Embracing less is more: How to love your body into shape

Written by Dr. Stephanie Flockhart | 14 April, 2020

Most women have experienced a time where an elusive, ’12 Week Bikini Body Challenge’, the promise of a few extra boot camp classes or that new cycle studio sounded like an alluring fast track to the body of their dreams.

“Go hard or go home” and “no pain, no gain” are all mindsets that approach weight loss and fitness from a male perspective, with no regard for the hormonal fluctuations and the impact they have on the women that attempt them.

Our society is stuck in a predominately, ‘Yang State’, that glorifies hustling and is making everyone sick, sad and approaching burn out at high speed. We were not created to be in perpetual action mode and this approach to both life and exercise is affecting women more than their male counterparts due to their delicate hormonal balance. Just as our bodies struggle with being stuck in, ‘go mode’, doing high intensity work outs every day, week after week will leave you feeling exhausted, burnt out, struggling to lose weight, holding fluid and often up a pant size.

The majority of exercise studies are devised to support men or postmenopausal woman as they are not driven by the hormonal changes that ebb and flow throughout the duration of a 28 day cycle.

During the first half of your cycle (the Follicular and Ovulatory phase) you have the ability to gain lean muscle and burn fat, enjoy an increase in energy, focus, stamina and feel great while you’re doing it. However, variety is the spice of life and for best results, the way you choose to exercise for the rest of the month must reflect this. If you continue to work out at this intensity for the second half if the cycle you will be left feeling depleted and far from the image of health you deserve. Most women notice that their fitness regime feels a little more challenging than normal during these two weeks, yet will often choose to “just do it” despite feeling this fatigue. Choosing to ignore your body during this time can sabotage your results as you are more likely to injure yourself, increase the severity of PMS symptoms and are unable to make the same strength gains negating all the wonderful work you put in during the first two weeks of your cycle.

Here’s a closer look at each week of your cycle in regards to exercise.

Follicular Phase

During the first few days following your period, your energy levels begin to increase and your body reacts positively to more intensive work out options. Emotionally you’re feeling curious, social and driven, so it’s the best time to be channelling your new found energy and the ability to be open to new experiences into a new work out class or routine. This phase of your cycle is will yield the best results if you’re wanting to lose weight, build lean muscle and boost your metabolism. Running, dance class, circuit training, skipping and long hikes are all wonderful options during this phase.

It is important to tailor your approach to exercise during the entirety of the cycle if you experience anxiety, depression, adrenal issues, fatigue or hormonal imbalances keep your exercise time to a maximum of 30 minutes. This can be challenging as you may be feeling more motivated and you have to consciously disregard all of the fitness propaganda circulating our news feeds, encouraging us to exercise for an hour plus to achieve results. If you exceed this 30 minute time frame whilst experiencing the above health issues, your work out sends your body into a stress state and signals to your body to store fat.

Ovulatory Phase

Carrying on from the previous phase, you’re in the peak ovulation period of your cycle. Your hormones are at their optimal, peak levels and you will notice heightened energy and an urge to socialise. This phase is perfect to opt for a group fitness class and up the intensity of your workout regime including HIIT, boxing and cycle classes. Again, if you experience anxiety, depression, hormone imbalance or adrenal issues limit daily exercise to 30 minutes for the best results.

Luteal Phase

As we go into the second half of the cycle, so begins the transition into slower, more mindful, restorative movement. Your energy levels will still feel relatively high, as during the first five days of this phase your hormone levels (Oestrogen and Testosterone are elevated) however HIIT and other high impact exercises regime begin to feel challenging. Now is the time to focus on strength / resistance training to build lean muscles, especially during the first part of this cycle. For the first half of this phase opt for light weights (if you’re wanting lean mass), resistance training and vigorous yoga classes. For the second half; barre, mat Pilates and gentle yoga are more suitable.

Menstrual Phase

During this time, your hormone levels have plummeted, impacting your energy levels in the process. It’s important to listen to your body more than ever now, and favour exercises and activities that are restorative and supportive to you during this time. It may seem counterintuitive, however dedicating more time to sleep, daily naps, meditation, yin yoga, foam rolling and gentle stretching will result in happier hormones and help with weight loss. Partaking in intensive exercise, HIIT or strength training during this time will turn on fat storage, elevate stress and cortisol levels and cause muscle wasting.

To get the results you want and feel balanced hormonally, adapting your work out regime to complement your cycle is something to be embraced, not feared. The good news is, for women less is often more and the key to feeling energised, motivated, lean, healthy and happy.

Dr. Stephanie Flockhart

As a modern Acupuncturist, I believe in the integration of Eastern and Western philosophy, creating a well-rounded framework for healing that is inclusive and holistic for all. It was always the tools and teachings of Chinese Medicine that brought me vibrancy, energy and balance each time I felt I had drifted out of alignment with my health. It was this love and respect for Chinese Medicine now permanently in my heart, that saw me qualified as a registered Acupuncturist at Endeavour College as a young adult. Soon after I embarked on a career treating, caring and connecting with women from all around Australia

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