How the Different Stages of the Menstrual Cycle Will Effect Your Training

Women’s Sport is growing so quickly right now and we love it! The levels to which female athletes are rising too is great to see, take the recent Commonwealth Games as an example and the fact that over half the medals were won by the girls.

As the progression of Elite Female Athletes rises, our focus and education should be around the entire female athlete.

Women’s physiology is different to males, and all too often over the years research papers have neglected to add much focus to that fact.  However, times are changing and now we are seeing more than ever the inclusion of female subjects in research papers giving us access to much more accurate findings that we can adapt and feed into our athletes programs.

If we’re proactive hopefully we can provide them with better opportunities and strategies that are suited to their physiological needs.

Menstrual Cycle

4 Stages of the Menstrual Cycle

Let’s have a look at the 4 different stages of the menstrual cycle of a female!

Remember a female’s cycle is not just a period, it’s a factor that sends chemical signals to the brain, uterus and ovaries and is linked to hormones.

Phase 1 – Menstruation

This is the phase of the period. The Uterus Lining Sheds and flows out of the vagina. Blood, mucus and some uterus lining are generally the substance.

Important to note here is that every female is different and periods can last between 3-7 days, with a variability in how heavy the flow is during these days, generally starting from light > heavy < to light.

Phase 2 – Follicular Phase

This phase starts on Day 1 of your period and lasts up to 13 – 14 days, ending in ovulation. The pituitary gland in the brain releases a hormone to stimulate production of follicles on the surface of the ovary.

Generally only 1 will mature into an egg, which can be happen on Day 10 of a female’s cycle. The uterus lining  also thickens in preparation for pregnancy.

Phase 3 Ovulation

This is when a mature egg is released from an ovary and moves down the fallopian tube towards the uterus and happens once per month in most cases. Generally 2 weeks prior to a female’s next period.

The ovulation can last between 16-32 hours and once the egg is released this is the time when a female can get pregnant if sperm reaches the egg.

Important to note that pregnancy can possibly happen 5 days prior to ovulation but 3 days is the common trend and ovulation.

Phase 4 – Luteal Phase

Post ovulation when the cells (corpus luteum) release progesterone (an aid that helps prepare a female for pregnancy and regulator in a the cycle) and a small amount of of oestrogen (the sex hormone for women) which helps with the females sex organs, bone health, heart health, bones, skin, hair, pelvic muscles and the brain.

So as you can see it is important for females to have a regular cycle so that they get a release of the main hormone that helps their body function.

Menstrual Cycle

So, now we have an idea of each phase of the menstrual cycle, what happens to performance during each phase and what can alter performance.

Menstrual Cycle and Training Performance

Phase 1

Early Follicular phase (bleeding) really depends on the Athlete and how they are feeling during their period. It is a low hormone phase meaning that the body is primed to take on high volume load and levels of stress.

This is a great time to adjust the session to high intensity workouts, heavy resistance training with a large focus on recovery and fuelling the body correctly pre and post workout.

A lot of females will feel bloating with fluid retention so adding a few sprint sets 20s x 5 will actually help boost growth hormones and anti inflammatory responses.

Symptoms may still arise including uterine cramps, stomach pain, lower back pain, breast tenderness, headaches etc. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can also be present with fatigue, mood swings and irritability, but a vast majority of females will be in a positive state.

In regards to recovery, warm water immersion can help reduce any pain, and also heavy periods and pain management such as pain control medication will assist with sleep disruption.

Phase 2

The Mid Follicular phase generally has the same guidance to training as above in Phase 1. However around ovulation there is a surge in Estrogen, which is actually an anabolic hormone. So if we increase high intensity and heavy based resistance training, this could have a positive impact on the impact of exercise and muscle adaptations.

Some females may feel flat during ovulation for a brief period and then even a day later may feel ready to tackle a heavy training session. If this is the case, preparing and knowing when this time is could be pre planned in their program to target heavy sets.

A big focus on this phase is SLEEP, if the sleep tracking is consistent this can be a key component to recovery and effort in training blocks.

During this phase the core temperature is also at its lowest when estrogen rises, and as we know females adjust to heat a lot differently than males. Meaning that at this phase a female will feel the most comfortable during her training blocks.

Phase 3

Remembering that this phase is in preparation for a female in possible pregnancy. There is a reduction in stress resilience. Meaning that adjusting performance to moderate volume load and steady state aerobic phases.

A female may also suffer from being in a low energy state during this phase, so ensuring that fuelling and eating according to training volume and recovery is super important for consistency and completion of programs.

In regards to strength training, high intensity with low volume allows for the body to react positively to hormones that are released to this phase of the menstrual cycle.

Phase 4

A big factor in this phase is Premenstrual Cycle Syndrome (PMS), so the symptoms as mentioned above in Phase 1 have a stronger influence on how the female is feeling prior to their period starting. Poor mood and mental fatigue may occur due to higher levels of sex hormones.

When we look at training, a focus should be on shifting our recovery from the high volume load of the previous weeks in the training phase, and moving towards technique and functional training.

An example of this could be focusing on the technical aspects of a difficult lift, and improving efficiency and technique within drills that are specific to their sport.

Remember that each female athlete is different and a good start is tracking your menstrual cycle and training programs for a month, evaluating and then making slight changes where necessary.

Want To Know More?

If you’d like to know more about the topic or how to better plan your training around your own cycle, we’d recommend talking to one of our Exercise Physiologists.

How Do I Book An Appointment?

We’re taking the health of our clients, members and staff very seriously and our preference would be for you to call to book an appointment so that we can make sure to explain our approach to keeping you safe. You can call any of these numbers to schedule a session:

Online Consultations

Evolving with the current environment, we are also now offering online appointments, meaning that we can support anyone who is unable to leave their home. Sessions are done via our state of the art Telehealth system and as long as you have a laptop or tablet with an inbuilt camera, or a phone with camera, we can help!

To learn more about online consultations, please call us on any of the numbers listed above.

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