While you may not feel like it, you absolutely can do kegels while on your period. Your sense of motivation may be lower and your perception of ‘engaging’ the muscles may also be less but that doesn’t mean the muscles aren’t working. Pelvic floor exercise may feel more or less effective depending on where you are in your cycle and if you are nearing menopause or past it.
During menstruation (the follicular phase), estrogen and progesterone are relatively low but there is more estrogen relative to progesterone. Estrogen and testosterone are highest at ovulation and just after and then start to decline in the luteal phase followed by a drop in progesterone which starts the cycle once more.
During the first 14 days of the cycle the follicle is maturing and after the uterine lining has shed it starts to build back up again and thicken under the influence of the rising estrogen. There is a bleeding and a non-bleeding phase in the follicular phase with bleeding typically lasting 3-7 days. Estrogen slowly rises as the bleeding slows and peaks at ovulation.
At ovulation, the follicle releases the egg and the follicle then becomes the corpus luteum which is a source of progesterone. The period (pun intended) of time after ovulation is called the luteal phase and is a time of higher levels of both estrogen and progesterone with progesterone being higher relative to estrogen. Near the end of the cycle, progesterone drops and this triggers menstruation.
The bleeding phase is often accompanied by a sense of relief and it is also a time when many women turn inwards. It is common to feel tired and to even want to withdraw from the day to day. In our busy world we don’t always have the time to do so but even 15 minutes a day to sit and be still can make a huge difference. Because there is tendency to withdraw and turn inwards it can be a good time to do kegels but I advise women to honour how they feel and opt to do nothing over doing kegels if their energy is low.
It is a good time reflect and set intentions so perhaps visualizing the rhythm of your pelvic floor and diaphragm would serve you better than actively contracting and releasing your pelvic floor. That being said, contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor can help reduce cramps in some people.
The cervix actually sits lower during the bleeding phase and the uterus is heavier as well which could also mean the sense of ‘doing’ a kegel is not as strong or connected but it could also act like a bit of resistance in your training as well ;-)
Kidding aside, there have been studies that found that strength training during the follicular phase resulted in greater increases in strength. Generally women tend to be stronger during the follicular phase when estrogen is higher relative to progesterone and this then reverses when progesterone is higher relative to estrogen. So maybe gains from kegels would be greater when done in the follicular phase? I’m hypothesizing….anyone want to test it?
During the non-bleeding phase as estrogen and testosterone start to rise, so does your energy, confidence and sense of power. This is a great time to do kegels! It is still the follicular phase when strength gains are greater and another study idea would be great to compare strength gains of bleeders vs non bleeders in the follicular phase. Perhaps kegels done statically (not with movement) in the early follicular phase with a transition to kegels with movement (my Kegel Mojo philosophy) in the late follicular stage would be beneficial. This is how I tend to vary my workouts.
An even better time to do kegels is during ovulation. Bleeding has stopped, estrogen has brought juiciness to your vagina, testosterone is higher, you feel sexier, and many report orgasms are better during this time.
You know what else can make an orgasm better? Kegels! Doing kegels while having sex or while you enjoy some self-pleasure is a great time to take your pelvic floor through voluntary contract/relax cycles of kegels.
The first part of the luteal phase which happens after ovulation is a time of continued energy and confidence. As estrogen and testosterone start to drop you enjoy the calming effects of the higher levels of progesterone and then as it starts to decline you once again move toward the time when you may withdraw and move inwards again.
In perimenopause, the typical cycle (25-35 days) may start to vary and women may experience months where ovulation does not occur perhaps because there was not enough follicle stimulating hormone to mature the follicle or perhaps not enough lutenizing hormone to cause the follicle to rupture. Remember that the ruptured follicle is a source of progesterone and if a follicle is not developing or is not rupturing then the increase of progesterone may not happen. This can lead to estrogen dominance over time which can contribute to heavier periods and longer periods…which can in turn mean more time not feeling like doing kegels.
In menopause, ovulation does not occur at all and estrogen levels start to drop. Progesterone which had been starting to drop in peri-menopause continues to drop as well. This can often leave the vagina feeling dry and irritated which can contribute to symptoms of incontinence or prolapse. There can in turn be a tendency for women to develop clenching or gripping strategies for core control which can have a negative influence on the overall function of the pelvic floor.
Maybe it feels like kegels don’t work anymore? Local estrogen therapy can help offset the dryness and atrophy, referred to as Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause. It can also help restore the suppleness of the vaginal tissues and pelvic floor.
Hyalauronic Acid is another great option to help heal and restore dry, irritated tissue in the vagina. The more I research and learn about hormones, I believe there would be benefit in working with a naturopathic doctor or functional medicine physician to help supplement hormones in peri and post menopause.
Kegels work when done correctly, consistently and coordinated with movement. I encourage a kegel-centric lifestyle with pelvic floor exercise done most days either on their own or as part of activities of daily living and workouts. The periodization of workouts to align with your cycle is something I promote in my Kegel Mojo program and coaching sessions.
The 28 Day Buff Muff Challenge is a great place to start making Kegels a habit. You will learn how to do them correctly, it will ensure you do them consistently and of course, you will be doing them coordinated with movement!
Living a Kegel Mojo Lifestyle will help reduce or eliminate symptoms or keep problems from starting in the first place. Proactive is best but it is never too late, so no matter what phase of life you are in, pay attention to your pelvic floor health and make all the other facets of life easier!