Period time and menstruation are still a bit of a taboo topic in today’s current landscape. I don’t think they get talked about enough. Especially by male trainers who may not be able to relate to a Woman’s monthly cycle. This isn’t necessarily their fault, as we can tend to be quite dismissive around certain times of the month. Even though it may be an awkward conversation to have, I do believe it is an important one to both strengthen client-trainer relationships and also allow for optimal programming.
We all know that females can tend to be a little irritable directly before and during menstruation (their period). What we may not be aware of is the role our hormones are playing throughout our cycle and why we may feel a certain way at different times during the month. There are four main phases of the menstrual cycle and each one exhibits a unique hormone profile.
The first phase of the menstrual cycle is menstruation when the uterine lining sheds the unfertilised egg and bleeding occurs. This phase usually lasts between 3-8 days. During this phase, the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone are low. This can result in low energy and tiredness. Lower intensity workouts may be required around this time, however, it is safe to go hard if feeling up to it as injury risk is at its lowest.
During the follicular phase, estrogen and a hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) begin to rise to prepare and mature the egg in the ovary. As energy levels are on the rise, higher volume and intensity sessions are recommended to offset lower basal energy expenditure due to a drop in progesterone compared to the luteal phase. This phase usually lasts between 7-10 days.
Ovulation is the time of the month when estrogen, FSH, and luteinizing hormone are at their peak. Luteinizing hormone is responsible for stimulating the release of the egg from the ovary. This phase usually lasts between 3-5 days. During this time, energy levels peak so it is an ideal time to ramp up the intensity or even go for a personal best! One thing to be aware of is that higher levels of estrogen are correlated with increased ligament laxity and therefore the risk of injury can be greater.
The luteal phase occurs between ovulation and menstruation and usually lasts for 10-14 days. This phase is like a hormonal roller-coaster with many ups and downs occurring. This can lead to changes in mood and cause women to feel sluggish. During the first half of this phase, women may still have higher energy levels and should therefore make the most of their training. However, it may be ideal to program a de-load the week leading up to menstruation.
This will keep training morale higher and avoid the disappointment of not being able to complete a higher intensity session. The rise in progesterone during this phase also increases basal metabolic energy expenditure which can lead to increased cravings. However, if calories are kept constant, this rise in body temperature; and cardiovascular strain could offset the drop in output from training. It should also be noted that time to exhaustion in hot and humid conditions is also decreased during this phase.
So I hope that sheds some light on how to structure programming for females around their menstrual cycle. Being equipped with this knowledge will not only lead to having a greater understanding of our clients but also allow us to optimise programming where we can and be able to adapt where we need to.