DISCLAIMER: The LAST thing I want to do is tell you how you should feel or what you should do. It is paramount to me to respect and embrace your experience just as it is. Your experience may be very different from what’s outlined here and that’s completely valid. That said, I also find it necessary to make generalizations in order to raise valuable discussions about this important and under-discussed topic. I do my best to inform without insisting.
Many women experience a ~30-day hormonal cycle. A very simplistic summary is that we predictably experience a rise and fall in energy during each menstrual cycle. I’ll outline the biology of these phases on a very basic level (I am NOT a medical professional) and I will also pass along some other ideas about the cycle that I learned from a workshop I attended in Costa Rica as well as from personal experience. The latter are not science-based but they provide a helpful framework for understanding our menstrual cycles and our personal experiences a little bit better.
The phases of the menstrual cycle
Biology: uterine lining is shed. Estrogen and progesterone levels drop.
Experience: may prefer solitude, enjoy reflection, creative work. May experience cramps and body tension most intensely at the beginning
Biology: Time between first day of period and ovulation. Estrogen is rising, body is preparing to release an egg.
Experience: Return of energy, feeling motivated and fresh. Clarity. Eager to return to higher-intensity activities but likely to require a gentle transition in.
Biology: Uterine lining builds back up to receive an egg.
Experience: See above
Biology: Ovary releases an egg. Estrogen peaks right before, and drops soon after.
Experience: Continued rise of energy as well as confidence. May feel more outgoing, friendly, and sexy. Heightened attractiveness. Poised to get work done efficiently. Likely to feel physically well and strong relative to other phases. In short, feeling like a #bossbabe
Biology: Body prepares for possible pregnancy. Progesterone peaks and then drops.
Experience: Transition between above and below.
Biology: No, that doesn’t say secretary!! Haha. Secretory, like secrete or release. During this phase, if fertilization has occurred, uterine lining produces chemicals to support development of the fetus. If not, it produces chemicals to prepare the lining to break down and shed. I’ll continue on with the assumption that pregnancy does not occur.
Experience: Likely drop in energy. Possible intensification of existing anxieties, feelings of depression, and neuroses. Possible decrease in self-confidence. Heightened awareness of personal values, loss of patience and decreased willingness to put up with inequality, injustice, and difficult people. Self-critical. Feeling under-appreciated. In need of more nurturing than usual. Possible re-surfacing of unresolved past issues. Reactive.
A good time to gain clarity on one’s values, but also an important time to practice self-awareness. Not a good time to make big decisions as judgment can be clouded by physical and emotional strain due to drop in progesterone and estrogen.
This is a time for preparing for a potential baby, AKA “nesting,” when we feel a boost in pleasure from activities like cleaning, shopping, organizing, and making things. Likely to be a highly creative time.
A time that offers strong spiritual insight and connection if we are willing to slow down. Music, nature, art, journaling, and meditation can highlight the spiritual power and beauty of an otherwise rather physically difficult time. Self-care and rest are crucial during this time.
Your Cycle and your Training
The reality is that if you menstruate, your body has a specific set of priorities in the days before your period begins. Exercising hard is not one of them. Your body’s resources are directed toward initiating the chemical reaction that will trigger the uterine lining to shed. During this time, light exercise can promote healthy circulation and improved mood, but let’s face it–aerial just isn’t light exercise. It’s mentally, physically, and often emotionally demanding.
My favorite example of my body protesting my not-exactly-cycle-conscious training regimen was on one particularly demoralizing conditioning day. I was working on some straight-arm hip key rollups, which I’ve done hundreds of this year. But I felt heavy and weak and found myself literally not letting go of the pole on my way up, blocking myself with my own body, and trickling dejectedly to the ground (lol in retrospect but frustrating in the moment). My poor performance worsened my mood. I didn’t feel pleasure from the training session, and I was frustrated with myself for not being on my A-game. Not an overall positive experience.
Everybody is different, and if you find it empowering and pleasurable to work out hard during your period, that’s great. If however if you find yourself feeling weaker, heavier, and dejected during training, your body probably wants something different.
Since we menstruate approximately every 30 days, we can actually enjoy this time as a built-in rest period–a natural rhythm to help organize our training schedules.
My approach is to take a break from aerial training the two days before my period and the first two days of flow. I know–this means your plan depends on a consistent period. Chances are you will end up with three or four days before, and other times none. Do your best to read your body’s schedule within the seven days before your next expected period. Either way, try four consecutive days of rest each month (I recommend seven consecutive days of rest every three months at least).
If you do not menstruate, you may still want to consider incorporating a 4-day body reset once a month. I have heard that women who do not have a period still have an “energy cycle” that lasts ~28 days. I have not been able to find any scientific research to support this (if you have, please send) but intuitively it sounds plausible.
Four days of rest and self-care can work wonders. To sweeten the deal, I soak in hot water for the four consecutive days of rest. Think less pain and more pleasure.
I encourage every aerialist to practice body awareness and try a variety of strategies when it comes to rest and recovery. There is no one-size-fits-all solution! You may enjoy my strategy, or it may not work for you at all. Listen to your body, ask what she wants, and try different approaches.