Periods! There’s SO much to talk about.
My menstrual journey had been a whole lot like almost all of the other women and girls I know – uneducated.
I remember learning about periods during ‘sex ed’ in school and it went a little something like this – “when girls hit puberty, they go through some changes such as getting their period. This will come once a month and usually last 3-5 days. Here are some pads and tampons.”
And that was it.
Fast forward a couple of years of using pads and tampons, (everyone remembers their first tampon insertions and never getting it right – if you’re reading this and just learning with them, don’t worry it was awkward as heck for the rest of us too.)
I then went on the contraceptive pill because all of my friends were on it < right! AND you could skip your period woohoo! Even though I had absolutely no clue as to what I was putting into my body or what physiological changes were occurring. After a couple of months of taking it I noticed some mood swings (I wasn’t affected by PMS prior to taking the pill), some weight gain, and also my skin was getting a few unwanted pimples. – SEE YA to that prescription. I trialed 2 more different pills until I decided to stop taking any form of the pill altogether.
Finally, I started to seem back to myself.
A couple of years on I had the Implanon rod inserted into my arm – this has a slow release of progestogen (a hormone we will discuss below.) This was for a means of contraception rather than menstrual control. It did stop my periods all together for about a year until I began to get some light constant spotting so I also decided to say goodbye to the rod.
A couple of further years on.. when I was training heavily and consistently, teamed with a very low-fat diet, I developed amenorrhea (loss of my period.) – for 8 months.
I didn’t fully realise the potential risks of amenorrhea back then, but I did realise that I didn’t know enough.
A couple of further.. further years on.. after using pads, tampons, period undies and now a menstrual cup (eco-friendly and no more possible tampon string slips), I also track my cycle on an app (I use Flo.)
I usually know which phase of my menstrual cycle I am in without the app, just by having some further understanding and by being more in touch with my own body (yay for learning!)
As women, we don’t just go through a bleeding phase – like we were taught in sex ed, but we go through a whole cycle every 28 days. ANDDDDD then we get to repeat!
Phases of the menstrual cycle
The four main phases of the menstrual cycle are:
- the follicular phase
- the luteal phase
(The menstruation and follicular phase are grouped under the follicular phase.)
(The ovulation and luteal phase are grouped under the luteal phase.)
To simplify it even further, women have two hormone phases each month – high and low.
Days 1-5 Menstrual Phase (Low Oestrogen & Progesterone)
This is also known as your bleed (described in more detail in the luteal phase.)
This can vary a lot but commonly will last 3-5 days.
Both oestrogen and progesterone (the main 2 hormones responsible for the development and regulation of our female reproductive system) are low at this stage and this is generally why we feel more tired, fatigued, and mainly just like we want to Netflix and chill.
Everyone will be different and every single cycle can be different (even on the same individual) – but just remember to listen to your body.
Generally, what is suggested during your bleed, exercise-wise is gentle activities such as walking, yin yoga, and stretching – but also don’t be afraid to push yourself. If you are feeling groovy and want to smash out a great pole or aerial session, then take that as a win!
During the low hormone phase, you are able to produce more energy and most likely recover much faster than in the high hormone phase.
Days 5-13 Follicular Phase (High Oestrogen)
The follicular phase starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation.
Each follicle is home to an immature egg.
This can occur around day 10 of a 28-day cycle (again this varies.) The growth of the follicles stimulates the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for a possible pregnancy. (OMG so many of our pole icons have recently had babies!)
And more good news here – in this follicular phase we have an increased pain tolerance and better endurance. Time for those bad ass nemises moves! Try beating your PB’s for your strength training but PLEASE make sure you still use good form. (Higher oestrogen levels can mean we are more prone to injury.)
Day 14 Ovulation
Ovulation is the release of a mature egg from the surface of the ovary. This usually occurs mid-cycle, around two weeks or so before menstruation starts.
This is when oestrogen levels peak and progesterone begins to rise.
The life span of the egg is only around 24 hours – unless it meets a sperm during this time, it will die. (I more often than not get ovulating pains and can sometimes track that my app may actually be a day or two out.)
The high hormone phase is when your cycle tag-teams the effects of high oestrogen and progesterone after ovulation, hello PMS – nobodies pal.
Days 15-28 Luteal Phase (High Progesterone)
This is right before your period begins and your metabolism is burning at its fastest. HANGRY. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) rears its head because our serotonin (mood stabilising hormone) production is lower.
The most common PMS symptoms are irritability, fluid retention (the old bloat) headaches and fatigue as well as getting frustrated at your partner for BREATHING. I do find that if I have been eating cleaner and exercising regularly my PMS symptoms dramatically improve and often disappear.
If pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum (a mass of cells in an ovary that produces progesterone) withers and dies, usually around day 22 in a 28-day cycle.
The drop in progesterone levels causes the lining of the uterus to fall away –Get ready for menstruation! ANDDD now we repeat.
The most important thing to remember is that every single body, every single cycle is different. Sometimes I’ll have raging period pains and feel like WW3 is going on in my uterus and other months I will be like “oh what a cute nice little surprise, I didn’t even see you coming.”
Talk to your girlfriends and guy friends about your menstrual cycle, it’s a NORMAL and necessary process for us!
Happy bleeding <3