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PCOS Workout: Dos, Donts, & Sample Routine

8 min read
a curvy woman is working out, making low lunges, psoc workout
Natasha Caleel post Reviewer Natasha Caleel post Reviewer
Verified by Natasha Caleel
MS in Occupational Therapy, BS in Kinesiology, Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, CrossFit Level 1 Coach

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If you suffer from PCOS, you may want to know what exercise is best or if certain activities and exercises can alleviate the symptoms. 

But does exercise actually help reduce the impact of PCOS on your body? Is there a specific PCOS workout that suits you best?

Read this article to find the best exercises for losing weight and help you improve your health if you suffer from PCOS.

How PCOS Impacts Your Body

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS for short, is a common condition present in around 1 in 10 women of fertile age.

PCOS affects the physiological functioning of the ovaries as the follicles in which eggs usually grow and mature get filled up with fluid, preventing ovulation. [1]

The root cause behind PCOS has yet to be found. However, it can be passed down in families and is related to irregular hormonal levels in the body. [1]

PCOS is characterized by at least two of the following traits: 

  • a lack of regular ovulation, 
  • excess male hormone secretion, 
  • and enlargement of the ovaries with consequent fluid built up in the follicles. 

These features don’t always lead to strong symptoms, as it is thought that more than half of women with PCOS do not display any symptoms at all. However, when the symptoms do show, they can affect different aspects of your health.

The main symptoms and effects of PCOS on the body include [1] [2]:

  • Heavy periods
  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Intense period cramps and pelvic pain
  • Hirsutism, or body hair growth, especially on the face, back, and glutes 
  • Hair loss or thinning of the hair 
  • Acne or oily skin
  • Weight gain
  • Infertility or difficulty getting pregnant
  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Insulin resistance, which can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes

4 Benefits of Exercising with PCOS

If you have PCOS, you can use physical exercise to improve your quality of life, thanks to the multiple benefits it has to offer. 

Here is how exercise can help you improve your health and reduce some of the effects of PCOS on your body. 

Weight Management

Exercise is beneficial for women with PCOS as it can support weight loss. Reducing your weight and body fat can help you improve your insulin resistance and regulate hormones, and ultimately decrease the intensity of some of the PCOS symptoms associated with them. [3]

Reduced Insulin Resistance

Working out regularly is important for women with PCOS, as it improves insulin sensitivity by allowing the body to use this hormone more efficiently, preventing glucose from building up in the bloodstream. This ultimately reduces the risk of developing other conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. [3]

Decreased Cholesterol

PCOS can lead to high cholesterol, which down the line can cause other health problems, such as metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular conditions. Exercise is a great way to reduce cholesterol levels, especially if associated with a healthy and balanced diet. [4]

Improved Mood

It is already widely known that exercise improves mood. However, this is even more true for women with PCOS. This condition can, in fact, lead to depressive and anxiety symptoms, but as little as a 5% weight loss was shown to improve the mental health of women with PCOS. Exercise can therefore be used as a natural way to improve mental health and boost mood. [3] [5] [6]

Do You Need a Specific Workout Routine?

You don’t need a specific workout routine if you have PCOS. However, having a well-structured exercise plan would definitely allow you to achieve your goals faster and track progress more effectively. 

Having said that, although exercise is known to be a great aid for reducing symptoms linked to PCOS and facilitating weight loss, there are no specific physical activity guidelines for this condition nor contraindications. [7] This means that if you have PCOS, you can perform any type of activity that you are likely to do on a consistent basis.

Best Types of Workouts for PCOS

There are no best or worst exercises for tackling PCOS symptoms, as they can all potentially lead to weight loss, which is the goal for many women with PCOS. However, each workout style has different benefits to offer. 

Below you can find how each workout type can help you reduce symptoms linked to PCOS. 

  • Cardio or Endurance Training. The type of cardio performed is not too relevant. Walking, running, or cycling are all good exercise choices for those women suffering from PCOS, as they help improve insulin resistance and blood lipid profile. [7]
  • Resistance training. Such workouts can be beneficial for women with PCOS as they help improve body composition, as well as rebalance blood glucose, cholesterol, and hormone levels by building muscle mass. [4] [8]
  • High-intensity functional training (HIFT). This is CrossFit-style training that includes both resistance training and cardio components. Because of this, it is extremely effective in rebalancing hormonal levels, especially cortisol and insulin. [9]
  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This is a cardiovascular activity that includes short bursts of high-intensity effort paired with active rest and was found to positively influence hormonal activity and fat metabolism in women with PCOS. [7]

All in all, despite high-intensity training being found more beneficial in reducing insulin levels and improving hormonal profile in women with PCOS, both resistance training and cardio exercises should be included in your workout routine if you want to optimize your metabolic and hormonal responses. [9]

You may also want to try this full-body strength training for women over 40.

Sample PCOS Workout

Below, you can find the best full-body workout for PCOS, which includes both resistance training and cardio exercises.

ExerciseInstructionsSetsRepsRest (seconds)
Warm-up: High Knees
Run on the spot, bringing your knees to your chest as high as you can 


30 seconds

Warm-up: Sprinting on the spotRun on the spot as fast as you can 330 seconds30
Squat From a standing position, hinge back at the hips and bend your knees to squat down. Then push through your legs to move back up. Use weights to increase intensity. 41230 
Walking lungesFrom a standing position, step forward with your right leg and bend the knee to lunge down. Push through your right leg to stand up as you move your left leg forward. Repeat on the other side. Add weights to increase the intensity412 each side60 
Shoulder pressStand upright, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Move the dumbbells to shoulder height, with the palms facing forward. Extend your arms to lift the dumbbells above your head, then bend the elbows to lower them back down. 41260 
Push-upsStart in an extended plank. Bend the elbows to lower yourself to the floor, then push through your arms to extend them and get back to the starting position. As an option, drop your knees to the floor to reduce the intensity. 41260 
Mountain climbersFrom a plank position, bring your knees towards your chest alternately. Move as fast as you can to increase intensity. 31530 
Finisher: Burpees or burpee alternativesStand upright, then swiftly move into an extended plank position on the floor. Jump with your feet towards your chest, and push through your legs to stand back up. 310-1530 

Avoid Overtraining

It is always best to not overdo the intensity and frequency of your exercise sessions, as this can be deleterious for PCOS. 

Training too intensely for your fitness levels for a prolonged period of time can, in fact, lead to overtraining syndrome. This condition is characterized by reduced performance and chronic fatigue resulting from a lack of proper rest and recovery between training sessions. 

Chronic fatigue caused by overtraining leads to metabolic, immune, and hormonal dysfunctions, all aspects that can further worsen PCOS symptoms. [9] [10]

To prevent overtraining, ensure to recover well between training sessions. Eat a well-balanced diet, keep hydrated, and don’t train too intensely or engage in back-to-back training sessions without adequate recovery.   

Bottom Line

If you have PCOS, exercise can be a valuable way to improve your health. Here you can find the main key points about PCOS and physical activity:

  • PCOS is a common condition in women that rootes from hormonal imbalances. It leads to a series of symptoms and side effects, such as heavy, painful, irregular or absent periods, hirsutism, skin problems, weight gain, difficulty getting pregnant, high blood levels of cholesterol and insulin, high blood pressure, and sleep issues.
  • Exercise is a great aid for PCOS, as it can help you reduce your weight, BMI, and insulin resistance.
  • Following a workout routine would help you achieve your goals quicker, but there are no specific exercise guidelines for PCOS.
  • The best workouts for PCOS should include both cardio and resistance training exercises. However, high-intensity workouts are more effective in reducing insulin levels and rebalancing hormones.
  • Training too intensely or too frequently for your fitness levels and not having proper rest between training sessions can lead to overtraining, a syndrome that can negatively impact hormones, especially in women suffering from PCOS.
Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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