFLO will help you understand what phase you’re in and what workouts are right for you (and which foods too if you want to take it a step further!). Other period tracking apps include Glow and Clue.
But, don’t let a strict recommendation rule all.
“Don’t be too prescriptive about it, and don’t lose the plot. Ultimately, the goal is to be more in tune with your body, so if you are feeling energized and up for a high-intensity workout on your period, go for it! But if you would like to explore the patterns of your varying energy, endurance, and motivation to work out and to work with these rhythms, cycle syncing can be super beneficial,” notes Eitches.
Do you cycle sync your workouts? Tell us more in the comments!