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Listen to Your Body, Work With Your Cycle and Improve Your Fitness.

gotta get a bit fit

got myself a fitbit

first I felt a dipstick

but now I don’t so much

proved to be a big hit

I’m virtually olympic

postin’ up my fit pics

on Twitter and Facebook

playin’ sunday cricket

sittin’ at a picnic

starin’ at a triptych

it tracks me night and day

guess I must admit it

don’t think I can quit it

some call me addicted,

well, I think that’s what they say.

The problem that I have with fitness trackers is that they are outsourcing our intuition. Children move because they are driven to move. They walk along walls, spin around lamp posts and race just for the fun of it. As adults we let go of what we want to do and instead do what we should. We have stopped paying attention and are no longer connected to our bodies. We go to bootcamp and let people shout at us. We exercise to punish ourselves and even pay to have someone else punish us. We do workouts that a social media star has developed because we want to look just like her (even though she is childless and 20 something). We aren’t exercising to keep ourselves energised, happy and well. And we aren’t listening to our bodies.

On top of this. We are women. This means that we have hormones that influence our ability to train hard and build muscle at different points in our cycle. Women have tracked their menstrual cycles for tens of thousands of years. Evidence indicates that the first calendar was created by the Stone Age people in Britain. Archaeologists (who happen to be men) state that this was a lunar calendar, which tracked the cycles of the moon. Women have pointed out this calendar also tracked a 28 day cycle. Hmmm. What a coincidence. Women have always known that it is helpful to know where we are in our cycle.

If we know at which point we are at, we know what type of training will be best for our body and our energy levels. In the first half of our cycle we feel less pain, recover faster, have faster times and can lift stronger weights. In the second half of our cycle thanks to the rising levels of oestrogen and progesterone in our system there is a downtick in our performance. Oestrogen suppresses the growing capacity of muscle (anabolism) and progesterone increases the breaking down of muscle (catabolism). Oestrogen also holds on to our bodies glycogen stores (in case of pregnancy) which makes it harder to burn carbohydrates for fuel. Oestrogen causes a drop in blood plasma volume and progesterone retains sodium, the effect of both being that we have thicker blood. Less blood pumped with each heart beat makes exercise feel harder. Oestrogen and progesterone also affect the hypothalamus which regulates fatigue (among other things).

This might mean that you do your cardio and muscle building exercise in the first half of the month and gentler yoga, pilates type stuff in the second half. What it does mean is that if something feels hard perhaps you shouldn’t push through, perhaps it actually IS harder and so you go more gently that day.

Some questions that you can ask yourself before you exercise are:

How does my body feel right now?

Do I feel any physical discomfort anywhere?

What is my mood?

Do I want to be here?

What are my expectations for myself?

Where am I in my cycle?

Then give yourself a score out of 100 - and train or push yourself at that level. If you are feeling 75% then that is how hard you will go today.

Then, after you have finished your run, swim, walk etc ask yourself

Did that movement nourish me and make me feel good?

Did I enjoy that movement?

What is my mood now?

Was that a good idea?

Do I feel any physical discomfort?

and let those answers guide what you do tomorrow.

As Eric Franklin frequently says: “you can’t change what you’re not aware of.” Our body is constantly communicating with us and sends us signals to tell us when we hungry, full, angry happy, tense or relaxed and like a persistent toddler if we choose to ignore these signals they just get louder (and louder) until we are stopped by pain, exhaustion or emotional overload. Once we start paying attention we then notice our improvements we know when we can push ourselves and when to take it easy. And unfortunately a fitness tracker just isn’t that clever.

To read more about female physiology read Roar it is brilliant.

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