The Power of Sweat: How Short Bouts of Vigorous Exercise Can Improve PCOS

After I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2005, one of the first suggestions my doctor offered was to start exercising. I was glad that my doctor didn’t solely rely on medication to treat my PCOS and that she thought lifestyle modification was an important part of my treatment plan. However, I was disappointed by the lack of good information on what exercise was best for PCOS.

Fortunately, recent medical studies have uncovered some valuable insights on what types of exercise can be used to help fight PCOS. A study conducted by the University of California San Francisco discovered that intense workouts may be better for managing PCOS than moderate exercise.

The study observed the exercise habits of 326 women with PCOS. Researchers divided the women into three groups: vigorous exercisers, moderate exercisers and sedentary women. They compared various health markers between the three groups and found that the women who engaged in regular vigorous exercise enjoyed better overall health.

If your PCOS symptoms have left you feeling exhausted and stressed out, a sweat-drenching, heart-pumping workout may seem like a counter-intuitive treatment. However, the benefits of a more intense workout for women with PCOS is not something you want to pass up!

When compared with moderate exercisers and inactive women with PCOS, those who exercised vigorously:

  • were less likely to have metabolic syndrome
  • had a lower BMI
  • had significantly better glucose tolerance
  • were less likely to have acanthosis nigricans
  • and had smaller waist measurements.

The UCSF study matches well with other research studies on the effectiveness of intense exercise on metabolic disorders. For example, researchers at the University of New South Wales found that young women who engaged in high intensity cardio workouts for 15 weeks improved their insulin sensitivity by 31% while women who engaged in an equal amount of moderate exercise only saw a 9% improvement in insulin sensitivity over the 15 week trial!

Along with being better for PCOS, intense workouts are more time efficient. High-intensity workouts like circuit training or high intensity interval training can be completed in just 15 to 30 minutes while most moderate intensity workouts will last an hour! Better results in less time – that’s good news for the many busy women of the world who are battling PCOS!

High intensity exercise can take a variety of forms. In my experience as a personal trainer and a woman living with PCOS, intense 15-30 minute workouts that involve resistance training yield incredible results in a reasonable amount of time.

Below are some of my quick tips for using vigorous exercise to improve your PCOS:

  • Frequency over duration. Working out for shorter periods of time more frequently is generally better than less frequent workouts for longer stretches. Aim for four or more 15-30 minute workouts a week.
  • Focus on strength. Increasing your muscle mass through strength training will help you maintain a healthy weight by boosting your metabolism.
  • Swap your traditional cardio workout for high intensity interval training (HIIT). During a HIIT workout, the trainee will alternate between bouts of extremely difficult fast-paced exercise and bouts of very low intensity work. For example, you might alternate between sprinting as fast as you can and walking at a steady pace.
  • Challenge yourself, but don’t punish yourself. Vigorous workouts should feel like hard work, but do not push yourself to the point of exhaustion. The idea is to challenge yourself, conquer that challenge and then recover.

It has been nine years since I was diagnosed with PCOS. My journey toward wellness and balance has not always been a smooth one. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that the right exercise program is an incredibly powerful tool for managing PCOS!


Erika Volk is a certified personal trainer, Nutrition Coach, and fitness writer. She holds certifications from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), TRX Suspension Training Systems, Precision Nutrition and is the creator of the Just Start! Workout Program for Women With PCOS.

She believes that lifestyle modifications are the best treatment for PCOS. If you want to learn more about how exercise can alleviate PCOS symptoms, please visit her website at

Erika lives with her husband in a small beach town somewhere in Costa Rica. Her hobbies include cooking, hiking, learning Spanish and traveling. At you’ll find at-home workout plans, healthy cooking tips, and stories about her life in Costa Rica.


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