Rachelle Bayley – how to exercise for happy hormones (PCOS ladies listen up!)

Given that we have just launched our national Debunking PCOS tour, I thought this post was pretty darn fitting.  As you will learn today, any stress placed on the body, be it physical or emotional, really plays havoc with hormone health and especially those with PCOS (after all, as we’re learning in the Debunking PCOS workshops, PCOS when you strip it right back is simply hormone imbalance).  Personal Trainer, Rachelle Bayley understand how important it is to recognise that we are all unique and we all require a different regime if we want our bodies firing on all cylinders.  So over to her today to discuss how to best exercise for happy hormones.

In the Personal Training world, hormonal health is largely overlooked when it comes to weight loss and the ultimate journey to health. Unfortunately the first time hormonal health becomes a priority is when things go wrong and hormones start playing up and getting in the way of the results we are working so hard for. I used to be guilty of this. I put my hand up here and say that after all of the research I did day in and day out on nutrition, exercise and weight loss in general, hormonal health was something that I knew very little about and a topic that I often avoided with my clients.

Well, didn’t that backfire! Last year I found out that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This rocked me like you wouldn’t believe. I had always been in great shape, my body, my mind and my health were always what I would have considered ‘immaculate’. All of a sudden things were changing and seemed to be out of my control (not something I was used to).

I have spent the last 18 months, researching PCOS, meeting with numerous naturopaths and specialists and talking to anyone I could about the topic to become an expert on my diagnosis. (I am living almost symptom free today!) It has made me realise that although not all of my clients and members on my online program have PCOS, the majority of them do have hormonal imbalances, and it was my job to help them.

When it comes to exercise and hormonal health, it’s a tricky game. We all believe that nothing comes easy and if we want results we will have to work hard for them. The harder we work, the better results we will see, right? WRONG!

I strongly believe that a major contributor to my PCOS was over doing it on the exercise front.

When we talk sex hormones, we are referring to your progesterone and Oestrogen. Oestrogen is the hormone that is dominant between day 1 – 14 of your cycle usually. Your progesterone is made from your adrenal glands and is responsible for being:

– Anti depressant

– Anti anxiety

– Helps sleep

– Diuretic

– Just generally responsible for that glow in women (think of that pregnancy glow, well that because pregnant ladies are pumped full of that lovely progesterone.)

However, although progesterone is made in your adrenal glands, so too are your stress hormones; cortisol and adrenalin. Adrenalin can be elevated by physical (ie. caffeine, an intense workout) or emotional triggers. (ie. an argument with a loved one or rushing to make that all important meeting)

Today, so many of us live in a cortisol fuelled state. In a day like this we barely leave our ‘fight or flight’ state.  This is brought about by internal stresses. Which means that our body is communicating that famine is imminent and as a result your body attempts to break down muscle and store fat.

Because your clever body links progesterone to pregnancy and fertility, your body will communicate that current circumstances do not warrant it safe to bring a child in the world and therefore your fertility and sex hormone balance is rattled, by shutting off or slowing down the progesterone production. When adrenalin and cortisol are fighting with progesterone for dominance, progesterone will always lose out! Oestrogen and cortisol however stay high – this leads to a rather unstable girl. Remember all those lovely things that progesterone does for us?  (sound familiar – we’ve spoken about Oestrogen Dominance here)

So how does exercise affect this?

Well most of us in today’s world are running constantly in this adrenalin and cortisol fueled state all day, and because we are feeling down, anxious and are noticing the clothes getting smaller, the obvious thing to do is to head to the gym and sweat it out. Not only will we ask ridiculous things of our overly stressed body, but we will involve ourselves in crazy negative self talk to motivate us. This again will increase your adrenalin and cortisol production – this is completely counter-productive.

See what I am saying? It’s a never- ending roller coaster. Lets get off it NOW.

So what is my recommendation when it comes to exercise?

I have seen so many of my clients and members and myself too, get fantastic results when really focusing on that yin and yang balance.

– Train and move DAILY but don’t let it be an hour long HIIT session or cycle class.

– Try only workout at a high intensity around 3 times a week

– Add in that balance of yoga, pilates, meditation, beach or bush walks and

– Lots of diaphragmatic breathing (check this out)

This will send the body back to a relaxed state and the sex hormones will slowly find their natural flow.

I am a huge advocate for exercise and can not imagine my life without it. It is my drug of choice and I am 100% addicted, but let’s be educated in our approach!

When the body is truly at peace, it will hear your calls for change. When you treat it well and listen to its calls for help it will treat your well in return by listening to yours.

I really hope this has helped you, it’s a balance that you wont master over night, but don’t lose sight of it as your hormonal health is so extremely important to your health and your waistline.

Eat, move and be healthy, but do it right, do it well.


Rachelle is a Personal Trainer and Holistic Health and Food Coach and writer of Becoming a Holistic Goddess. She is on a mission to empower women to take control of their health and fitness, by educating and inspiring them so that they can make educated decisions when it comes to the weight loss and health game.

Connect with Rachelle here, or follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


  • March 27, 2014 By Raquel 2:09 pm

    Thank you so much for this eye-opening article! It makes a lot of sense.

  • June 19, 2014 By Neha 6:03 am

    Hi , I am 22 and just found out that i have PCOS due to a large ovarian cyst due to missed periods, I gained alot of weight for no reason and Im still so confused about the whole situation. I mean how do you control the insulin , and hormones, some say eat the crucify veg no sugar allowed but still no change in PCOS symptoms. I love to exercise but understand it can stress the body so I do more pilates and yoga but I still dont no how to loose weight and not havoc the hormones because not eating enough will mean missed periods and then cysts forming again…

  • November 7, 2014 By Kate 6:37 am

    I have questioned exercise for so long. I assumed the more the better but it’s refreshing to know it’s not the case. Thank you so much for more understanding!

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