The Science Behind Women's Fitness: Hormones and Exercise

If you’ve ever wondered how your hormones impact your training, coach Emily Robinson has the answers. 

Emily Robinson
Emily Robinson
 min read
November 9, 2023

In the world of fitness, one often overlooked but critical factor that influences health and physical performance is the intricate interplay between hormones and exercise. For women especially, hormonal fluctuations are a natural part of life and impact energy levels, mood, and even body composition. 

Understanding how these hormonal changes can affect women’s fitness goals and exercise routines is essential for tailoring workouts that maximize results while being mindful of overall health and well-being. To give you a few ideas of how you can harness the power of your own physiology to optimize your fitness journey, we asked trainer and coach Emily Robinson to break it down.

The Science Behind Women’s Fitness

It’s no secret that women and men are built differently physically, but those differences might mean less than you think when it comes to training, says Robinson. 

“There honestly is no reason why men and women can’t train mostly the same,” the coach says, explaining that “my training style is probably very similar to most men – heavy weight and longer rest periods.”

Robinson says that she thinks it’s a “common misconception that women cannot lift heavy, or that they shouldn’t because that is how you bulk up,” she says, explaining that “in reality, lifting heavy weight alone won’t do anything to you except make you stronger if your nutrition does not align with muscle gain.” 

While Robinson says that men and women can realistically train exactly the same, she says that she often sees that “women specifically tend to over exercise by doing too much cardio, or too many HIIT workouts, and undereat for their activity level. This can lead to increased cortisol levels (high stress on the body), and increased estrogen levels, which can cause hormonal imbalances,” she warns. 

That doesn’t mean that as a woman, you need to avoid cardio or HIIT workouts, but instead find a schedule that provides the optimal balance to satisfy your fitness goals and keep your hormones happy, as well. Robinson outlines the following schedule as an example of what might work for you: 

  • Moderate-to-intense traditional strength training for 3-5 days a week
  • 15-30 minutes of light to moderate cardio after lifts or on rest days (optional) 
  • Mobility, yoga, or some sort of light/recovery-based exercise on rest days 
  • Movement every day (like having some sort of step goal) 

Hormones Through the Ages 

Not only do women need to take these hormonal fluctuations into account when it comes to training on a daily basis, but it’s also important to consider that hormones may change how you need to train over time. 

As women age, their hormones – primarily estrogen and progesterone – fluctuate, but Robinson says that finding the ideal training program “really depends on the client specifically.” 

“As we get older, it’s easier to stress out the body and we do not recover as fast,” she says, noting that “for older women, things like full body workouts may not be as good as broken-out body splits, like a PPL (Push-Pull-Legs) workout, or something similar.

“Having more body parts broken out gives the body more days of rest in between training each muscle group. More rest equals less stress on the body, and that equals reduced cortisol levels,” Robinson says. 

Those reduced cortisol levels in turn “help us balance hormones and make it easier to do things such as lose fat or gain muscle,” she explains. 

However, a one-size-fits-all plan doesn’t apply when it comes to hormones, so it’s important to make sure you’re doing what feels right for your body and your goals. Robinson recommends following some “social media coaches who specialize in hormones specifically,” if you find yourself interested in more information on the topic and how you can apply it to your own training. 

Hormones on a Monthly Basis 

While hormones may affect a woman’s training schedule as she ages, they also may affect how she trains throughout the month. This is known as cycle syncing, and the concept has recently gained quite a bit of traction. 

Robinson explains the idea as “essentially adjusting the way you eat and work out to match up with the different phases of your menstrual cycle to keep hormones balanced.”

The coach says that she personally “doesn’t do cycle syncing and prioritizes strength training pretty much all the time,” but notes that it can be helpful “to optimize your workouts, energy levels and reduce symptoms of PMS.” 

Although cycle syncing can have valuable benefits “if you feel out of touch with your body, or just want to be most optimally aligned with it,” it’s important to remember there’s no right or wrong way to train for your hormones – as long as you feel good. 

Robinson says she “gets a lot of questions regarding whether or not women should strength train during their period week,” and says this answer applies there, as well. “To be honest, it really is on a person-to-person basis.” 

She continues, explaining that “if you have a really heavy period or a lot of symptoms, it is totally fine to take a few days off from the gym – your gains will survive,” but notes if “you have a normal or lighter period and manageable or very few symptoms, I’d continue with your normal programming.” 

Want more from Emily Robinson? Follow her for gym tips, workouts, and fitness inspo, or train with her here

No items found.

We'll take it from here

There's too much BS in the fitness industry. We decided to stop watching, get off the sidelines, and start writing our own headlines.

Weight Lifting - Gymfit X Webflow Template
Training - Gymfit X Webflow Template