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What is PCOS?

Updated: May 16, 2023

PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age.

While there is no cure for PCOS, exercise can be an effective way to manage its symptoms. In this guide, we will explore what PCOS is, how it affects the body, and how certain exercise can help manage its symptoms.

Common Symptoms of PCOS

PCOS is a condition that affects the ovaries and hormones in the body. Women with PCOS have elevated levels of androgens (male hormones) in their bodies, which can cause a range of symptoms. Another common form of PCOS is also associated with insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain and difficulty losing weight, both come with various symptoms that can also range in severity. Some of these include, but are not limited to:

  • Irregular periods: Women with PCOS may have irregular menstrual cycles or no periods at all.

  • Ovarian cysts: Small cysts may form on the ovaries, which can cause pain and discomfort. (Note: you can have PCOS, without having any cysts)

  • Weight gain: Women with PCOS are more likely to gain weight, especially around the waist.

  • Insulin resistance: PCOS is also associated with insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain and difficulty losing weight.

  • Excess hair growth: Women with PCOS may experience excess hair growth on their face, chest, and back.

  • Acne: PCOS can cause acne and other skin problems.

  • Difficulty in getting pregnant: This can range dramatically, but there is the possibility to have trouble conceiving.

Clearly, these aren’t pleasant, but you shouldn't be too disheartened. Though you may have to work harder than your other female counterparts that don’t suffer from PCOS, there are certainly ways to manage these symptoms and where necessary, lose weight.

woman suffering from pcos

How can Weight Training Help Manage PCOS?

Weight training can be a hugely effective way to manage the symptoms of PCOS. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Weight Training helps with Weight Loss: Weight training can help women with PCOS lose weight, which can improve their overall health and reduce the risk of other health problems that come along with being overweight.

  • Increases Muscle Mass: Weight training can help women with PCOS build muscle mass, which in turn, helps to burn more calories going forward, even at rest.

  • Improves Insulin Sensitivity: Weight training can help improve insulin sensitivity, which can help women with PCOS manage their blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • Reduces stress: Weight training can help reduce stress levels, which can help to control a spike in cortisol. Cortisol is related to fat gain too, a surge of cortisol can induce cravings and increased appetite. All of these things create a domino effect that ultimately leads to unintentional weight gain.

Lifestyle Changes That Can Contribute to PCOS Management

In addition to weight training, there are other lifestyle changes that women with PCOS can make to manage their symptoms. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet: Eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar and refined carbohydrates can help women with PCOS manage their insulin levels and lose weight (we will talk about insulin a little later on!)

  • Getting enough sleep: Getting enough sleep is important for managing stress levels and recovering after workouts. Plus, research suggests that sleep disturbances are much more probable within women who have PCOS - so, prioritise your sleep!

  • Managing stress: PCOS can be stressful, and as we mentioned this can have big side effects for those with PCOS. Thus, it's important to find ways to manage stress, such as through exercise, meditation, or other stress-reducing activities.

Tips for Exercising with PCOS

a woman with PCOS training

#1 Cardiovascular exercise is important too

While weight training is a great way to manage PCOS symptoms, cardiovascular exercise should also be incorporated into a workout routine. Exercise such as running, cycling, or swimming, can help improve cardiovascular health, reduce stress, and aid in weight loss.

#2 Include Compound Exercises

Compound exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, are great for building muscle mass and burning calories. They also have the added benefit of working multiple muscle groups at once, which can help you to get more out of their workouts.

#3 Consider interval training

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be a great way for women with PCOS to improve their cardiovascular health and aid in weight loss. HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of rest.

#4 Stay Consistent

Regular exercise is key for managing PCOS symptoms, it's important to make it a regular part of your routine - try to aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

#5 Be Patient

PCOS can make it more difficult for women to lose weight and build muscle, so it's important to be patient and focus on progress, not perfection. Consistency is key, and progress may take longer than expected.

#6 Consider Working with a Nutrition Coach

Eating a healthy diet is important for managing PCOS symptoms, but it can be difficult to know where to start. Consider a nutrition coach who can help you develop a healthy relationship with food.

Insulin Resistance and PCOS: What is the Link?

Insulin resistance is a common issue for women with PCOS.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels in the body and so, when the body becomes insulin resistant, it means that the cells in the body don't respond properly to insulin, leading to high levels of insulin in the blood.

This can lead to a range of health issues, including weight gain, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

Women with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing insulin resistance due to hormonal imbalances in the body, yet there is also the additional factor in that iInsulin resistance can also contribute to the development of other hormonal imbalances, creating a vicious cycle that makes having PCOS so frustrating.

However, exercise can be an effective way to manage insulin resistance in women with PCOS.

Regular exercise can improve insulin sensitivity, which means that the body responds better to insulin and blood sugar levels are better regulated. This can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other health complications associated with insulin resistance.

What is “PCOS Belly?”

One of the most frustrating symptoms of PCOS for many women is the so-called "PCOS belly."

This term is used to describe the excess weight that many women with PCOS carry around their midsection.

The hormonal imbalances that are characteristic of PCOS can contribute to the development of excess belly fat, in particular these imbalances include the likes of high levels of insulin and androgens, this can then lead to an increase in fat storage around the midsection.

Exercise can help contribute to a better management of this, but it's important to note that spot reduction (targeting fat loss in one specific area) is not possible. While exercise can help reduce overall body fat and therefore reduce belly fat, it may not completely eliminate it. A healthy diet and lifestyle changes may also be necessary to see significant improvements.

In addition to exercise, stress reduction techniques such as meditation and yoga can be helpful for managing belly fat in women with PCOS. Chronic stress can contribute to the development of belly fat, so reducing stress levels may help reduce this symptom.

It's so important to remember that every woman's body is different, and there is no "one size fits all" approach to managing PCOS belly.

To manage symptoms, it is a good idea to work with a healthcare provider and a personal trainer who has experience working with women with PCOS. This can help to develop a personalised plan that takes into account individual needs and goals.

Before you Go…

If you need help with managing your PCOS symptoms, talk to Infinity Performance today to find out how we’ve helped multiple women with PCOS through our bespoke training programmes.

You can also find our PCOS client testimonial here to find out if you could benefit from training here at I.P.


*Do note, this is not medical advice, nor a diagnostic piece of information and if you want certified advice or information on your PCOS, please seek medical care, this article is for the purpose of guidance and opinion, it is not medically reviewed and should be received with this in mind.

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