The idea behind this blog is to bring awareness, and give you information that you can utilize to tailor your workouts around your cycle in order to best support your body’s ability to perform. In order to do this, we will talk a little more in depth and break down the menstrual cycle itself. Then provide information about how to adjust your training regime to better benefit your hormones.
There is a lot of talk about whether or not training around your menstrual cycle can build significant strength and power. Unfortunately, at this time, there is no significant evidence to support the theory that muscle strength or power changes when a woman’s menstrual cycle is considered as part of the equation. This has been hard to study – I think primarily due to the inability to “normalize” a woman’s hormonal changes, and because of each woman’s response to her own hormonal changes.
I would like to preface all this information with the fact that every woman is different and her menstrual cycle is her very own. Most cycles will vary between 28-35 days, and can actually vary month to month. Tracking your cycle and how you are feeling the days leading up to, during, and after your cycle can help and give you a TON of information about yourself and your cycle. I highly recommend cycle tracking. There are plenty of free apps out there that you can easily track with.
The menstrual cycle is driven by four hormones and consists primarily of two phases, with two sub phases. These hormones (estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone) and phases (menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal) have some overlap, which you will see below..
- Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone
- Progesterone helps to thicken the uterine lining and when levels drop, the Follicular phase begins, along with menstruation on day 1. Menstruation typically lasts for 5-7 days, yet the Follicular phase lasts until approximately day 16 (after ovulation and the beginning of the luteal phase).
- Follicle-Stimulating hormone helps the follicle (which holds the eggs) in the ovaries mature.
- Luteinising hormone stimulates ovulation, at approximately day 14.
- The Luteal phase begins following ovulation and lasts until menstruation begins again (usually days 15-28).
As you can see, during the Follicular phase, estrogen is high and progesterone is low. During this time, I recommend that strength training be the focus due to increasing energy levels and improved mood. Many times, PR’s (personal records) can be set in the few days before ovulation.
During the Luteal phase, estrogen is low and progesterone is high, so placing the focus on higher intensity/metabolic conditioning can be beneficial. Following ovulation, you may start to experience PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms, mood changes, increased water retention, constipation, bloating and fatigue. Therefore, switching your focus to higher intensity/metabolic conditioning work can give that extra little boost of energy you may be otherwise lacking.
However, it is important to tune in and listen to your body. If you feel as though it’s best to rest or get in some gentle movement, such as yoga or myofascial work, then making that the focus/priority is OK!!
A simple (sample) program might look like the following…
- Weeks 1 & 2 = conventional strength training for hypertrophy
- Week 3 = metabolic conditioning (HIIT/bootcamp type workouts)
- Week 4 = prepare for menstruation (yoga/myofascial work or REST)
- Repeat for 12-16 weeks before new programming.