As a die-hard lifter, I know how beneficial strength training is. Even when my endometriosis was at its worst, I still kept up with my strength-based workouts. So, I know first hand how beneficial it can be for managing endometriosis. In my case, I was able to decrease my painful periods and achieve relief from chronic pelvic pain. Yet, as with all good things, it requires a balanced and conscious approach to genuinely benefit from it. Additionally, it’s essential to understand that results will vary for each person. Taking your unique health history into consideration as well as understanding what stage you’re at in the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery process will determine what strength training will look like for you.
Why Strength Training is Beneficial for Endometriosis
There are two main benefits of including strength training as part of your approach to pain management. The first being that it has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and the second that it helps to encourage hormonal balance.
Endometriosis has an inflammatory effect on the body due to endometrial lesions attaching to organs and surfaces and causing irritation— therefore, these lesions contribute to chronic low-grade inflammation. This inflammatory cycle increases the risk of developing secondary chronic conditions, autoimmune disorders, digestive dysfunction, and other health complications. Hence, this is why those with endo may have other chronic conditions such as hypothyroid, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Yet, following a structured and individual strength training program can decrease the risk of developing additional co-morbidities in addition to endometriosis. Strength training reduces inflammation by increasing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant markers in the body. Which, when done consistently, can also help to decrease the severity of many painful symptoms.
Decreases Estrogen Dominance
While it’s true that endometriosis is an inflammatory condition that impacts the health of the entire body, it is also widely considered to be an estrogen dominant disease. This means there’s an abnormally high estrogen level in relation to progesterone, which is usually very low. Furthermore, elevated estrogen levels can potentially increase the proliferation of endometrial tissue, which in turn may increase painful symptoms. However, strength training can aid in correcting this imbalance by reducing estrogen levels.
How to Strength Train With Endometriosis
Following a traditional high-intensity strength training program may not be the best idea, particularly if you’re struggling with a lot of pelvic pain, cramping, or recovering from surgery. Keeping these special considerations in mind and taking note of your current state of health, pain levels, present symptoms, and pre/post-surgery guidelines will help determine what modifications to make.
Mild to Moderate Pain & Symptoms
There are less severe forms of endometriosis in which pain occurs on a cyclical basis involving painful periods, flare-ups, and pelvic pain during the menstrual cycle. These flare-ups and painful episodes can interfere with your quality of life and make physical activity a challenge. Yet, becoming flexible with your workouts and transitioning between low to moderate intensity strength training can help with pain management and make it easier to remain active during those times. A great option is a calisthenics or bodyweight based form of strength training performed in circuits or rounds. So, not only are you working on building strength, but you’re getting a little bit of cardio mixed in with it.
Additionally, this type of exercise requires little to no resistance and can be done quickly at home. You must listen to your body, and where your pain levels are so, you can make adjustments as needed. Furthermore, avoiding movements that constrict and tighten the pelvis such as sit-ups, crunches, and leg-lifts can decrease the risk of adding to painful symptoms.
Moderate to Severe Pain & Symptoms
If you’re dealing with ongoing pelvic pain, joint and nerve pain, sciatica, painful periods, or nausea consistently following an intense program will not be in your best interest. Instead, your focus is best served on light to gentle resistance training as tolerated by your body. Furthermore, addressing pelvic floor dysfunction and working with a specialist can make a difference in managing pelvic pain. By working with a pelvic floor therapist, you can release, retrain, and relax tightened muscles in the pelvis that contribute to pain.
Additionally, elongating and stretching these muscles with pilates, yoga, or barre can also decrease hip, pelvic, back, and abdomen pain. These types of resistance-based workouts help to build strength gently without too much external force, which may trigger pain and flare-ups.
Strength Training Post Recovery & Beyond
You’ve had excision surgery to remove endometrial implants, or you’re following a treatment plan recommended by your doctor. In this case, following your doctor’s instructions regarding when you can begin exercising again is imperative. Also, bear in mind that your body will need plenty of time to heal and repair internally. So, it would be best if you stuck to low-intensity workouts and slowly transition to more challenging ones. As always, my favorite low-intensity resistance-based exercises are barre, pilates, and calisthenics. They help train you on proper movement patterns while increasing core stabilization, muscular endurance, and decreasing muscle imbalances. You are thus creating the perfect foundation to build strength when your body is ready to advance.
Once your doctor clears you for more progressive exercises, you can begin transitioning into various modes of strength training workouts. But, as always, start slowly remaining mindful and conscious of your body and its needs. Work with your doctor and look into working with a trainer to safely and effectively achieve your fitness goals.
Another Tool for Endo Management
It’s no surprise that I’m an advocate of strength training for endo management. When implemented correctly, it’s helpful to manage symptoms such as pelvic pain, painful periods, hormonal imbalance, and chronic inflammation. But, it’s essential to take special considerations such as the current state of health, pain level, symptoms, treatment, and pre/post-surgery requirements.
Acknowledging where you are on the pain and symptom spectrum will determine how intense your approach to strength training should be. Additionally, it helps you with deciding what types of workouts are best suited for you. You may also find it helpful to work with a personal trainer or professional to help you with safely achieving your health and fitness goals while minimizing pain and injury. Remember that everyone’s body is different, and you may or may not find that strength training is appropriate for you. If not, that’s ok. Respect and honor your body and your health first because that’s going to benefit you the most at the end of the day.
Exercise Right | Exercising with Endometriosis
Girls Gone Strong | How To Train If You Have Endometriosis by Heba Shaeed
About the Author
Hi, my name is Kathleen but you can call me Kat. I’m a health and wellness professional turned freelance writer and content creator. You can find me on YouTube and Instagram. If you take the opportunity to visit me on my other platforms don’t hesitate to leave a message, I would love to hear from you!
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