Do you know there are actually four phases to a women’s 28-day cycle? Many women are only aware of the ovulation and menstrual phase or basically, when you can get pregnant and when you bleed. Well, ladies… there is more happening than only those two phases and you need to know about it.
There are many reasons to be aware of these phases and track your cycle beyond just fertility. Knowing where you are in your cycle can help you understand your body, your emotions, and adapt food, exercise and productivity. For a deep dive into how to rock your cycle all month long for more productivity in work, relationships and personal goals, we recommend the work of Alisa Vitti in her book Woman Code. This will help you leverage more from your cycle rather than just tolerating it month to month.
The 4 Phases of Your Cycle
The lengths of each phase are based on a 28 day cycle, although many people have cycles ranging from 26-30 days. If you have a shorter or longer than that range, there is likely substantial hormone imbalances that need to be addressed. Heavy, painful, exhausting, emotionally charged periods also indicate hormone imbalances which can be corrected.
First of all, let’s be sure we all know this basic fact- the first day of your cycle is the day you start your period. If you are tracking your cycle in an app, this is when you note for the app your period has started. If you are tracking for lab work with a functional medicine doctor, you will note the first day of your cycle, and plan ahead to schedule labs on days 18-22 of that cycle.
Phase 1- Menstrual
This is the bleeding phase and the start of a new cycle.
This phase generally lasts 3-7 days.
The bleeding in the menstrual phase is triggered by a drop in progesterone. This hormone shift signals the body to get shed the uterine lining that has been developing to prepare for a pregnancy. Estrogen peaks at the first day or so of the menstrual phase which is what causes fatigue, backache, and cravings the first day or two of your period. As the estrogen levels drop and you shed the estrogen stored in the uterine lining, your mood levels out.
This is the phase to really tune into your body with honor and respect for all that it does for you. You are going to have less energy, likely feel a bit more tired, and even want to be less social. This is normal. Engage in restorative movement, foods, and activities.
Exercise and Nourishment
This is the time for yoga and walking. Try to refrain from pushing for or expecting your body to perform the same as it does during other phases. Your body loses more minerals during this phase than others, so it is important to nourish well. Focus on soups and stews with real bone broth to add minerals. Choose nourishing options like more root vegetables instead of processed carbohydrates and sugar.
Phase 2- Follicular
This phase prepares your body to release another egg in preparation for potential pregnancy. This phase generally lasts 7-10 days.
The hormone changes in this phase are often not noticed, but can work to your advantage if understood. This is when the hypothalamus signals pituitary gland to send FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) to ovaries to prepare another egg to release. Estrogen increases to once again, preparing the uterine lining for an egg to implant if pregnancy occurs. In the brain, this hormone shift helps you to be open to new things and brings new creativity.
With the slow increase in hormones occurring in this phase, your brain is open and more creative than other times. This is a great time to brainstorm and envision possibilities.
Exercise and Nourishment
In this phase you will have more energy for exercise so make the most of it! With openness to new things, this is a great time to try new types of exercise to keep things interesting. You will likely lean more towards lighter, vibrant foods so make the most of fresh vegetables, fermented vegetables, and salads. Use quality protein, nuts, and seeds to make these meals interesting and fresh.
Phase 3- Ovulation
This phase is when you are fertile and can get pregnant.
This phase lasts 3-4 days.
With a rise in FSH, and LH hormones the your body releases an egg into the fallopian tubes where it travels to the uterus. Estrogen continues to climb and testosterone surges briefly during ovulation. This surge of testosterone encourages your sex drive. Vaginal discharge increases to support the reproduction should it occur.
Based on what hormones shifts occur, this is the most outgoing and social part of your cycle. This is a great time to plan dinner parties and networking opportunities since you can communicate more clearly and generally feel your best during these days.
Exercise and Nutrition
Building strength and stamina should be your exercise focus with running, pilates or a barre class. This is the phase your body need to eliminate excess estrogen so support detoxification pathways and glutathione production with raw veggies, fresh greens, fruit.
Phase 4- Luteal
This is the preparation phase where the body adjusts based on if the egg was fertilized during ovulation to begin pregnancy or the next menstrual cycle.
This phase lasts 10-14 days.
Progesterone rises which keeps the uterine lining in tact and signals to the pituitary to slow down the FSH/LH so only one egg is release. Estrogen continues to rise, then testosterone increases towards the end of this phase.
Progesterone and estrogen being higher together brings new awareness and attention to detail. This is a time to push for goals, finish tasks, and dig into productivity. Lean into the power of this week and get things done at work and home.
Exercise and Nourishment
Your exercise this week should be powerful. Although you probably won’t feel up for major cardio, you will have energy to burn, so power yoga, weight training, spin class, or a bike ride is in order. Leafy greens, B vitamins and magnesium are the nourishing tools for this phase. Root vegetables and B vitamins will help with cravings leading into the menstrual phase.
Your Cycle Working For You
By understanding all four phases of your cycle you can lean into each phase so it can work for you, not against you. Most schedules are based on many of the same weekly routines each month, but keep in mind this is a masculine way of moving through the month. Engage your feminine energy by looking for ways you can adapt your schedule for the focused power of each phase. Leveraging the focus of each phase of your cycle for your benefit can be your superpower- don’t underestimate what your innate feminine energy can do for you.