Olivia Orchowski Shares The Power Of Understanding Your Menstrual Cycle

Look, I get it. It’s easy to look at a menstrual cycle as a hindrance. It’s utterly unfair that, as women, we are bleeding for an average 1400 DAYS out of our lives; and men don’t. It’s a cruel joke that our bleed can fall bang on the days that we wanted to be sipping margaritas on the beach. It’s downright rude that our period can decide to show up on the day of our wedding.

But what if I was to tell you there’s a deep and otherworldly power in understanding and knowing your menstrual cycle? Understanding your cycle, its phases, and its peaks and troughs, can give you more control than you ever imagined. It will shift you from thinking your cycle is a hindrance, annoyance, or downright unwelcomed guest into understanding the absolute supreme power that comes with your cycle.

Many of the women who are more clued into their cycle, will treat it as two phases – the follicular (first half) and luteal (second half).

But what if I was to tell you that the deepest level of body literacy comes from separating the cycle into 5 distinct glorious phases? With only 13% of the menstruating population experiencing a “text book” 28 day cycle, the below time frames are only a guide for clarity.

Bleed (Days 1-4):

Understanding that this phase dictates more about your health than anything else in your cycle is supreme. Is your bleed painful, heavy and debilitating? Are you spotting for a few days before your bleed? Is your blood dark, clotted, thick? Is your bleed incredibly light for 1-2 days and disappearing? Or is your period arriving with no warning, no pain, beautiful red blood, with no clots?

What you may think is irrelevant information, can paint a picture of how healthy the blood flow to your uterus is, how thick the endometrium is, how high or low our estradiol levels are, how our estrogen detoxification is working for us, if we might have fibroids/cysts/polyps, endometriosis, or a plethora of other issues that are being highlighted in our bleed.

Did you know one of the most common reasons we see painful breasts and heavy bleeds are an iodine deficiency? But before you start whipping out the potassium iodide, make sure you test your entire thyroid panel (including all your antibodies) as supplementing iodine without these markers being cleared is a recipe for disaster. Working with a professional who specialises in women’s health, would be an even better chess move!

Follicular Phase (Days 5-10):

Our glorious Follicular Phase is that time in our cycle where our follicles are being stimulated to grow, until a dominant one presents itself. This phase comes with rising estradiol and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) levels, until they reach such a point in which our ovaries tell our brain “hey, we don’t need any more”.

Estradiol is incredibly anabolic for women, and phenomenal for our strength gains. This is a time where we might find ourselves feeling strong in the gym, strong in life, and like our resilience is higher. But as the caveat, estradiol has a profound effect on our ligaments and causing more laxity. The translation? You may find yourself at a higher risk of knee or ligament injuries during this time if you’re not mindful of exercise selection or activities you’re performing.

Imagine a world in where female athletes are periodized according to their cycle? We’d see a startling decrease in the figures of ACL injuries for our female athletes!

Ovulatory Phase (Days 11-14):

This phase is marked by the entrance into our fertile window – yes, you only have a short window which is considered fertile each cycle. Sex-ed has failed many of us!

This phase sees with it rising testosterone and estradiol levels. You are going to feel like you can take on anything, like you are superwoman on steroids, like you can get it ALL done; AND YOU WILL! The unfair part is knowing that men feel like this all the time with their testosterone.

This glorious phase is where we see increasing Luteinizing Hormone (LH) levels which tell our emerging dominant follicle that it is the chosen one, and this follicle becomes the egg we ovulate with.

This phase length varies greatly for many women and, as we age, we see a distinct decrease in the length of this phase, and a notable decrease in the amount of cervical mucus which indicates the opening of this window and phase.

Early Luteal Phase (Days 15-21):

To slap a label on the second half of our cycle and call it all the luteal phase does it a serious injustice. The two halves of the luteal phase could not be more different. They are day and night. They are Summer and Winter. They are each other’s mirror.

The entry into this phase is confirmed with temperature measurements, as we see a minimum of a .2 degrees Celsius increase in basal temperature. This is because of the endocrine gland we grow each cycle – our corpus luteum. So, if you’re not tracking your morning basal temperature, you can’t confirm entry into this window.

What we see during this phase is progesterone increasing to it “mid luteal peak”, and in the process providing an incredible amount of protection to our ligaments!

From an exercise and training perspective, this period will serve you well with agility work, running around, any stop start motions. From a lifestyle perspective, progesterone has profound impacts on our Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors which will impact our mood – you’re going to feel cool, calm, collected, and like you can handle your mother-in-law. So yes, you probably should schedule your monthly catch up with your MIL in this period!

Late Luteal Phase (Days 22-28):

Just as the sun rises in the east, it must set in the west. All good things must come to an end, and our late luteal phase is a sign of that. During this period, our progesterone will start to dip drastically when there is no successful conception (or attempt at conception).

This decrease in our hormones indicates it’s time for us to slow down, it’s time for us to go into hibernation. Killing yourself with HIIT during this period is pointless. Decreasing training intensity is the best way to approach this phase.

This is also where we see many women suffering from Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) experience their “hell week”. We do, unfortunately, see a decrease in serotonin binding to its receptors during this period, which is why so many women will experience such extreme mood fluctuations during this period. Being aware of this, saying no to that catch up, setting a harder boundary, not setting yourself up for failure; this will be key for this phase.

Our entire cycle is a dance. Will you continue to step on its toes and refuse to let it lead? Or will you embrace that it might know a dance routine that you’ve never thought to consider and let it lead you?

About The Author

Olivia Orchowski is a personal trainer, women’s health-focused coach, and doula. She centres her coaching practices around supporting women to navigate their hormones, menstrual cycles, fertility, training, nutrition, and stress. Olivia’s motivation lies in creating a hoard of Amazonian Women armed with body literacy who can take on the world.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *