Guest post by Despina Pavlou
Exercise is a key component in any PCOS treatment plan. It provides tons of health-promoting benefits, both physical and mental. However, if you are making these 7 exercise mistakes, you might be wreaking even more havoc on your hormones and pushing you further away from reversing your PCOS symptoms.
As a certified personal trainer, I advocate the importance of regular and enjoyable exercise. But all too often, I see people making these mistakes. I, too, made many of these exercise mistakes at the beginning of my PCOS journey. I was oblivious of the adverse effects of excessive exercise. I did not consider what the consequences of pushing my body to the extreme and failing to nourish it may have had on my hormones and PCOS.
Unfortunately, it is only when you experience the repercussions of your actions do you realise your mistakes. I hope through identifying these 7 exercise mistakes, I can prevent you from also making them.
So, if you want to learn the 7 common PCOS exercise mistakes and why you should stop making them, continue reading.
1) Fasted Workouts
Many people opt for fasted workouts because they believe that it is the best for fat loss. Others choose fasted workouts because they do not have an appetite for food in the morning.
So, you might be wondering, what’s the problem with doing fasted workouts if you have PCOS?
Exercise is already a stress on the body and when we add fasting to the mix, well, it’s a recipe for disaster. Fasted workouts are a quick way to spike stress hormones like cortisol even further.
In the morning, glycogen levels are low; our liver glycogen stores last about 8 hours. As a result, when we exercise in the morning on an empty stomach with no glycogen reserves, the body will utilise other substrates to make energy.
Low food availability is a signal to the body that we are in a stressful environment. By not providing the body with glucose/sugar to meet the increase in energetic demands that you will be putting upon it through exercise, you are just creating a scenario bound to cause metabolic issues and hormonal havoc.
The body must go through a process called gluconeogenesis to make sugar. But this process is stressful and inflammatory to the body. Stress hormones like cortisol rise to breakdown fat, protein, organs, or connective tissue. The liver converts it into glucose and releases it into the bloodstream. The mitochondria then convert the glucose into ATP.
2) Just Doing Cardio
Many women with PCOS choose to only do cardio based workouts because they fear they will get bulky if they lift weights. However, there is clear evidence that incorporating resistance training into PCOS workouts is far superior to doing either alone.
Resistance Training Reduces Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance affects around 70% of women with PCOS. Researchers found that each 10% increase in muscle was associated with an 11% relative reduction in the risk of insulin resistance.
Resistance Training Lowers Testosterone Levels
High male hormones, like testosterone, are a symptom of PCOS. A study found weight training can lower testosterone levels in women with PCOS.
PCOS women completed a resistance training program for 16-weeks. The results show that after 16 weeks, the women’s testosterone levels significantly reduced.
Resistance Training helps With Weight Loss
Research shows women who suffer from PCOS, have a lower Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) than women who do not have PCOS.
Lifting weights helps to increase an individual’s RMR because muscle burns more calories when the body is at rest.
3) Training too long
This is one of the most common exercise mistakes. When it comes to workout duration, we often think that workouts between 20-45 mins are too short and that a good workout must be at least 1 hour, maybe even 2!
But that’s not true.
During exercise, the body uses glucose floating in the bloodstream for energy. This supply lasts for about 30-45 minutes. Once this supply of energy has been used, your body needs to find a replacement.
After about an hour of exercise, stress hormones like cortisol rise and remain high until you have finished your workout. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone and as discussed above, in mistake number 1, once your glycogen stores are empty, cortisol must break down stored fat and tissues like muscle and organs to make energy.
Furthermore, stressful conditions like prolonged and excessive exercise usually cause the thyroid function to down-regulate. Stress inhibits the release of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). A decrease in TSH, in turn, suppresses the conversion of T4 (the inactive thyroid hormone) to T3 (the active thyroid hormone).
When thyroid hormone production decreases, less oxygen is needed, metabolic processes like digestion and the immune system slow down to conserve energy.
Yes, there is such a thing as over-exercising.
We all know the importance of regular exercise, but the body needs time off from working out to recover.
Many people fail to understand that if you do not schedule rest days in your workout program, you are causing yourself more harm than good.
The body experiences inflammation from the stress of exercise. However, this inflammation is only short-term. Meaning it will subside in a few days once you have given your body time to rest.
But this short-term inflammation can become chronic if you don’t allow your body to rest and recover.
Here are 6 signs you are over-exercising:
- If you feel tired and exhausted, to the point you want to take a nap after exercising
- You lack the energy to complete your workouts
- You are suffering from muscle soreness that doesn’t seem to go away.
- You can’t sleep at night
- You have lost your appetite
- You always feel cold
5) Too much HIIT
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is very popular in the PCOS community. Several studies have shown HIIT to be great for insulin resistance and PCOS. The reason for this is because, during the intense intervals, the body requires lots of glucose. As a result, there is a rapid depletion of muscle glycogen stores. The drastic change in muscle glycogen stores promotes an increase in insulin sensitivity. Insulin can transport glucose back into the muscles to replenish them.
The problem with HIIT, however, is that it significantly raises cortisol levels. A study found an exercise intensity of 80% of VO2 max provoked a significant increase in cortisol than low intensities such as 40%.
Women with PCOS already suffer from high cortisol and overactive adrenals. It’s therefore important to be cautious about what exercise you choose to do and how intensely you train. You may be hoping to fix insulin resistance but are wreaking even more havoc because now you are pumping out even more cortisol.
6) Not nourishing your body
A fasted state is something you should avoid before a workout. In addition to making sure you eat a pre-workout meal, it’s also important that you eat a post-workout meal. This is a common exercise mistake, but an easy one to fix.
Exercise breaks down muscle and depletes your body of nutrients and energy. Eating a balanced and nourishing meal of protein and carbs after your workout will help with muscle growth and repair. It will help balance blood sugar levels and replenish glycogen stores.
7) Forcing yourself to exercise
Regular exercise is important for our PCOS and overall health. However, there may be days where you don’t feel like exercising. Quite often, you will see people online say that you should work out no matter how you feel. I used to follow that advice. I would push aside how unmotivated and how little energy I had and force myself to exercise.
Now, despite how you felt before your workout, there may be times after exercising you feel better and have tons of energy. That’s awesome.
However, there are times where you simply have to listen to your body. If you don’t have the energy or desire to exercise, don’t do it. It’s OK.
Exercise requires energy. So, if you feel like your energy levels are low, don’t push your body to exercise. You may be doing more harm than good.
When working to balance your hormones and restore your metabolism, it’s important to work with your body. Pay close attention to how you feel and don’t push your body to exercise if it feels difficult.
If you decide to skip a scheduled workout day, don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty about it. You want the days you do exercise to be enjoyable, not a struggle or a burden.
In summary, exercise is just one part of a PCOS treatment plan. When used correctly, it can be a powerful form of medicine. However, in our current society, we are constantly bombarded with new trends and extreme exercise programs that put our bodies through significant amounts of stress—as a result, creating even more hormone havoc.
Avoid making these 7 exercise mistakes to ensure you are reaping the benefits of exercise for PCOS and not experiencing the negative effects.
Despina Pavlou is the founder of PCOS Oracle and a certified personal trainer. She takes a holistic and evidence-based approach to both nutrition and training. After being diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 18, she was forced to learn about PCOS and her body to overcome it. She believes both diet and lifestyle modifications are an effective approach to managing PCOS and its symptoms. Despina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @pcosoracle on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.