exercise, hood river naturopath, women's health

The Underground Guide To Planning Your Exercise Around Your Menstruation Cycle.

BG ArticleIntroduction

With adult women making up such a large percentage of people at the gym and out pounding the pavement, coaches and trainers (regardless of their sport) must educate themselves on the complexities of the menstrual cycle.

Ever heard of the pregnenolone steal?

That the luteal phase of menstruation lowers your insulin sensitivity while at the same time giving you an increase in metabolism?

Progesterone depletion?

You may not be familiar with all these terms, or how to use knowledge of them to your advantage or your clients’ advantage for exercise, so continue reading to figure out how you can help educate yourself or your clients on factors to track during menstruation.

And trust me, don’t stop reading if you’re a guy! Us men will benefit greatly from knowing how our partners, spouses, mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and clients can plan their exercise more intelligently. But before learning ways to plan training during menstruation, let’s dive into the basics of the menstrual cycle.

The Start Of Menstruation

The menstruation cycle starts at Day 1 after the unfertilized egg causes the uterus lining to break down.  A menstrual cycle lasts around 28 days but can vary depending on many factors.  For simplicity, in this article I will use a 28 day cycle as the example to cover the phase variances. Body-wide fluctuations occur during this time, but we’ll pay extra attention to levels of estrogen, progesterone, and insulin sensitivity.

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Follicular Phase

The follicular phase comes first (lasting roughly from Day 1 to Day 14) and occurs when the ovary releases an egg. At this point, estrogen increases, while progesterone and body temperature stays the same (See diagram below).  This first phase is a time where the female body is primed to hit intense workouts that are of an anaerobic nature.  Increased insulin sensitivity, along with an increase in pain tolerance, can explain this capability.

An article from The Globe and Mail by Alex Hutchinson stated that carbohydrate loading the day before an endurance competition is more important during this phase.  Later in the article, Hutchinson interviewed a scientist that stated that the metabolic effects during each phase can be negated with purposeful nutrition.  For example, if competition falls on this phase, carb loading during this phase is more important than other periods of the menstruation cycle. Hutchinson also found that performance during menstruation is highly variable. Supposedly, this whole carbohydrate need is due to the body’s ability to better dip into intense glycolytic efforts during the follicular phase, although it would be interesting to see if women who follow a high-fat diet have quite as high a need for carbohydrates during this phase. Regardless, you may want to try to adjust carb intake slightly up during your follicular phase, while at the same time planning your more intense, glycolytic workouts during this phase.

Some women perform unaffected, and others have phases that hinder performance if left unattended.  During training in the follicular phase, coupling intense workouts with refeed meals should be utilized, preferably including carbohydrate sources such as sweet potatoes, yams, rice, or starchy vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and beets.

The American Journal of Nutrition stated that basal metabolic rate decreases at the beginning of menstruation and reaches the lowest point a week before ovulation.  Doing more intense workouts and including metabolism-boosting post-workout meals in the follicular phase will help counteract this slower metabolism, says Shannon Clark in this T-nation article.

Ovulation

Ovulation occurs around Day 14.  Estrogen has peaked and begins a decline, while progesterone surges.  It is normal during ovulation for a woman to feel warmer for the remainder of the cycle. Clark stated in her T-nation article cited earlier that metabolism will start to climb, while insulin sensitivity will begin to decline.

As progesterone surges, a slight decrease in serotonin can happen, and since carbs can boost serotonin, food cravings can often occur at this time. You can use some of these tips to avoid giving into the serotonin boosting carbohydrate gluttony. During ovulation, estrogen and overall strength is peaked, so heavier weight training can be appropriate during this phase (rather than the more difficult cardiovascular anaerobic efforts of the follicular phase) – however, the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that due to joint laxity and estrogen-induced changes in collagen structure, ACL tears are four to eight times more likely to happen during this phase.

Consider supplementing with a tablespoon of collagen in your morning smoothie, place more emphasis on your warm-up, include recovery sessions, and be aware of fatigue and proper form.  More applicable recommendations that you can use for yourself or female clients will be listed below, but let’s finish the details of the menstruation cycle, shall we?

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Luteal Phase

Next is the luteal phase, which begins on ovulation day, for which we will say is happening on approximately Day 14.  During this phase, your body is not primed to workout at very high intensities, the body will prefer fat as its primary fuel source instead of glycogen, and you might retain more water at this time due to PMS symptoms. This might cause discomfort during short burst exercise – plan for lack of motivation here, and stick to aerobic activities as your primary exercise.

Fat burning workouts should be emphasized during the luteal phase.  If you are doing a workout that is strength or glycolytic, note that the luteal phase is not ideal for these domains and you may not perform to your usual capabilities. This is the time of the phase to plan things like aerobic trail runs, flat bike rides, easy swims and other aerobic activities that are at a slightly conversational pace.

After the luteal phase, the transition back to he menstrual phase, will bring metabolism, insulin sensitivity, body temperature, and water retention back to a slightly more “normal” feeling.  For a graphic representation, you can reference the first picture posted under “The Start of Menstruation” above to better understand phases.

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Eight Recommendations For Planning Exercise Around Your Menstrual Cycle

So now that you have your head wrapped around the menstrual cycles, let’s jump into even more practical advice. What considerations should you take for programming for females? Here are some of my top tips.

1) Achieve Nervous System Balance.

Every week must include a slow, long distance workout of around an one hour of conversational paced work.  This will help women have smoother cycles because their body won’t feel as much stress in the sympathetic nervous system.  Not only will this help increase your heart stroke volume, stimulate parasympathetic nervous system growth, but it will also provide a nice active recovery for your body allowing your body to flush out lactic acid from muscle tissue. Going for an unplugged trek can be therapeutic and help build a more robust cardiovascular system.  Mothers and wives – this is also a good chance to bring your family along!

2) Know Where You’re At.

Begin tracking performance during each phase for your entire menstruation cycle.  Take notes on sleep, macronutrient consumption, and exercise intensity.  Communicate these notes with your coach. Try the “Flow” app to make tracking your cycle easier.

3) Moderate Stimulants.

Another important stressor to monitor includes avoiding dependence on caffeine as a stimulant. Allow your sensitization to caffeine to recover after drinking caffeinated coffee by following Ben Greenfield’s habit of alternating three weeks of caffeine with at least one week of decaf, including a variety of nourishing teasguayausachinese adaptogenic herbs, etc.

4) Eliminate Soy.

Along with regulating caffeine intake, eliminating commercial soy sources such as tofu and soy milk can help some women avoid estrogen dominance, which can lead to menstrual cycle irregularities.

5) Use Supplements.

To reverse the effects of estrogen dominance, Beyond Training by Ben Greenfield asks you to consider drinking 2-3 cups of organic green tea powder, consuming more fiber, supplementing with a Vitamin B/antioxidant complex, and many more found in Chapter 14 of his book.

6) Keep Moving No Matter What.

Movement (not necessarily a daily Crossfit WOD!) will help relieve cramping and headaches.  The release of endorphins will help reduce crankiness.  Movement can also help put you to sleep and resist cravings, as long as macronutrient needs are met depending on exercise intensity and the given phase of menstruation. But if you have cramps, excessive flow, or have a poor reading on your HRV that morning, take that day off from structured exercise or hard workouts.  Now, this is not an excuse to sit on the couch all day, so don’t get too excited!  Instead, try techniques like ‘greasing the groove’*, using a standing desk, reading a book, working on your mobility (especially your lower body mobility), spending some time on a rumble roller, and ensure you have proper foods prepared for the next couple days.

*Popular movements to ‘grease the groove’ include: jumping jacks, band pull-aparts, strict pull-ups, bodyweight squats, lunges, or something as simple as going up and down the stairs a few times, refilling your water bottle, and holding a few stretches.  Movement throughout the day is very important for overall health because GLUT-4 will shuttle more glucose into the body and lipoprotein lipase will be produced by muscle tissue when leg muscles are being flexed.  A lack of lipoprotein lipase is associated with many heart problems, including heart disease, so please get an adjustable standing desk.

7) Know Your Fat Burning Zone.

Know your fat burning zone for that luteal phase! Superhuman-approved example fat burning workouts, most especially for the luteal phase of a cycle, are a great way to shred fat at a time where your body is primed to do just that.  For example, you can perform 8 sets of 5 minutes at 60-70% of your VO2 max of running, biking, swimming, rowing, hiking, brisk walking or elliptical, with 3 minutes of easy movement between each bout (as opposed to a follicular phase workout, which might be something like 20 sets of 1 minute bursts at the same pace with 30 seconds of recovery in between, or an ovulatory phase workout, which might be a 5×5 style weight training routine).

How do you find your fat burning zone? Many tests exist to approximate your VO2 max, but the one Superhuman Network coaches use is a 20-30 minute run at a maximum sustainable pace while wearing a heart rate monitor and taking the average heart rate that you had, then subtracting 20 beats for your fat burning zone (more details here). Even though these are easy, fat-burnign workouts, you should not perform these or any workouts without following up with proper post workout nutrition if you have a history of missing your period.

8) Go Beyond Training.

A few more lifestyle basic tips from Ben’s book would include: do not skip meals, consume a high protein breakfast on your harder workout days, eat a diet high in ancestral meats such as liver and bone broth, consume a high amount of healthy fats, get proper quantity and quality of sleep, and track your HRV. These are all small ways to enhance your performance and can also lead to a more consistent menstrual cycle, along with better exercise sessions and better recovery. Maintaining low energy movements throughout the day, eating enough carbohydrate to fuel workouts as well as support menstruation (e.g. timing your carbohydrates to happen in conjunction with your workouts – here are some good post workout nutrition ideas for endurance and strength athletes.),  consuming fat from healthy nut butters or MCT oil, and performing no more than three very intense workouts (like Crossfit wods, Tabata sets, longer track sessions, etc.) per week can also be helpful, especially if you tend to miss periods.

Check out the podacst:  the podcast episode “#310: The Menstrual Cycle And Athletic Performance, How To Get Kids To Grow Taller, Fueling For Soccer Matches & More!”, I

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exercise, health

Introducing the One-Minute Workout

What we’ve all been waiting for!

TIME

We get it, you’re busy. But it turns out you don’t need very much time in the gym to improve your health. In fact, it might only take one—yes one—high intensity minute of exercise to do the trick.

New research published in the journal PLOS One shows sedentary men and women who did one minute of intense, all-out exercise as part of a full 10-minute workout three times a week for six weeks improved their endurance and lowered their blood pressure.

A total of 14 sedentary and overweight men and women agreed to have their muscles biopsied and their aerobic endurance and blood pressure and sugar levels measured by researchers at McMaster University in Ontario. Then, they hopped on stationary bikes and warmed up for two minutes. After the warmup, the participants biked as hard as they possibly could for three 20 second intervals followed by two minutes of slow…

View original post 395 more words

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The ADVANCED 7-minute Workout is here!

Ever since the magazine published the Scientific 7-Minute Workout in May last year, readers have been writing and tweeting their requests for an updated, more advanced version. For them, the workout became too easy or humdrum, as tends to happen when exercises are repeated without variation. So here it is: a new, more technically demanding regimen, one that requires a couple of dumbbells but still takes only seven minutes.

To come up with the workout, I turned to Mark Verstegen, the founder and president of the Phoenix-based EXOS, a company that focuses on health and athletic performance. He and his colleagues train, among others, N.F.L. players and the German national soccer team, which won the World Cup this year. EXOS also develops in-house fitness and nutritional programs for corporations, so Mr. Verstegen has experience working with those of us who don’t already have bowling-ball biceps and vast reservoirs of endurance and gritty resolve. He and his colleagues, Mr. Verstegen says, know how difficult it can be to find the time and motivation to work out as often as we know we should. Hence a routine that can be completed in just minutes and without much space — no more than a hotel room or an office, for example.

Taken together, the exercises stress and strengthen muscle groups throughout the upper body, lower body and torso. The full workout (see step-by-step instructions below) also provides a compressed but intense interval-style endurance workout. Anyone who completes multiple push-up-to-row-to-burpee movements in 60 seconds (Exercise 3) will raise his or her heart rate substantially. The subsequent 30 seconds of side bridges (Exercise 4) provide a brief aerobic respite before the aerobically demanding Exercise 5 (single-leg Romanian dead lift to curl to press).

There’s a lot of scientific support for the benefits of this sort of high-intensity interval training. In recent months, articles have reported that even a few minutes of interval-style exercise increase endurance, squelch appetite and improve metabolic and cardiovascular health in sedentary adults more effectively than traditional prolonged-endurance exercise. In other words, seven minutes or so of relatively punishing training may produce greater gains than an hour or more of gentler exercise. What’s more, study subjects who did a combination of prolonged exercises (like running or cycling) and high-intensity interval workouts typically reported preferring the intervals.

Interval programs based on cycling, walking and running come with a downside, however: They improve overall fitness and health but do little to improve muscular strength other than in the legs. By contrast, the New Scientific 7-Minute Workout does more than build the large, obvious muscles that most of us can name-check, as Mr. Verstegen puts it — the quads and glutes, for example; its exercises also engage smaller, often overlooked muscles in the back, abdomen, shoulders and hips that, when neglected and weak, contribute to back, neck and knee pain.

The workout should combat a desk job’s “aches, pain and fatigue,” Mr. Verstegen says, as well as teach “clean and efficient movement patterns,” even to those of us who tend to be clumsy. The exercises demand precision and, over time, should instill graceful, athletic coordination. Done correctly, they should make you healthier, stronger, less prone to injury and athletically more capable.

As a whole, the routine is also “extremely scalable,” Mr. Verstegen says. People who are out of shape today may be able to complete only one or two reverse lunges with rotation during the 30 seconds of Exercise 1. But after several weeks of practice, they may be able to perform five or more repetitions, he says, and can continue to intensify the routine’s physical demands by adding as many repetitions as possible in the time allotted.

It should be noted that the 7-Minute Workouts, the original and the advanced versions, are not meant to be your sole exercise. “Any routine, if that’s all you do, will become monotonous and demotivating,” Mr. Verstegen says. So mix up your workouts. Perhaps alternate the old and the new seven-minute regimens over days or weeks. Go for a run at lunch. Join an over-40 rugby league. Buy a bike or a Speedo — use them together in a triathlon.

“The idea is to develop a relationship and routine with your body,” Mr. Verstegen says, “so that it feels strong and healthy and you feel energized and excited to be up and moving.”

The New York Times is now offering a free mobile app for the popular Scientific 7-Minute Workout and the new Advanced 7-Minute Workout.

The app offers a step-by-step guide to both 7-minute workouts, offering animated illustrations of the exercises, as well as a timer and audio cues to help you get the most out of your seven minutes.

Go to nytimes.com/7-minute-workouton your phone, tablet or other device to try our new Web app.

For more information on installing the app, which can be used on an iOS, Android or other device, visit “For a 7-minute Workout, Download Our New App.”

Step-by-Step Instructions for the Advanced 7-Minute Workout

1. Reverse Lunge, Elbow to Instep With Rotation, Alternating Sides (30 seconds)

  1. Extend right leg behind you, with left knee bent and right hand on ground (the reverse lunge).
  2. Bend left arm and bring inside front (left) knee, then raise and point right arm and chest skyward. (rotation).
  3. Place both hands on ground while straightening both legs and flexing ankles; return to standing position.
  4. Repeat with left leg and right arm. Repeat.
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2. Lateral Pillar Bridge, Left Side (30 seconds)

  1. Lie on left side. Lift side off ground.
  2. Point right arm toward sky.
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3. Push-Up to Row to Burpee (60 seconds)

  1. Position self over both dumbbells, legs extended back. Do a push-up.
  2. Lift and lower right dumbbell, then left dumbbell (as if rowing).
  3. Rapidly pull legs forward. Release dumbbells.
  4. Jump forcefully upward (completing a Burpee).
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4. Lateral Pillar Bridge, Right Side (30 seconds)

  1. Lie on right side. Lift side off ground.
  2. Point left arm toward sky.
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5a. Single-Leg Romanian Dead Lift to Curl to Press, Left Side (60 seconds)

  1. Hold dumbbells at hips.
  2. Lean forward, balancing on left leg while extending right leg back (the Romanian dead lift).
  3. Return to start position.
  4. Curl dumbbells toward chest (the Curl).
  5. Raise both dumbbells over head (the Press).
  6. Lower weights to chest.
  7. Lower weights to hips and resume starting position. Repeat.

5b. Single-Leg Romanian Dead Lift to Curl to Press, Right Side (60 seconds)

  1. Hold dumbbells at hips.
  2. Lean forward, balancing on right leg while extending left leg back (the Romanian deadlift).
  3. Return to start position.
  4. Curl dumbbells toward chest (the Curl).
  5. Raise both dumbbells over head (the Press).
  6. Lower weights to chest.
  7. Lower weights to hips and resume starting position. Repeat.
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6. Plank With Arm Lift (30 seconds)

  1. Assume push-up position (also known as The Plank).
  2. Lift one arm in front of you. Lower. Lift other arm. Repeat rapidly.
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7. Lateral Lunge to Overhead Triceps Extension (60 seconds)

  1. Stand straight, holding dumbbells at shoulder height.
  2. Take big step to right side, bending right knee while keeping left leg straight (a Lateral Lunge). Return to upright.
  3. Lift dumbbells over head. Lower them back toward shoulder. Step to other side. Repeat.
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8. Bent-Over Row (60 seconds)

  1. Holding dumbbells, lean forward, knees bent, back straight.
  2. Lift one dumbbell until it reaches chest height (as if rowing). Lower.
  3. Lift dumbbell on other side and lower. Repeat on each side while maintaining bent-over position.

A version of this article appeared in the Oct. 26 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

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