Cycle syncing may sound like a side-by-side bike ride. But actually, cycle syncing is a practice that involves modulating your movement and meals around where you are in your menstrual cycle. At its most distilled, "it's a practice of working with your body," says Gabrielle Lyon, DO, a board-certified physician and functional medicine practitioner,
The claim behind the practice is that doing so can support your overall hormonal health, which in turn, can help you feel better in your body as well as reach your health, wellness and fitness goals faster, she tells LIVESTRONG.com.
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Ahead, experts explain what cycle syncing is, as well as how to use the practice to maximize your workouts.
What Is Cycle Syncing, Exactly?
Cycle syncing, simply put, is the practice of adjusting your daily lifestyle choices based on where you are in your menstrual cycle. The term, Cycle Syncing (R), was coined by Alisa Vitti, an integrative nutritionist and hormone specialist in her 2014 book WomanCode.
"Helping menstruators sync their food, fitness and lifestyle to each phase of their cycle can help optimize metabolism, energy, mood, sex drive and productivity while reducing and eliminating symptoms of PMS and other cycle related issues," she tells LIVESTRONG.com.
While the term has been trademarked by Vitti, she is not the only health expert who believes in the underlying concept behind cycle syncing: That an individual's energy levels, nutrition needs and capacity for exercise is dependent on where they are at in their menstrual cycle.
Your energy levels wax and wane as the reproductive hormones wax and wane throughout your cycle, says Jennifer Kulp-Makarov, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at New Hope Fertility.
"It is very common for menstruators' energy levels to dip when their estrogen and progesterone levels drop, and in turn, for certain workouts to feel harder or easier," she tells LIVESTRONG.com.
While there have not been any studies specifically on the cycle syncing method, an October 2021 article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found hormonal changes across the menstrual cycle do impact your energy levels during exercise. Additionally, where you are in your menstrual cycle may affect how fatigued you are after exercise, too, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).
Exactly How to Cycle Sync
At the risk of sounding obvious, in order to make exercise (and even food) choices based on where you are in your menstrual cycle, you have to know where you are in your menstrual cycle.
"A tracking app is a great way to keep track of where you are in your cycle," Dr. Kulp-Makarov says.
Any period tracking app in the app store, like Clue Period & Cycle Tracker or Ovia, works well. There's also an app specific to the cycle syncing method called MyFLO, which tells you which phase you're in and what to do in each phase for food, fitness, work and relationships, and it even provides recipes, grocery lists, workout videos and a monthly calendar so you can sync everything up with your cycle.
The Menstrual Cycle Phases, Explained
In order to understand how and why an individual might try the cycle syncing method, you have to understand what takes place throughout the menstrual cycle. Ready?
The menstrual cycle is a natural but complex process, controlled by reproductive hormones, that has one main goal: to prepare the body for pregnancy, according to the Office on Women's Health. Or, more specifically, to get the egg where it needs to go (the fallopian tubes) to be fertilized by a sperm.
This process is typically broken down into four main phases, Vitti says, each of which is marked by a different state of the egg, as well as hormone levels.
The first phase of the menstrual cycle is menstruation, or your period. Here, your body cleanses the uterus of its uterine lining, which has built up over the last month in preparation for potential pregnancy, per the Office on Women's Health. Essentially, it's a uterine reset. This is the time of the month when progesterone and estrogen levels are their lowest, says Vitti.
The second phase is known as the follicular phase, and it's the time when your body prepares to release an egg from your ovaries, which leads to an increase in estrogen. The day the egg is actually released marks the third phase. Known as ovulation or the ovulatory phase, this is the phase where estrogen is at its absolute highest, per Vitti.
The final phase is the luteal phase, and it's the time when your body increases estrogen levels so the uterus is prepared to accept a fertilized egg (embryo), should conception occur, according to the National Library of Medicine. If conception doesn't occur, the estrogen and progesterone levels will dip, and your body will start to shed the (empty) uterus of its lining, which marks the return to menstruation, or phase one.
Exercises to Do in Each Phase of Your Cycle
Let the record show: Exercise is beneficial every day of the month. But your estrogen and progesterone levels at various points in your cycle can affect how different kinds of exercise feels, Vitti says.
"It's normal for people to feel the impact of the changing levels of estrogen and progesterone in each phase of their cycle," Vitti says. She also notes that these hormonal changes will affect a person's metabolic speed, cortisol levels and body temperature.
As a general rule, Dr. Kulp-Makarov says people are most energized when their estrogen and progesterone levels are their highest (during the follicular phase and ovulation) but lowest when these hormones are on the decline (as they are during menstruation and the luteal phase).
So, what type of exercise should you do at each point in your cycle? Ahead, some general guidelines for cycle syncing workouts.
"When you're bleeding, all of your hormone levels are at their lowest, and so is your overall energy," Vitti says.
The blood loss during menstruation can also contribute to the energy lull, Dr. Kulp-Makarov adds.
"For some people, there's a significant amount of blood during their menstrual period, which results in less energy for certain lifestyle habits like exercise," Dr. Kulp-Makarov says.
Restorative movements are typically best during menstruation. Low-intensity cardiovascular exercises, like walking, can be good here, according to Vitti. You may also want to try lower-intensity mobility work like yoga or Pilates, per Dr. Kulp-Makarov.
“Prioritizing restorative movement during this phase is particularly important for people who have been dealing with unresolved period issues like PMS, PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis or have been under a period of stress,” Vitti says.
These types of exercises may keep you from exacerbating any adrenal issues and hormone imbalances that can, over time, disrupt the cycle as a whole, according to Vitti.
"During the follicular phase, you have an increase in estrogen levels, which will reveal itself with some increase in strength and energy expenditure," Dr. Kulp-Makarov says.
High-intensity exercise and strength training are typically best during the follicular phase.
“Because energy levels are up, this could be a good time for higher-intensity workouts and weightlifting,” Dr. Kulp-Makarov says.
This might be the time of the month you want to sign up for a CrossFit, bootcamp or dance exercise class, she says.
During ovulation, your estrogen levels are at their absolute highest. This surge can make you feel fantastic and fit, according to Vitti.
The longest phase of the menstrual cycle, the luteal phase, is marked by a decline in estrogen, and rise then abrupt fall of progesterone, Vitti notes.
Strength training is typically best during the luteal phase.
Research — like this small 2018 study in the International Journal of Psychophysiology — shows when hormones dip, as they do in this phase, resting cortisol levels are higher, according to Vitti.
Generally speaking, when cortisol (the stress hormone) levels are higher, it’s best to avoid high-intensity exercise and opt instead for lower-intensity strength work. Your luteal phase is a wonderful time to try weightlifting, powerlifting or take Peloton’s strength class, she says.
Recovery is also of utmost importance during the luteal phase, Vitti notes. In particular, if you start to experience premenstrual symptoms, she suggests dialing back the intensity and rolling out your yoga mat.
Is Cycle Syncing Right for You?
Cycle syncing could be an option for people trying to conceive, people with low energy during their period and people with PCOS — who get the green light from a healthcare provider to do so.
Bluntly, if your cycle isn't regular, cycle syncing probably is not for you, according to Dr. Kulp-Makarov.
"If you do not have a regular cycle, it's going to be incredibly frustrating for you to try to plan your workout routine around your cycle," Dr. Kulp-Makarov says. "If your cycle is irregular or you skip months, this is likely not the best option for you."
That said, because your period is the fifth vital sign, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), you'd be wise to work with your doctor to understand why your cycle is not regular. Irregular and unpredictable cycles are often caused by an underlying hormonal imbalance, infection, disease or trauma, per the NICHD.
Cycle syncing may also not be for you if you have endometriosis or other uterine conditions, according to Dr. Lyon.
"Individuals with endometriosis or other chronic conditions should take that time to rest and recover on the days during their cycle when they need it" and not just when their tracker tells them they are in a rest or recovery-based phase of their menstrual cycle, Dr. Lyon says.
For these people, she says, trying to cycle sync could result in greater mental and emotional stress than it's worth.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, cycle syncing is a protocol that prioritizes working (out) with, not against, your body. This particular method recommends using intel about where you are in your menstrual cycle to make decisions about how and how fast (or slow) you move. But really, when cycle syncing is working for you, your period tracking should tell you the exact same information about what your body needs.
As Makarov puts it, "it's good to know what's happening with your body hormonally, but it's just as good to be able to pinpoint what you need physically" without relying on a tracker.
What Happens in Each Menstrual Cycle Phase
Days It Takes Place During Average Cycle
What’s Happening With Egg and Uterus
What’s Happening Hormonally
Your body registers there's no fertilized egg in the uterus and sheds the uterine lining.
—Estrogen = low
—Progesterone = low
Days 6 to 14
Your body simultaneously preps the ovaries to release an egg while beginning to thicken the uterine lining.
—Estrogen = on the rise
—Progesterone = on the rise
Your body releases an egg from the ovary and lets it travel to the fallopian tube where it can be fertilized.
—Estrogen = at peak
—Progesterone = still on the rise, but has not yet peaked
Days 18 to 28
Your body recognizes whether or not an egg has been fertilized, then responds accordingly.
—Estrogen levels = still high, but on the decline. These levels will dip significantly once your body recognizes pregnancy has not occurred to prep for menstruation
—Progesterone levels = at peak, then stay high if you're pregnant or drop quickly if you're not
- International Journal of Environmental Research: "Menstrual Cycle Hormonal Changes and Energy Substrate Metabolism in Exercising Women: A Perspective"
- UPMC: "Periods and Strength Training"
- International Journal of Psychophysiology: "The relationship between the menstrual cycle and cortisol secretion: Daily and stress-invoked cortisol patterns"
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: "Menstrual Cycles as a Fifth Vital Sign"
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: "What causes menstrual irregularities?"
- National Library of Medicine: "Physiology, Menstrual Cycle"