How exercise can help with PCOS

Olivia Tyler Olivia Tyler Personal Trainer and Fitness Manager
Exercise is the most recommended of managing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) symptoms. Our clinical regional fitness lead, Olivia Tyler, explains how exercise can help manage symptoms as well as providing some simple body weight exercises that you can incorporate into your day.

Our latest Healthier Nation Index, showed that almost half of British women have done no vigorous exercise over the last 12 months. This is particularly detrimental for women with PCOS as doing regular, varied exercise can help with insulin resistance, metabolic rate and reduce the chance of more serious health conditions in the future, such as, diabetes and heart disease (conditions that women with PCOS are more like to have).

It's recommended that those with PCOS do a minimum of 30 minutes exercise a day, five days a week, which should be a combination of cardio and strength training.

Strength training

Many women with PCOS fear strength training as it can cause temporary spikes in testosterone, which is why it’s encouraged to focus on endurance – lifting lighter weights for longer.

Bodyweight workouts such as Pilates and yoga can also improve the function of insulin within the body.


When it comes to PCOS and cardio, there are mixed opinions. Some believe that high-intensity cardio puts too much stress on the body causing it to create excess cortisol (stress hormone), which can make symptoms worse. However, there are others who claims cardio works wonders for those with PCOS.

The key to cardio workouts with PCOS is limiting the amount of cardio. Making sure it's moderate intensity, like a brisk walk, a short swimming session or a HIIT class that lasts no more than an hour, will provide all the benefits of a cardio workout without stimulating the stress hormone.

Our clinical regional fitness lead, Olivia Tyler said: “Daily activity is important in glycaemic control and vigorous aerobic exercise can help to also increase insulin sensitivity. Adding in some resistance training per week will also help as this increases metabolic activity which also improves insulin sensitivity.

“It’s important to maintain a healthy weight which can be done by keeping a good balance of energy expenditure vs energy intake - essentially making sure that more energy is going out than is coming in.

“Regular activity and pre-preparing good meals for the week can help to manage weight gain and ensure that you are getting in good nutrition and eating enough to avoid excessive snacking.”

Five-minute PCOS exercise routine

This five-minute routine can be done with just your bodyweight. As you progress you may want to challenge yourself by adding light weights:

  • Bodyweight squats - 2 sets of 15-20 reps
    Start with your feet shoulder width apart, core braced, push your hips back and down, keeping the weight through your heels
  • Reverse lunges - 2 sets of 15-20 reps
    Start from a neutral position, take a long step back while keeping your weight through your front heel, drop your back knee down to just above the floor, then drive up and forward to your starting position
  • Bent over row - 2 sets of 15-20 reps
    Start with your feet under your hips, with a slight bend in the knee, bend forward from the hip, keeping your back in a neutral spine position until your hands are in a similar position to your knees, then with a braced core, pull the weight from your knee in toward your belly button. Try to keep your shoulder blades pinned bac toward the rear of your body
  • Wall press - 2 sets of 15-20 reps
    Start standing about a foot away from a solid wall with your feet shoulder width apart, place your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart on the wall, keeping your body braced, slowly bring your chest forward into the space between your hands, while allowing your elbows to drive out, then push against the wall to return to your starting position. The further your feet are away from the wall, harder it will be.

If you're concerned that you have PCOS, please visit your GP for more advice, or you can book a Female Health Assessment to discuss your female healthcare concerns.

Last updated Wednesday 21 September 2022

First published on Friday 2 September 2022