Period proof underwear running

Exercising and periods: “I spent a week working out in period pants and here’s why you should too”

Posted by for Wellbeing

Ever worried about needing to change your tampon during a long run, or sacked off a gym class for fear of a bloody mishap? Upgrade to the newest class of period pants and you’ll never have to worry about period drama again, says Strong Women editor and runner, Miranda Larbi. 

At the grand age of 31, periods shouldn’t be an issue. After all, I’ve been having them for the past 18 years. But as all menstruators know, practice and experience bear little-to-no relevance when it comes to controlling the flow – particularly if, like me, you’ve only just got your periods back after a three-year Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome (RED-S) episode. Like a freshly inducted teenager, I’m re-learning how to live, eat, sleep and move while bleeding heartily for the best part of a week.

A large part of this new experience has been re-learning how to exercise while being on my period. When your periods go MIA, exercise becomes so much easier; you have the same level of energy all the time, there are no surprise bleeds or worries about loo stops. Yes, there’s the nagging feeling that you’re only half alive because a crucial biological process is no longer working but at least you can sign up for marathons safe in the knowledge that you won’t start bleeding on the start line (which has happened to me since their welcome return).

When my body recovered enough to resume its monthly ritual, I dusted off my long-discarded menstrual cup and went for a run. It became clear pretty quickly that a cup – however eco-friendly – isn’t run-proof on its own. I didn’t want to start buying throw-away liners because aside from being bad for the environment, they don’t stick well to sweaty pants and so I started to look around for alternatives. And that’s when I discovered Wuka. Wuka is a period pant company that specialises in creating beautifully comfortable and absorbent underwear to sleep, move and live in during your period.

After that initial outing, I had another run planned for the third day of my cycle – not the best time to head out for a half marathon distance. I tend to wear short-shorts, so there’s an extra layer of vulnerability should something go wrong. Grabbing my period pants (hitherto only worn at home/in bed), I put them on under my shorts and headed out.

For the first time since my flow returned, I was able to exercise with total peace of mind. I felt secure, leak-proof and comfortable – as comfortable as wearing the usual pants I wear for long runs (every runner has one or two pairs of go-to running day knickers, that’s just a fact). I still had my cup in but having that extra layer of protection made all the difference.

Two days later, I decided to try another Wuka pair – this time a sports-specific pair with no VPL – for a gym class. While running in shorts is a no-brainer, few women wear anything other than leggings at classes and the idea of wearing thick pants underneath is probably one that many of us would be keen to try. These, however, were totally invisible. The gym is a 30-minute cycle each way from my house and wearing pants that don’t show when cycling is another massive boon. It’s not that VPLs matter but anything that increases your confidence ahead of a brutal session can only be a good thing. 

VPL-free period pants exercise
Wearing period-proof pants doesn't necessarily mean having to run around with a huge VPL (if that matters to you).

Next, I tried a pair of Bodyform Intimawear for a quick pre-breakfast 5km jog and, again, they felt good. Because they’re so silky and lacy, they didn’t feel like period pants, but regular briefs you’d find in any lingerie department. They definitely did the job, even if they felt more like wearing fancy pants than a period product – which is great if you want to wear decent underwear to work, and keep them on for your workout but might feel a bit of a waste if you’re just putting them on to get sweaty!

For the rest of my period, I wore different Wuka pants and realised that the way I moved on period had changed forever. While I’ve never been put off exercise because of my period, bleeding and leaking have definitely added a fear factor to my workouts – particularly on long runs and while preparing for races.

Dr Georgie Bruinvels, a senior sports scientist at sports optimising company Orreco (and whose background is in helping female athletes to navigate menstrual symptoms and heavy bleeding), has been working with Adidas on its new exercise-proof period clothes, and she tells Stylist that this fear of leaking is one of the main reasons that so many women and girls stop doing sport. “My research has suggested that teens may be more likely to drop out of sport during the pubertal transition and yes, fear of leaking and flooding is one of the primary causes but that’s not in isolation for teens – we see that across the board,” she explains.

As someone who works closely with female athletes, Dr Bruinvels sees “the daily struggle and panics of bleeding through clothing while menstruating.” When you think about the fact that there are 3.8 billion women out who typically menstruate for a total of ten years each, it seems mad that periods are still such a barrier and a worry. 

Period clothing is one way of evening out that playing field. They’re cheaper in the long run (a pack of 18 Tampax Compak tampons costs £2.75, compared to a £12 pair of Wuka Basics. You need to wear those pants four times to break even), better for the planet and – crucially – leakproof. Adidas has now released its own period products, designed to make people feel “bullet-proof and protected” on their periods.

So why is it that mainstream fitness brands like Adidas are joining the period party? “There has been this uptick in people talking and thinking about periods,” Dr Bruinvels explains but admits that “so much more is needed.”

“Some elite athletes may be talking about it but we did some research in swimming specifically where we found that 95% of swimmers have never had any education around menstruation. This is so important and if you don’t get it right, it can be so debilitating. Adidas is the first sportswear brand to be proactive about it.”

Ultimately, as Dr Stacy Sims says, women aren’t small men and we shouldn’t have to train as such. Periods play a huge role in our lives and wearing a product that can boost your confidence is a genuinely huge deal. So, if you’re thinking about how to move on your next period, or you’re up for a little experiment, why not try out a pair of period pants or period activewear? You might just find you prefer it that way.

5 period products to try

WUKA-All-Listing-Seamless-back_1800x1800
Wuka's Performance pants are designed to support heavy flows while exercising.

Adidas – Techfit Short Tights

£35

Thinx – Sport

£23.77 (moderate absorbency)

Bodyform – hipster 

£24.99 (moderate flow)

Hipster bodyform
Bodyform's period pants are more like regular knickers than a period product.

Modibodi – Recycled Seamless Bikini

£21.50 (moderate-heavy absorbency)

Modibodi seamless bikini
VPLs don't really matter but knowing that your period pants aren't obvious to the public is a good confidence booster!

For more fitness tips, activewear round-ups and healthy recipes, follow Strong Women on Instagram (@StrongWomenUK).

Images: Miranda Larbi/retailers’ own/Getty

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.

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