PCOS Fitness Guide: Best Workout for Managing PCOS Symptoms
September 8th, 2021 | 8 min. read
If you have PCOS, you've probably heard this advice before: nutrition and physical activity are great ways to manage your symptoms! But what if you're just not sure where to start?
Oftentimes, we simply lack the actual direction to help us incorporate physical activity into our daily lives. You may be wondering: "Am I working out correctly for PCOS? What if I’ve never worked out before? Where do I even begin?"
Take a deep breath, because I have some good news: you're in the right place! In this PCOS fitness guide, I'll show you exactly how to get started with a movement practice that will help calm your PCOS symptoms, help you get your energy back and feel better overall.
How to Workout with PCOS
Before we dive in, let’s be perfectly clear...there is no one right way to incorporate regular movement when you have PCOS. Or when you don’t have PCOS, for that matter!
There's no one-size-fits-all approach - your body is unique, and so are your preferences. At the end of the day, it’s about moving your body and doing what feels good to you.
Having said that, I've put together a great beginner workout for those looking to get their feet wet in the fitness world, without making so big a splash that you never return.
Remember: start slowly and do what you can.
Step 1: Getting Started
So what makes a workout routine (like the one below) so PCOS-friendly, even if you have lean PCOS?
- It is specifically designed to work on the large muscle groups, since increasing your muscle mass in those areas can also increase metabolism.
- It incorporates cardio, which is important as it can increase your endorphins (feel-good hormones) and help decrease stress and anxiety.
Anyone battling the symptoms of PCOS, like insulin resistance, stress, depression, and anxiety can truly benefit from those kinds of perks, am I right?
As with any workout, feel free to customize it! Maybe this is your first time back in the fitness-saddle for a while, or maybe you need something more challenging - here are a few ways you can tailor this workout to you:
- Play with reps! Although the number of suggested repetitions of each exercise are listed, you should do as many as needed so that the last 5 feel very difficult, like you can barely do them while keeping good form. For some people that may be 20, for others, it may be 10 or less. Or maybe you’re simply not feeling well one day or need to start off a little lighter. Listen to your body - lower the number of reps and take it slow when you need to.
- Add weights or resistance bands. Modifications and safety guidelines are listed below. The first rule of bands: make sure there are no rips or tears. That’s a rubber band sting waiting to happen...ouch!
- Rep, sweat, repeat! If you want to amp up the intensity, do this workout more than one time through. Try two or three times for a full 20-minute workout.
Okay, but what's the best diet for PCOS?
Step 2: The PCOS Fitness Routine
First, start by warming up your muscles!
Do the following movements for 1 minute (starting with the easiest movements and scaling up to the more difficult ones as you go):
- Walk in place
- Walk in place with high knees
- Jumping jacks
20 Knee Hugs
See below for a demonstration. You'll do 20 knee hugs on each side, then rest for 20 seconds.
20 Arm Circles
After you complete your 20 arm circles, rest for 20 seconds.
When you're doing your squats, make sure your knees are not in front of your feet. After 20 squats, rest for 20 seconds. You're doing awesome! Let's keep going.
Pro tip: You can add intensity here with a resistance band or weights* (as seen above). Make sure you push your booty back, be mindful that your knees never extend out over your toes, and keep your chest up and open.
*If you are using resistance bands or weights, make sure you never lose your form.
20 High Knee Twists
After your high knee twists, take a 20-second rest.
20 Back Turns
And then, you guessed it - rest for 20 seconds!
20 Arm Circles
Remember the arm circles we did at the beginning of this PCOS workout? Well, this time, we're circling our arms the opposite way! Once completed, rest for 20 seconds.
Pro tip: Use light weights to add intensity. Make sure your shoulders always stay square and your tailbone stays in line with your spine.
20 More Squats
Make sure these are nice, deep squats. Once you've completed your 20 squats, rest for 20 seconds. (You're probably starting to look forward to these little rests right about now!)
20 Side Bends
Then rest for 20 seconds. Look at you! You're doing great!
Pro tip: Add a small weight for added intensity. But keep in mind, your form should not suffer because of the added weight - keep those shoulders back and square. Imagine gliding along a wall.
20 More High Knee Twists
You've made it through your first full PCOS workout circuit! Take at least 1 minute to stretch and take some deep breaths before repeating (if you're up for another round).
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How to Stick to a Workout Routine
It’s great if you got a chance to work out today.
It would be even better if you worked out again tomorrow or the next day.
It would be best if you started a fitness regimen and stuck to it. (This is our goal!)
Ideally, we would all work out most days during the week if we could. But that’s hard. There are lots of things that can stand in your way, like time, schedules, motivation, how you're feeling…
So how do we come up with a plan and stick to it? It’s not always the easiest to form an exercise habit, and it does take time and consistency before it starts becoming routine.
Tip #1: Connect Your Habits
Some research also shows that a great way to form a new habit is to link it to an existing one. Think about it like this: "Every time I _______, I will _________."
Envision something you do every day and combine it with an exercise. For example, when you brush your teeth, you will do a wall sit or squats. While you are waiting for the shower to warm up, you will hold a plank for 20-30 seconds (the last 5 seconds should feel like you want to stop) and do 50 jumping jacks.
Think to yourself that you want to ‘earn’ your shower! There is nothing like a nice, cool shower after a good sweat.
Tip #2: Balance Before Bed
Another tip for creating a more physically active lifestyle is to incorporate a balancing pose (like tree) or a yoga pose into your bedtime routine. Before crawling into bed, take a moment to practice stillness in balance.
These postures incorporate a mind-body connection, foster focus, and can help you relax at the end of your day.
Try one of these balancing poses before bed to help your body wind down.
Tip #3: Visualize The Action
My personal advice for creating a successful habit? Visualize yourself doing the exercises. Visualize yourself as someone who craves some sort of exercise and movement. To make this even more powerful, use all of your senses.
What will you see, smell or hear during a fun (but tough) physical workout? Think of how you will feel afterward: sweaty, accomplished and strong.
Tip #4: Get Your Groove On
Music can also be a great motivator. Make a fun playlist! Add songs that you love and only listen to them if you are working out, so that they feel like a reward. Music can help activate your senses and get you in the mood to move.
Tip #5: Watch TV While Exercising
Maybe you’re looking for a distraction? If you are having a particularly unmotivated day, you can do these exercises in front of the TV while watching your favorite show.
Just make sure you don't get so distracted you lose proper form!
The Best PCOS Exercise Tip
At the end of the day, this is what's most important:
Listen to your body, and do what feels good.
If that's running, run. If it's a kickboxing class, kick it! Maybe you need a restorative day, so do some yoga (try a PCOS Yoga pose here) or use a foam roller. It doesn’t matter if it’s Zumba at home, hopping on your exercise bike, strength training, or a spinning class...whatever you can keep up in your busy schedule and enjoy doing is exactly what's right for you.
If you're just beginning your exercise journey, congratulations! Even if you feel like you're unsure of what to do, just start. Wanting to move is the perfect place to begin. Experiment, have fun, find out what you like and what new physical activities you can incorporate into your life (and enjoy doing).
An added perk? You'll likely find that your mental health improves right alongside your physical health!
Exercising when you have PCOS has been shown to improve so many physical (and mental) symptoms! Realize that, in time, all your hard work will pay off.
The sooner you take control of your physical health and wellness, the sooner you can control your symptoms, instead of feeling like PCOS has control over you.
Want personalized help from a PCOS expert?
Monica Moore is a board-certified Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner, nurse educator and health coach who has been caring for patients at Illume Fertility for over 20 years. She is also the founder and lead educator at Fertile Health, LLC. Monica is passionate about taking care of the whole patient, believing in the importance of integrating comprehensive care. She has a special interest in PCOS and combating weight bias with education and advocacy.