There is a point in the menstrual cycle (aside from annoying periods) that draws a caution–ovulation. This warning note has nothing to do with getting pregnant (though fertility generally does peak at this time as the ovary releases a mature egg). The caution here concerns increased risk for injury, particularly during exercise.

Reason: Around the time of ovulation, the increases in levels of hormones such as estrogen and relaxin that allow the egg to pop through the ovarian capsule also cause a loosening and stretching of ligaments and tendons. These are the same hormones that, late in pregnancy, help loosen a woman's pelvic ligaments in preparation for childbirth. "Women who participate in intense exercise in the days around ovulation are at heightened risk for tearing any area where connective tissue may be aggressively stretched by a movement or an impact during sports," explained Andrew L. Rubman, ND, medical director of the Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines in Southbury, Connecticut. Vulnerable areas include the shoulders, knees, ankles and back.

A woman typically ovulates mid-cycle. The first day of your period is considered day one, so if your cycle lasts 28 days, ovulation is likely to occur around day 14—though it could happen earlier or later. Dr. Rubman noted that the peak injury-prone time lasts from a day before until a day after ovulation.

Self-defense: There's no need to avoid exercise entirely during this time, Dr. Rubman said, but you should take added precautions against injury. Here's how…

  • Be extra-sure to warm up before working out...and to cool down and stretch afterward.
  • For weight lifting, use somewhat lighter weights than usual. You can make up for this by increasing the number of repetitions.
  • Avoid sports that involve sudden angular movements that would challenge tendons and ligaments, such as tennis and basketball–or at least try not to play full-out.
  • Focus on gentle stretching and low-impact activities such as bicycling, swimming and walking.

Not sure when you're ovulating?

Watch for these signs: Lower abdominal discomfort or an ache in the general area of your ovaries (a sensation called mittelschmerz).. and/ or vaginal secretions that increase in amount and that change from just wet to tacky and slippery (similar in look and feel to uncooked egg whites). If you still can't tell, take your temperature with a basal thermometer first thing every morning before getting out of bed-temperature rises slightly during ovulation Charting your daily temperature for a few months will familiarize you with the rhythms of your cycle.

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