You’re a couple of weeks into a new program and feeling stronger than ever. Then your period comes. Do you continue working out on your period as if Aunt Flo never came, or take a rest day?
Cramps, changes in mood, bloating, and GI issues can all impact your motivation to work out, as well as your physical and emotional well-being at that time of the month.
But the general consensus about working out on your period is “you do you.”
“While you should absolutely take your workouts down a notch or take a complete rest if you are feeling painful cramps or fatigue, there is no medical reason to stop working out,” says Rachel MacPherson, an ACE-certified personal trainer.
If you’re feeling up to working out on your period, read on to learn more about the perks of period workouts, along with the best exercises and a few to avoid.
Benefits of Working Out on Your Period
Every person – and every cycle – is different, but science is on your side if you choose to work out on your period.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends “regular aerobic exercise” to lessen PMS symptoms, such as GI issues and fluid retention.
“[Exercise] can relax your muscles, lift your mood, and distract you from the pain,” says certified personal trainer Yasmin Buchanan.
As for relieving that pain, don’t expect instant results from your workout.
While more research is needed, a 2019 systematic review found that both low- and high-intensity workouts “may provide a large reduction in the intensity of period pain” compared with no exercise at all.
But most of those studies asked participants to work out at least three times a week for 45 to 60 minutes – and some asked participants to take rest days during their periods.
“If your cramps are mild and you feel well enough to work out, try starting more gently and see how you feel,” advises MacPherson. “It really is a case-by-case basis.”
In other words, there’s no need to skip leg day just because you’re on your period.
If your mood feels like it’s on a roller coaster before and during your period, consistent exercise may help.
A 2013 study of women ages 18 to 25 found that 8 weeks of regular exercise reduced their physical and psychological symptoms.
Studies show that exercise positively impacts the brain, by increasing the levels of mood-boosting hormones and neurotransmitters like endocannabinoids, serotonin, and dopamine.
The Best Exercises During Your Period
The best exercises to do during your period are the ones you enjoy doing.
Focus on keeping things easy and gentle, while listening to your body each day.
“Gentler recommendations include lighter resistance training or band work, walking, swimming, yoga, and Pilates,” says MacPherson. “These forms of exercise have all been excellent for clients on their period.”
Buchanan says gentle yoga is “brilliant during this time.”
“Yoga can be incredibly grounding and soothing for the body,” she adds. “Yoga can give you space to breathe, nourish, and renew your energy levels.”
A 2021 study found that a three-month Pilates program reduced PMS symptoms compared with a control group who didn’t add any exercise to their routine.
Thankfully, we’ve debunked the myth that swimming is off-limits when you’re menstruating.
Active recovery and targeted stretches
If you’re not feeling up for a full workout, try active recovery instead.
“Active recovery work can help you feel better and improve symptoms,” says MacPherson.
Feeling tight and sore?
Focus on period cramp exercises that target your hips, glutes, and low back.
If tummy troubles hold you back from working out during your period, consider The 4 Week Gut Protocol — a comprehensive nutrition program that shows you how the food you eat can impact your gut health and how much your gut health impacts your overall health.
To avoid overtaxing the body, Beachbody Super Trainer and nutrition expert Autumn Calabrese created 4 Weeks for Every Body, a gentle no-impact workout that can be done by itself or paired with The 4 Week Gut Protocol.
Exercises to Avoid During Your Period
If the best workouts during your period are the ones that feel good, the exercises to avoid are the ones that don’t.
Scale back and do what you can, suggests Buchanan.
“If you’re not able to work out with the same intensity as you usually do, just do some stretches, a light workout, a few yoga poses, or take a walk – do whatever suits you,” she says.
You may want to postpone more intense cardio sessions; a small study showed that lung capacity may decrease early in your menstrual cycle.
Anything that causes pain
Do not try to push through the pain.
“You should stay in tune with your body as best you can,” says MacPherson.
And if you need to bail or change your plans, do it. “Plan a rest day and see if you’re feeling better in the latter days of your cycle or afterward.”
Inversion Yoga Poses … or not?
What about headstands and handstands? Should you skip those during your period?
If you’ve ever taken yoga classes, you may have heard instructors say that people who are menstruating should avoid inversions.
“There are older traditional thoughts on certain yoga poses, like inversions that should be avoided, but there is no medical evidence to back that up,” says MacPherson.
The Bottom Line
If you can work out on your period, go for it. If you can’t muster the energy or your cramps are too intense, take a break, rest up, and focus on taking care of yourself.
The best workouts for your period are the ones that feel good – think low-impact, slow, and gentle.
And for period cramps, exercises that stretch the hips, glutes, and low back can feel really good.