What are the best types of exercise for PCOS?
Exercise plays a major role in treating PCOS. But what are the best types of exercise for PCOS? There’s so much confusion on the internet that you may feel like doing nothing at all. But it doesn’t have to be this way. My mission is to help clear the confusion for women with PCOS when it comes to diet and exercise. So, I’ve interviewed 6 top PCOS exercise experts to get their advice. Read the bio’s of the 6 exercise experts below.
This is the second of my series of blog posts on PCOS and exercise. Last week we talked about barriers to exercise with PCOS and gave some tips to get started.
Confusing exercise myths
First, let’s start by looking at some of the crazy myths on the internet:
Martha: “Spinning classes cause PCOS” and “Don’t do HITT if you have PCOS”. “You need to avoid XYZ exercise if you have a certain type of PCOS” Intense exercise does not cause PCOS. We aren’t 100% sure what causes it, but it’s not exercise. Numerous studies have shown that HITT is a great exercise for PCOS. But it’s not for every single woman.
Ginny: “If you lose weight you can cure your PCOS”. I hate this every time I read it. There is no cure. You can help yourself control it by making a move towards healthier habits, but it will always be there. Symptoms can change with time. I’m learning this more and more as I age.
Erika: “A particular type of exercise is bad for PCOS. It’s a ridiculous inaccurate statement. In my ten years of training I have never encountered a specific kind of workout, that is bad for all women with PCOS. Some workouts do a better job of achieving certain goals and overtraining or pushing yourself can cause harm.”
Despina: “You need to exercise more and eat less. But this is often not the case for women with PCOS. A lot of women with PCOS are already over exercising and not eating enough, so being told to do more of that doesn’t seem helpful. But more importantly it doesn’t work. The focus must be on getting to the root cause and nourishing your body.”
Letisha: “Lose weight and your PCOS will be cured. There is no cure for PCOS. Yes, symptoms can be reversed or reduced. Losing weight can help with that but also losing weight with PCOS is extremely difficult. Women are often not educated on insulin resistance that goes along with the diagnosis and the nutrition that is most beneficial for them. This myth is essentially setting women up for disappointment.”
Maria: ‘Workouts have to be on hour or longer’ This is non-sense. My workouts average 20-25 minutes. Although I enjoy 30-40 minute workouts, I don’t need to bust my chops for that long to reap many of the benefits of exercise. Neither do you. It is true that longer routines will likely burn fat, it all depends on the foods and beverages we consume pre and post your workouts and when you consume. Your performance and results are a result of multiple factors including nutrition, hydration, timing sleep, energy level, and mindset.
Now let’s start busting myths!
Types of exercise
Stay tuned for another detailed blog post on the health benefits of different types of exercise. Here is a quick list of the different types of exercise:
-Strength training can involve weights, bands, balls, your own body weight
-Cardio – includes HIIT, steady state
-Walking and everyday steps
What are the best types of exercise for PCOS?
So here is where we get to the questions I get asked all the time! Read what the experts have to say.
Patients with PCOS come in all shapes and sizes. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for one may not work for another. I work with each of my clients to find the best solution for them. My programs include all of the above. Clients get a mix of HIIT cardio, strength training, pilates, yoga and some even have walking routines.
-HIIT has many health benefits from lowering blood pressure, to increasing your metabolic rate, helping to reduce insulin levels. It is also efficient.
-Strength training helps to burn calories long after your workout is over. The higher your muscle to fat ratio, the better your body can regulate insulin.
-Pilates and Yoga both can build strength, lower your heart rate and are known to reduce stress.
-Walking can help balance blood glucose levels. It is also a weight bearing activity so it can help to fight against osteoporosis – a risk that some PCOS patients may have due to low Vitamin D levels.
In general, the type of activity I recommend depends on what a client’s starting point is. My theory is any exercise is good exercise. Some types of activities may have quicker results than others, but if you don’t enjoy the activity you are doing it won’t lead you to success.
I believe HIIT and strength training are the best types of exercise for PCOS. HIIT is going to really kick your fat loss into gear. When you use HIIT, whether it’s cardio or with weights, your heart rate will be consistently up & down, hence being able to burn fat quicker.
Long duration cardio and strength training is where you build better – and no, not bulk building. When I train, I interchange these exercises. One day is longer duration training and another day is HIIT form, and somedays I combine the two. It depends on my energy, my mood, and what I’ve already worked out for the week.
Yoga, pilates, and walking are great forms of exercise for mental and emotional health. You can also get a great workout with yoga and pilates. Combine all of these into your routine and you’ll be really kickin’ it in gear!
I’m a big believer in strength training for PCOS management. In addition to all of the good things it does for PCOS, strength training is good for most people. It prevents many of the side effects of aging like heart disease, osteoporosis, and age-related weight gain. Plus, muscle is what gives the female body beautiful firm curves. I don’t know about you but, I’m not above a little vanity when it comes to my workout motivation.
For cardio exercise, I recommend HIIT workouts because they do a little bit better than traditional cardio at improving insulin resistance. I’m also a big fan of yoga. I think it is an incredible tool for stress management and it can help with recovering from intense workouts.
I believe all forms of exercise can be beneficial for women with PCOS. Each type of exercise from strength training, HIIT to yoga provides the body with something different.
The best form of exercise will however depend on the type of PCOS the woman is suffering from.
Walking is not intense or taxing on the body, which means it doesn’t raise cortisol levels like intense exercise would. Therefore, it is an exercise all women can do regardless of their type of PCOS or hormone imbalance.
Strength training is the second type of exercise all women with PCOS can do to help with their hormone imbalance. Focus on the compound lifts like the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press. Strength training helps us build muscle and research has found for each 10% increase in muscle there is an 11% relative reduction in insulin resistance. In addition to strength training increasing insulin sensitivity, it can also help lower testosterone levels in women with PCOS.
If a woman is just suffering from the insulin resistant PCOS, a combination of strength training and HIIT can be really beneficial in increasing insulin sensitivity and getting the glucose in the muscle and in the blood stream being burned.
I love the benefits of strength training and am a huge advocate for weight lifting. Couple that with some LISS (low intensity steady state cardio) and yoga- you have a perfectly balanced combo. Our health is not just about our physical self, we must take care of our mental health as well so I also like to add some meditation in the mix as well.
A great workout schedule would look like weight training followed by 20-30min of LISS cardio 3x per week, with a day of rest in between. Yoga 2-3x per week. 5 minutes or more of mediation daily. And let’s not forget that the activity you do outside of your workout matters a lot. It’s where you spend most of your time. So become more active. Take the stairs, walk more, get up and move!
The best types of exercise for PCOS are those that women will start, grow into it, enjoy, and incorporate into their lifestyle. Everyone woman is unique and deserves the learn and adopt practices that are best for her.
The most effective and efficient type of exercise is HIIT — a combination of strength training and cardio for improved cardiovascular health, measure of glucose and insulin, bone health, and brain health by maximizing neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals.
Lastly, in order to support all types of physical activities, aging, and overall mobility, I recommend yoga and/or exercises to improve flexibility.
Here are my top 10 exercise tips for PCOS:
- Listen to your body. Rather than focusing the type of exercise you are “supposed” to do for your type of PCOS, tune in to how your body feels. If you feel crappy and exhausted after a HITT session, a more moderate 30 minute session on the elliptical machine may be better for you. If you feel invigorated after HITT, then go for it! If you get too get bulky from lifting heavy weights, try lighter weights and superset different body parts. This still work your muscles, help you get toned – and give you the insulin lowering effect.
- Include some form of strength training. The general recommendation is 2-3x/wk, however the frequency, duration of session and the amount of weight you choose to use depend on your goals. Example: I had a client with PCOS who was doing spin classes and light weight training several times a week. One of her goals was to lose inches. She felt great and lost dropped 2 pant sizes but plateaued. She started working out with a trainer doing heavy weights and was finally able to reach her goal of dropping another pant size. Of course, she was careful with her diet as well.
- Include a cardio component. Not only does this also improve insulin resistance, but it’s also important for heart health and blood sugar control. Women with PCOS have increased rates of heart disease and diabetes.
- Make sure are add in a stretching component
- More is not better. Over-exercising can cause injury, fatigue, mental burnout, stress, and inflammation – not what a woman with PCOS wants! This can worsen symptoms of PCOS. So pay attention to your body. Here’s an example: if a spin class or super intense HITT session knocks you out for hours (or days!) then that may not be the exercise for you. In addition, exercising too much and consuming too few calories can slow your metabolism.
- Focus more on inches, body fat percentage or how your clothes fit as opposed to weight on the scale. Exercise, especially weight training builds muscle, which can initially add weight on the scale. But you’ll notice your jeans aren’t as tight!
- Vary your type of exercise. For example, doing JUST yoga or barre or spin is not recommended. Different types of exercise have different benefits.
- Be active throughout the day. While working out formally 3-4x/wk is great, it should not end there. Aim for 10,000 steps a day. Every time you and move you are helping to lower insulin levels. Take the stairs when you can and aim for as close 10 K steps as possible. Walking after meals is especially helpful in lowering blood sugar (and insulin) levels.
- Start where you are. Don’t feel you have to have the perfect exercise program that incorporates every type of exercise listed above! If you are currently not doing anything at all, maybe start with a 10 minute walk a few times a week. Then think about adding in a 10 minutes band workout 2x/wk.
- Need help with motivation or guidance on a specific exercise plan? Consider working with an exercise coach. Check out some of the great coaches below.
- But what is most important is that you find an activity that you enjoy, fits into your lifestyle, and makes you feel good physically and mentally!
- If one of your goals is to lose weight, keep in mind that it’s easy to out eat your workout. Weight loss is still 80% diet. Of course, you want to nourish your body before and after your workout. Stay tuned for tips in this area.
Meet the experts
Ginny Silvestro: As both a teacher and a coach, I’ve always strived to help others see the best in themselves and guide them to achieve their highest potential. My number one goal as a personal trainer is to provide excellent support and tools to my clients so that they can enjoy a lifetime of success. I offer both online and in-person training programs, the most popular being the BE Fit! Brigade 12-week program.
Learn more at BodyEnhancingFitness.com
Follow my personal fitness journey: Facebook Instagram Twitter
Erika Volk: Erika is the PCOS personal trainer. She guides women living with PCOS towards a lifestyle that gets their symptoms under control, so they have the time, energy, and confidence to thrive. She’s a certified personal trainer, a nutrition coach, and creator of the PCOS Fit Studio workout videos. You can read her blog at the pcospersonaltrainer.com, or follow her on YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and FaceBook.
Despina Pavlou: Despina Pavlou is the founder of PCOS Oracle and a Certified Personal Trainer. She is on a mission to raise awareness about PCOS and empower women with the knowledge they need to reverse their PCOS naturally.
Lindsay Martin: I want women to understand that just because you are dealt a different hand in life does not mean you can’t achieve the desires that are in your heart. When I created FitChick Squad programs, I knew my goal was to help ALL women achieve the lifestyle they desired. As women, we are surrounded by the pressure to be perfect and hide our “flaws” that society claims don’t fit. What I teach my ladies is that perfection does not exist, if you’re chasing something that can’t be achieved then you will never feel happy or satisfied. Work with a coach who is relatable, trustworthy, and has YOU in mind!
Find me on instagram @lindsayrenemartin
Letisha Bates: You can find me on Instagram@ bateslovesweights as well as Facebook or my website LiveFreeHealthCoaching where I offer a holistic approach to weight loss for women, especially those who struggle with PCOS
Maria Horstmann: Maria Horstmann is the founder of www.BeFabBeYou.com. As a Transformational Speaker, Health and Fitness Coach, and Corporate Wellness Consultant, she creates personalized experiences and programs for single clients, groups, and organizations. She has helped clients overcome struggles with weight, fatigue, burnout, belly fat, brain fog, insulin resistance, blood sugar and hormone imbalances. Step-by-step, virtually and/or in-person, she educates them on fitness and strength,mindfulness,smart nutritional choices, and management of stress and sleep.
www.BeFabBeYou.com, Facebook, Instagram
3x 45-min Online Personal Training sessions for $99.00: Get it NOW at www.BeFabBeYou.com/pt/taster
FREE 30-Minute Energy Audit Strategy Session: Schedule it NOW at www.BeFabBeYou.com/energy-audit
There is no ONE best type of exercise for PCOS. As mentioned above, the PCOS exercise experts agree on many things. But they do have slightly different opinions in other areas. This is because there is no one-size-fits-approach to exercise (or diet) for anyone – whether you have PCOS or not! You need to find what works for you. Don’t get caught up in listening to some of those crazy myths on social media.
I’d love to hear what you are doing for exercise!
I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.