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Period Cramping Your Workout? You Need This. [How to make sure any blood you leave on the mats is only from your torn hangnail]

Posted Nov 20 2012 12:15am

Boys, consider yourself warned: You’re just going to want to skip this post.

Benjamin Franklin forgot something when he said that “nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” Namely, menstrual cycles. Being that he’s a man, I suppose I’ll have to forgive him for not knowing what millenia of women do: That every month the majority of us women between 12 and 50 will spew stain-inducing bodily fluids with a regularity and frequency that put both death and taxes to shame (after all, unless you’re Elvis you’ll only die once.)

The worst thing about Aunt Flo, Aunt Rosie, My Friend, Mother Nature’s Visit, My Present – besides the stupid nicknames we give it – isn’t that it knows no regard for expensive cruises, athletic tournaments or white dresses being worn while riding a white horse on a white beach inexplicably holding a white badminton racket; it’s the hormone fluctuations that go up and down behind the scenes. At their very worst, out-of-control progesterone and estrogen fluctuations cause misery ranging from wicked PMS/PMDD to cystic acne to unwanted facial hair. (side note: Ever notice how it’s always “unwanted facial hair”? Is there such a thing as wanted facial hair? Eyebrows, I suppose. But even those we pluck, wax or thread into submission.) But we know all this already. The part we rarely talk about is the effect of our monthly hormone cycles – and you still have some hormone fluctuations even if you’re on a hormonal birth control method that lessens or eliminates your period – on our workouts.

I once had a yoga teacher ask me if I was menstruating. No, I hadn’t leaked all over my yoga mat (although that would have made for one heck of a story) but we were getting ready to do headstand inversions and she wanted to make sure none of the women were bleeding because – and I swear she actually said this to me – going upside down would inhibit my uterus from being able to expel the blood because of gravity working against it. I did not retort that seeing as my uterus is a very large powerful muscle capable of expelling whole human beings, it would probably be okay with a few extra g’s pulling on that blood. Not to mention that if our hearts can still pump while we are upside down I don’t see why the rest of our body wouldn’t be similarly able. Needless to say I did the headstands anyways. And yes, I did happen to be “men-stroo-ating.” While my period hasn’t affected my yoga practice much, it has put a crimp in some of my other workouts.

There are really only two ways to bleed out while working out (okay, there’s three if you watch a lot of C.S.I. but you only have to worry about that way if you have a chimera twin, an enemy in the mafia or are Marg Helgenberger’s asexually produced spawn.) Basically you’ve got an accident of some type like a ripped-off fingernail in a basketball game, a scraped knee from stepping into a pothole or a bloody nose from punching yourself in the face during kickboxing class (done all three!) Or you’re a menstruating woman. The former is easier to fix, both your skin and your ego, than the latter.

If you’ve had an accident of some sort, take a time out and bandage yourself up. Don’t try to gut through it; none of us want to see your blood on the court, the pavement or the gym floor. Band-aids are cheap, awesome and can even add to your street cred on the weight floor if you buy the cool camo kind. For the love of little green apples, cover your open wounds!

Aunt Flo accidents are a bit harder to contain. In an ideal world every woman of a certain age would be prepared at all times with appropriate surfing gear to ride the crismson tide. And yet all of us have been caught by unawares by Mother Nature’s gift at least once. So, how to best avoid become a walking Rorshach test? I used to carry a tampon in my gym purse all the time until my children decided it was candy. That I wasn’t sharing with them. Thereby necessitating them to pull it out and whine loudly that I open it at least 7 times a day. Now – when I’m not gestating, that is – instead of riding the cotton pony, I use  a Diva Cup . Seriously girls, this thing is the best invention for athletic women since sliced bread (what bread has to do with menstruating, not even I can come up with).  I love it so much t hat let’s just say I’m always  walking along the beach in soft focus .

The Diva Cup is a “modern menstrual cup.” I know that evokes images of weird hippies or placenta casseroles – hey, I don’t know how you grew up – but let me assure you that this is much closer to a modern surgical implement. It’s a medical-grade silicone cup about the size of, but more pliable than, a one-ounce shot glass. Ever since I found this, I’ve been baffled as to why it isn’t more popular as it is so much better than anything else on the market.

(Okay, I’m not totally baffled. Read the first “con” and you’ll get a good idea.)

- This. Doesn’t. Leak. Not ever. Not even once. No pads need apply.

- You can leave it in up to 12 hours at a time.

- No cotton so it doesn’t dry you out and significantly reduces your chance of toxic shock syndrome – that lovely little malady that any girl who has ever read a tampon box is deathly afraid of.

- It’s reusable indefinitely. One costs between $24 & $32, so that’s a good thing.

- Two sizes: one for women who’ve birthed kids and one for women who haven’t. (And if you need to ask why the distinction then you’re clearly in the latter group.)

- It’s so much better for the environment.

- It will never clog your toilet, your friend’s toilet, your date’s toilet (!) or any other septic system you can think of.

- You can’t feel it.

- According to some women it also helps with stress-induced incontinence during running and other jostle-y types of exercise.

- The ick factor. It requires you to deal with your own bodily fluids by emptying the cup into the toilet and then rinsing it out in the sink. I understand that this is a deal breaker for some girls but trust me when I say it’s only a little tiny bit worse than dealing with a tampon. And (I probably shouldn’t admit to this) it comes with the measurements marked out on the side so if you’re curious about all things bodily like I am you can actually see that while it may feel like you’re hemorrhaging enough to attract all the vampires in a two-mile Twilight radius, you’re not even good enough for shark bait much less the adoration of the undead.

- The lack of an applicator. Those of you using O.B. tampons are already familiar with how to get things up there without the aid of a plastic bullet but for the rest of us, it’s kind of a learning curve. It took a good 5-6 times (ahem, days) putting it in and taking it out for me to get comfortable with the technique. It involves some folding, twisting and – yes – a “pop”. (Because every woman wants her lady bits to pop.) The Diva Cup website has a really good  FAQ section  though that gives you all kinds of helpful tips. Plus you will really want to read the brochure that comes with the Cup. You’re already on the toilet, you’ve got time!

- Getting it out. If you’ve had children and know that feeling of “bearing down” then this will be no problemo. But seeing as there isn’t a string (just a little stem on the bottom) and the whole contraption is a little slippery, it can take some practice. And Valium.

Once you get past the initial weirdness of the whole thing (but really, how weird is it to save every drop of blood on a piece of cotton, wrap it in plastic, wrap it in toilet paper, wrap it in a garbage bag and then put it in a landfill so your 20th-great-granddaughter can get a sample of your DNA so she knows who to blame for her nose?) you’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing this all along! I love it. Love love love it. (And, to be clear, this isn’t a review post nor is it sponsored. I’m not getting paid nor did I get any free product.) Talk about “set it and forget it”!

How do you take care of business in the gym during that time of the month? Have you ever been told you couldn’t do something because you were on your period?

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