We get it – when the bloat is real and period cramps are excruciating, the last thing we want to do is lace up our sneakers or roll out our mat. But getting out of bed and moving may be more beneficial than you realize. In fact, breaking a sweat could actually be the best thing to ease PMS – research suggests regular exercise may help to alleviate the PMS symptoms that 75% of menstruating women experience. But there’s a lot to know about exercise and PMS before you get started.
Keep in mind all movement isn’t created equal when it comes to the best exercises to do based on your menstrual cycle. So, which exercises for menstrual cramps are best? Here’s everything you need to know about exercise and PMS.
Exercise and PMS: Is It Harmful or Helpful?
Movement is beneficial for PMS as it releases endorphins, improves blood flow, enhances your mood, and can lessen painful periods, says Alyssa D’Arcy, MAOM, and Licensed Acupuncturist specializing in women’s health, fertility, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and cosmetic acupuncture at Darcy Wellness Spa.
“Exercise and activity release endorphins, which can elevate your mood and act as a natural painkiller. Plus, exercise stimulates circulation and encourages healthy blood flow in the uterus, resulting in decreased cramps.”
When it comes to exercise and PMS, save strenuous activities like jogging or cycling for the week before your period, says D’Arcy. Once your period starts, however, it’s important to lower the intensity. “From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, a woman’s menses is time for rest. The body uses energy to cleanse the uterus, and vigorous activity can deplete and exhaust Qi (energy) and blood. Progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest from a hormonal standpoint, which can make you feel tired and fatigued,” says D’Arcy.
Gentle activities like walking and yoga may be the best exercises for menstrual cramps during this time. Research suggests that your muscles move differently during your period, increasing your risk of injury. So, it’s crucial not to push yourself too hard, says D’Arcy.
But that doesn’t mean all movement is bad. In fact, gentle movement (such as yoga) is encouraged! Sync up your workouts with your cycle and try these yoga exercises for menstrual cramps the next time you are experiencing PMS.
The Best Yoga Exercises For Menstrual Cramps
#1 Reclined Cobbler’s Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Laying on your back, press the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall open wide. Relax your arms by your sides, with your palms facing up.
“This is one of my favorite exercises for menstrual cramps! It lengthens the spine, relieves the low back, and opens the hips to help alleviate pain and cramps,” says Byun. Try enhancing the experience by doing this pose on a bolster!
#2 Legs Up The Wall Pose
Set up a cozy space next to a wall (or in bed with your feet elevated on your wall or headboard). To get into this posture, swing your legs up the wall as you lie flat on your back. Bring your hips as close to the wall as you can, keeping your legs extended up. Let your hands rest comfortably by your side.
When it comes to exercise and PMS, restorative postures like this can help to calm the nervous system and invite in ease and receptivity to the body, says Byun.
#3 Supine Twist
Starting on your back, extend your legs out in front of you. Inhale your right knee into your chest. On your exhale, drop your right knee over to the left side of your body, twisting the spine and low back. Hold here for several deep breaths and repeat on each side.
“My low back often becomes super sensitive while on my period. A juicy supine twist helps to decompress the low back as well as massage the inner organs, making it one of the best exercises for menstrual cramps,” says Byun.
#4 Savasana With a Bolster or Blanket Rolled Under The Knees
To get into this posture, bring your big toes to touch and spread your knees wide toward the edges of your mat. Sink your hips back to your heels, and let your torso rest on the support of the bolster. Rest your head comfortably to one side, and let your arms relax alongside you.
“This extra restorative variation of savasana is a reminder to give myself full permission to rest, to honor my cycle, and to listen to my body,” says Byun.
Sync up Your Workouts With Your Cycle
Want more tips on how to sync your workouts with your cycle? Check out this FitOn TikTok.
Expert Tips To Alleviate PMS Symptoms
There’s no universal rule when it comes to exercise and PMS. While exercise can alleviate symptoms, it can be hard to find the motivation to get moving if you’re doubled over with cramps. But the good news is that there may be ways to lessen your PMS symptoms and work up the motivation to sweat.
In addition to the aforementioned exercises for menstrual cramps, here are some expert tips to make PMS symptoms more manageable.
Walking & Stretching
Take extra time to warm up and recover, says D’Arcy. Don’t undermine the benefits of slow, restorative movements. Walking and stretching can be some of the best exercises for menstrual cramps! Browse the stretch category in the FitOn app to find a guided stretch routine that feels good for you!
Research suggests regular acupuncture sessions can reduce both physical PMS symptoms as well as mood-related symptoms.
From a Chinese Medicine standpoint, “the liver is responsible for the free flow of Qi and blood in the body. When the liver Qi becomes stagnant, we often see PMS symptoms of irritability, cramping, mood swings, outbursts of anger, swollen breasts, and irregular and painful periods. Acupuncture works toward soothing the liver qi and relieving any stagnation,” says D’Arcy.
Plus, enhanced blood flow is associated with improvements in both PMS and exercise!
If you’re unable to receive an acupuncture treatment, you can still get the benefits from home. Acupressure is based on finding certain acupuncture points and activating them with pressure, says D’Arcy. The next time you’re experiencing cramps or pain around your period, try activating these points! When it comes to PMS and exercise, these specific points could help you feel more comfortable when working out and offer some (much-needed) natural relief.
Large Intestine 4: “LI4 is located between the index finger and the thumb. This point is well known for its ability to relieve pain, helping to reduce stress, headaches, and neck pain. With your index finger and thumb, apply firm pressure with your other hand. Massage this point for 5 seconds taking deep, slow breaths,” says D’Arcy. Note: This point is contraindicated for pregnancy as it may induce labor.
Liver 3: “This point is famously paired with Large Intestine 4 to create ‘4-gates’, which open up the flow of energy throughout the body. Liver 3 is located on your foot in between your big toe and second toe. This point helps reduce anxiety and stress as well as reduce pain, insomnia, and menstrual cramps. Apply firm pressure to this point and massage for 5 to 10 seconds,” says D’Arcy.
Spleen 8: “This point is located on the inner leg. To locate this point, start by tracing your fingers down the tibia about 5-7 inches until you find a tender spot. This point is excellent for intense menstrual cramps. Spend your time pressing into this point. Hold for 60 to 90 seconds on both legs,” says D’Arcy.
Yin Tang: “This point is located midway between your eyebrows. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, and gently apply pressure with your index finger or thumb. Massage the point in a circular motion for 5 to 10 minutes. Mantras or visualizations are powerful tools to use during this time. I like to imagine that there is a protective light shining around my body as if I were glowing with a golden white light,” says D’Arcy.
While activating this point, try a free FitOn meditation to help enhance the mind-body connection!
Prioritize Real Foods
When your period hits, your secret stash of chocolate and sweet treats may sound good in the moment, but research suggests these foods may leave you feeling worse in the long run. To alleviate symptoms of PMS, it’s best to minimize sugar, dairy, processed foods, coffee, and alcohol during that time of the month, says D’Arcy.
When it comes to PMS and exercise, prioritize a diet rich in nourishing foods. This can help soothe your cramps while fueling your workouts!
Need some help getting started? Here’s how to eat based on your menstrual cycle!
While it might sound counterintuitive, increased hydration may actually relieve water retention and reduce PMS symptoms. Drinking enough water throughout the day can help reduce belly bloat by flushing out any excess fluids or sodium!
So if you decide to roll out your mat and try some yoga exercises for menstrual cramps, remember to hydrate! While the menstrual cycle won’t influence fluid needs during exercise, adequate hydration can enhance recovery and performance. Find out how much water you need per day!
Exercise and PMS: Listen to Your Body To Find What Works Best For You
If your PMS symptoms are horrible, listen to your body and focus on movement that feels good for you, says D’Arcy. When you nourish your body with healthy foods, take measures to alleviate period pain, and prioritize restorative movement, working out may feel much more approachable when it comes to exercise and PMS!