The 9 Best Exercises to Ease Period Pain
Period problems got you down? Don't let Mother Nature get in the way. These exercises and yoga poses will help banish menstrual cramps, lower back pain, bloating, and more.
Exercise may be the last thing on your mind during your time of the month, but it could be the ticket to feeling like yourself again. Besides providing an extra dose of mood-boosting endorphins, exercising during your period is shown to help relieve abdominal cramps, bloating, headaches, and lower back pain. Tanya Becker, co-founder and chief creative officer of Physique 57, a barre fitness studio based in New York and Los Angeles, walks us through the best exercises for easing period pain. (While you’re at it, check out these other cramp-soothing techniques.)
Lie on the floor and place your feet a little wider than hip-width apart. Slowly lift your hips off the floor and up, then gently lower down one vertebra at time. Lift and lower slowly for one to two minutes. Why it works: “Getting the blood to circulate to the lower back muscles, while also gently strengthening them, is a great way to relieve lower back pain,” says Becker. Don’t miss our 11-step period survival guide (it’s a game changer!).
Katie Dunlop, certified personal trainer and founder of Love Sweat Fitness in Orange County, CA, uses this as her go-to move during that time of the month: Lie on your back with forearms at sides. Raise feet off the floor to 90 degrees; lower right leg to tap toes on the floor, return to starting position then repeat with left leg. Continue to alternate sides as you engage your core. Why it works: It utilizes your abdominal muscles and relieves cramps. (Is your period normal? Check out the 8 period problems you should never ignore.)
Sit in a kneeling position with knees hip-width apart and your bottom on your heels. Lift your hips a couple of inches off your heels and gently roll your hips forward and back. Make sure to contract your abs as you roll your hips forward and let out a strong exhale. Continue for 30 times at a moderate pace. Feeling up for a challenge? Becker suggests lifting arms overhead to increase difficulty. Why it works: “This exercise simultaneously strengthens your abs, while also working your thigh muscles,” says Becker. “You’ll get a little endorphin rush that will improve your mood and also boost your metabolic rate, which will help you burn more calories (and feel less bloated) if you need that extra piece of chocolate.” Pro tip: Put on your favorite hip-shaking music to get motivated!
Place your forearms on a sturdy piece of furniture (like the back of your sofa) or kitchen counter and walk your feet far enough forward so that your body makes an “L” shape. Balancing on your left leg (keep your leg slightly bent), extend your right leg straight behind you. Begin to lift and lower your right leg up and down (floor to hip height) while engaging abs. Make sure not to arch your back while you lift and lower for 60 seconds on each leg. Why it works: “This exercise strengthens your entire core which can help reduce lower back pain,” says Becker. “Also, working your abs in this position will help you feel less bloated.” Here are nine daily habits that will help keep belly bloating in check, too.
Lie on your back and lift your legs straight up above your hips. While engaging your abs, lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the floor. Gently lower one leg towards the floor, then start to slowly scissor your legs. You can hold onto each leg as it comes towards your chest for extra stretch and support. Try to scissor legs up and down for 30 seconds. Why it works: “While it may seem counter-intuitive to contract your abs when you’re experiencing period cramps, this movement can help aid in relief,” says Becker. “It also helps release hip and hamstring tightness, which can lead to lower back pain.” But working out isn’t the only way to fight period pain. Here are seven unusual tips worth trying.
According to a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, women in Taiwan who participated in a short-term yoga exercise intervention reported “fewer physical premenstrual symptoms associated with a lower risk of menstrual pain.” Plus, the practice is best known for boosting energy, decreasing anxiety, and improving overall mood.
Here, Hope Zvara, yoga teacher, functional fitness expert, in Hartford, WI, shows us her go-to poses.
Reclined bound angle
With a bolster or tightly rolled blanket flush with the sacrum (the triangular bone in your lower back), running parallel with the spine, slowly begin to lie back. You’ll feel a gentle stretch in the lower back. Inhale, and let your knees drop open and the bottoms of the feet come together to form a diamond shape and open the groin. Support the knees if necessary with blocks or couch pillows at the outer thigh/knee. With palms facing up, slide the arms out away from the body to a comfortable position. Remain here for three to five minutes, focusing on deep inhales and exhales. Why it works: “This pose soothes the lower back and opens the hips, which often can feel achy during one’s menstrual cycle,” says Zvara. “It stretches the abdomen to ease cramping and reduces stress and anxiety.”
Seated leg forward bend
Start in a seated position with your legs stretched out in front of you. (If your legs feel tight, place yoga blocks under your knees or sit on a blanket or cushion.) On an exhale, hinge from the hips and slowly fold forward. Keep your sit bones grounded and spine long as you lower your body toward legs. As you exhale, focus on drawing the belly inward to massage the lower abdomen. Hold, breathing deeply for one to three minutes, gently folding towards the legs. Why it works: “The bend brings relief to the lower back and sacrum, which can become tight and stiff during your period,” says Zvara. “It also helps to relax the abdomen, bring relief to headaches and migraines, and reduce mood swings.”
Start in a seated position on the floor with the legs extended out in front of you. Bend right knee and place right foot near the left knee on the floor. Sit tall and flex the extended leg, then inhale, extending the left arm up towards the ceiling. Now begin to rotate the spine towards the bent leg without lifting either hip from the floor. Focus on breathing mindfully: work up the spine with each full breath twisting at the belly, lower ribs, heart, shoulders, neck, head, and eyes. Work with this twist for seven to ten breaths. Repeat on the other side. Why it works: “The twist brings relief to the abdomen with a great massage—and liberation to the entire back, where tension is often carried during this time of the month due to physical discomfort,” says Zvara. Along with these poses, here are the nine easy yoga poses you should be doing every day—period or not.
- Tanya Becker, co-founder and chief creative officer of Physique 57, a barre fitness studio based in New York and Los Angeles.
- Katie Dunlop, certified personal trainer and founder of Love Sweat Fitness.
- Hope Zvara, yoga teacher, functional fitness expert in Hartford, WI.
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "Effect of Yoga Exercise on Premenstrual Symptoms among Female Employees in Taiwan."