I don't know about you, but when I had hypothalamic amenorrhea, many of my workouts sucked.
Definitely not all of them sucked. I had hypothalamic amenorrhea for ten (yes, ten!) years and during these years, I worked out 5-6 days a week. I couldn't have kept working out that much of all the workouts sucked.
But many of them did and I realize only now how much.
I realize it only now as I'm slowly getting back to working out again, how different my workouts used to feel even just 6-7 months ago, compared to now.
If you are overtraining too and your health is suffering from it (you lose your period, for example!), PLEASE work on getting yourself back on track. There's nothing more important than your health!
Back to my workouts…
My Workouts 7-8 months ago
I stopped all weight and cardio training in December 2016 (with the exception of a 3-week period in March, when I tried a bodybuilding program, then realized that this is not how you recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea).
But I was getting signs that something has to change about 3-4 months before I quit exercising. I started constantly seeing the following signs:
- My energy was running low. I always used to workout first thing in the morning, or if I taught the early 5.30 morning class, right after it. Most of the time, I didn't eat anything before I worked out. Because I usually didn't work out longer than 30 minutes, I dragged my body through that because I knew I get to eat right after. However, I now believe that my workouts would have been much better had I eaten at least something before I trained. And of course, doing high intensity weight training on an empty stomach wasn't a very period-friendly thing to do (extended fast + high intensity activity = lots of cortisol & suppressing hypothalamus and no period).
- Furthermore, my motivation was running low. That was a new one to me, as I had never experienced it before. In some mornings, I needed a real pep talk to get myself up and to workout. I didn't skip any workouts though, I did them no matter what. Because dedication (or wait, is it called addiction?)
- I found myself getting bored with my workouts. I had always enjoyed working out alone, but suddenly it started to feel wrong, I wanted people around me and I wanted someone else to tell me what to do. So I joined a bootcamp class. It made it easier for a while – I had a commitment now and I had to show up. It's actually a lot of fun for a trainer to be a student in someone else's class! But the fact that I needed this additional push from someone else was a sign that something was going on.
- HIIT workouts got harder and harder. I mean the ones that consist of mostly bodyweight exercises and have lots of plyometrics in them, such as combinations of tuck jumps, high knees, burpees etc – things that I used to do a lot at one point in my life. Probably even too much. These workouts aren't bad; what was bad was that I wasn't listening to myself and totally over did them, and didn't rest and eat properly. About 6 months before I decided to stop exercising, I barely did any of those intense bodyweight HIITs, because I was just so tired. And I even remember quitting some half way through. THAT was new to me as well, because I had always thought I can push myself through any workout!
But I still worked out 6 days a week. I was denying those facts that pointed me that something was wrong. I was trying to convince myself that everything is actually okay; it's just a period when I need a bit more pushing. And that's what I did, I pushed myself, until in December, I decided to take a full rest.
I cut out HIIT and weight training cold turkey. For the next 5 months, I only walked and did yoga.
Cold turkey was actually the best approach for me and I think is for everyone who wants to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea. Why wait? Doing just less workouts isn't likely going to help you, it's just making the progress longer. Quit now.
In hindsight, I probably could have gotten my period back earlier had I had a different job. As a trainer, I still had to move quite a bit.
I started working out again about 6 weeks after my period came back. It's recommended to wait three cycles before introducing any intense exercise (NPNW), but I waited two. I don't say that's the right thing to do, that's just what I did. Many women experience too short luteal phase – less than 12-14 days (luteal phase is the time from ovulation to your period). Short luteal phase can be a result of introducing too much / too intense exercise too early after recovery. I didn't have that problem.
I started really slowly, by adding one lifting day per week. And that one lifting day a week is so special to me; it's almost a treat that I look forward to every week, because…
Working out is just so much better now.
My Workouts Now
There are several things that make the quality of my workouts so much better now, compared to 7 months ago.
- I have energy. Like, literally, a lot of energy! This week, I went to the gym and felt like I'm literally crushing these deadlifts. I workout only once a week and I'm already getting close to lifting the heaviest I've lifted in my life. It's seriously amazing considering that I came back very recently. But it's only possible because I'm so much better recovered. I care much more about quality (how I feel) than quantity (how many days I workout) now.
- I don't force it. I usually lift on Wednesdays. But if I don't feel good on that day, I don't workout. The other week, I had a really intense and exhausting day plus I hadn't slept that well the night before, so I skipped the Wednesday workout with no regret and guilt and worked out on Saturday. And had I felt tired on Saturday too, I would have skipped that too. I'm still in the very early phase post-HA, so I'm not pushing it because I don't want to start the recovery over again.
- I eat. When I go to the gym, I always eat breakfast, or if it's later in the day, breakfast and lunch. I eat something. The only time I may not eat is before walking in the morning. I can walk 30 minutes without food and I don't feel that's a problem. But I wouldn't lift or run without having eaten at least something.
- I look forward to working out. As I mentioned earlier, before I started recovery, I had times when I had to make myself go and workout, and sometimes I couldn't wait it to be over. It's wayyy different now. I love to get to the gym and I really want to workout. Maybe because I'm still taking it very easy and have only one day a week when I lift, so that day is like a treat to me. The pace of my workouts os different. It's slower. And because I'm not so terribly hungry, there's no need to get over with it quickly so I could eat.
- I train the way I feel like training. I used to think that I have to do just HIIT type of workouts to… to what? To look good, honestly. My focus was there. I thought there's just one way to train, and if my workout didn't leave me pouring buckets of sweat and totally breathless, then it wasn't worth it. And while I think there's a time and place for this type of workouts, there are so many other ways to move as well. I've now found that I actually love heavy lifting; it takes so much more focus and it's much slower, but I love to feel how I'm getting stronger from it. I no longer think that the amount of sweat or the number of calories spent during the workout determines the success my training.
If you have my ebook, you already know that there are many reasons why you should want your period back. Now, I'd like to add another one: Your workouts will be so much better when you're cycling again.
If you have hypothalamic amenorrhea now and you still work out, your workouts aren't probably exactly stellar. Do you feel tired already before the workout and can't wait for it to be over? Do you train to burn calories? Are you absolutely depleted after your run, HIIT or whatever you're doing, because you aren't eating enough and because you just totally overdid it?
Working on restoring my cycle meant eating more. It meant taking a lot of rest. Both of these things gradually made my sleep better. They balanced my hormones. Thanks to all of these things, the quality of my workouts is so much better.
Focus on your recovery 100%. Once you can start your workouts again, you'll likely start out slow. But over time, if you take care of food, rest and recovery, you'll find your strength again and your workouts will be much better than before.
Have you recovered hypothalamic amenorrhea and want to start training again? My program Simple Strength for Women helps you to do it safely, without you losing your period again!
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