It's Not a Sprint, It's a Cycle
By Jenni Hulburt
Did you know women actually experience 4 seasons within their bodies every month? A woman’s body cycles through various phases about every 28 days. Even if you’re not menstruating because you’re on birth control, are in menopause, or for some other reason you don’t have a period, you can follow the changes in these phases by understanding the moon phases.
How do these phases affect your running? The physiological changes taking place influence your hormone levels, sleep, metabolism, flexibility, strength, and the way you use energy. What if knowing more about these phases could help you optimize your energy, while also giving you insights on how to recover and continue to progress in your training?I used to think training harder would get me better results (until I landed myself in burnout). Understanding the phases and cycles has helped me to ease the pressure I had put on myself, and the guilt for not being able to train at the same pace or level each week. Before I understood these changes, I felt like there was something wrong with me every time I felt more tired and unmotivated, and the fact that this happened every few weeks made me wonder if I was improving through my training at all. Despite having Bachelors and Masters degrees in Exercise Science and Sport Psychology, I didn’t understand these ebbs and flows. Yet this knowledge and practice has changed everything for me.
Nature works in cycles and seasons, and our bodies are no different. Living in the flow of a cycle is not deeply valued in our society overall, and this can lead us to overdoing, over-training, and ultimately it often leads to burnout. Here’s an outline of these 4 phases and how our bodies and training may ebb and flow as a result.
Menstruation (Inner Winter, Days 28-5)
I call this the base phase because it resembles that period of training you may already be familiar with. You’re not doing the hardest workouts, but rather you’re establishing a baseline mileage or maintaining where you are, before you start to build. Hormone levels are lower during this phase, and energy levels are too. This isn’t the highest energy time of the cycle. In fact, it’s important to rest when you first start bleeding. Think of it as your down-time for the month, and it will be different for all of us. For some, it may be the first day or two of the cycle, and for others it may be longer. This doesn’t mean you won’t do any movement. For me, it typically feels good to stretch, yoga, and do easy hikes. It’s also not unlikely that you’ll feel like spending more time alone and perhaps reflecting more inward.
Follicular (Inner Spring, Days 6-11)
I call this the build phase, because it’s a time when your energy starts to build, and so do your hormones. You’ll probably feel like you’re “coming back to life” as you head out for a run, and you’ll likely feel more open to group runs again. This is a time of more outward energy, but keep it playful. Don’t get too serious right away as you ease back into doing harder or longer workouts. Think fartleks on the trail, hill repeats, or even mixing in some strength training along the trail as you go (my favorite). If there’s rocks or logs to pick, you have all the “free weights” you need!
Ovulatory (Inner Summer, Days 12-19)
The peak energy time of the cycle correlates with peak levels of estrogen and progesterone. This peak phase is about harnessing your high energy and making certain gains in your training. You’ll likely feel your best on long runs or threshold workouts during this time of the month. Just be careful not to overshoot as things start to taper into the luteal/inner autumn phase. For me, the high energy and peak vibes of the “inner summer” phase are so enjoyable that I often try to carry that as far as I can into the next phase, which has left me feeling too depleted during a time when my body is saying, “do less.”
Luteal (Inner Autumn, Days 20-27)
This is the recovery phase - also known as the pre-menstrual days of the cycle when your energy drops (even though you may have some days where you feel like going for it). It may be a great time to focus on what you’ve been neglecting. That nagging ankle injury, or low back weakness? Maybe it’s a great time to do alignment exercises, rehab, or specific strength work. The main message in this phase is “listen to your body.” You don’t want to overdo it here since it’s your body’s time to taper down towards rest. Nothing in nature blooms all year, remember? Our bodies need downtime too.
Again, if you’re in menopause or have a medicated cycle, you may still experience these cyclical changes throughout the month. Follow the moon cycle. You can get an outline of this in my Cyclical Body Quick Guide -- it’s a summary and overview of how to move, live, and work with your cycle instead of against it, throughout the month.
Cyclical Body Quick Guide: www.jennihulburt.com/wild
It’s been important for me to know which season I feel most comfortable in (the one I embody most naturally) and also the one that feels more challenging to me. If you’re curious to find this out for yourself, I also created a free quiz that will give you an idea of which season you most naturally embody!
Quiz: What’s Your Workout Style by Nature? www.jennihulburt.com/quiz
Remember when it comes to your training and life - it’s not a sprint, but a cycle.
Jenni Hulburt, founder of WILD Wellness, is a holistic fitness specialist and natural health advocate who helps women live and sweat in sync with nature.
She has a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Exercise Science and Sport Psychology, and is a top-ranked Wellness Advocate with doTERRA essential oils.
The WILD Wellness podcast, programs, and products are for women mindfully exploring holistic health.