Let's Talk : Training Around Your Cycle & Individual Physiology
Lately I have been researching and trying to gain some further insight into how we, women should be training to suit our own physiology. The rise and fall of hormones such as estrogen & progesterone and our menstrual cycle largely affects how we train and even function from one week to the next. Just like many areas in women’s health, research into how female athletes and the average gym going woman should be exercising in accordance to her personal physiology is lacking. Through research and good old google, I have found the abundance of studies and research into men’s health and training performance is endless, So, I am trying to open up the conversation into how women should not be training like men and how we really need to dial in and understand our individual cycles in order to gain the best from each workout.
To start, I’m just going to explain a little about the different stages of the cycle. I can’t believe I’m writing this as 29-year-old women, but it’s only now, after doing some research that I fully understand the menstrual cycle, hello the taboo of talking about periods and growing up in good old-fashioned Ireland!
The average menstrual cycle lasts approx. 28 days but can range anywhere between 21 & 35. There are 2 main phases of the menstrual cycle, the follicular phase & the luteal phase. Hormones change throughout the cycle and it is these changes that will affect our ability to make muscle, our energy, strength levels & even our mood. The follicular phase which starts on day one of our period (the day we start bleeding) lasts about 14 days and brings us up to ovulation, usually about day 15. Hormones are favorable for performance in the follicular phase when the period starts. This is due to the body understanding that it is not pregnant, the body becomes more relaxed and all of its energy systems which were ramped up in the high hormone luteal phase are at your disposal for training. A women’s exercise physiology is most like its male counterpart during their period and the days that follow.
Research has found that women are capable of making greater strength gains and produce greater force in their workouts when they strength train during the low hormone follicular phase, compared to training in the high-hormone luteal phase. The body is much more likely to recover faster also and training overall will feel considerably easier.
This contrasts greatly with the high hormone luteal phase. During the luteal phase hormones continue to rise with both estrogen and progesterone peaking about 5 days before menstruation (Hey there PMS!) If an egg is not fertilized progesterone levels will fall and the body will shed the lining of the uterus (start of your period again). Exercise will feel much more of an effort during this phase and PMS symptoms such as bloating, migraine, cramping and a general feeling of being out of sync will already be having an effect on the body, without the stress of working out.
This is where we as women can step in and train smart around our cycles and workout in a way that favors our own unique physiology. To recap a little from the above text the favorable way to train around your cycle would be as follows:
Week 1 &2: Follicular Phase- Start of your period- Lasts approx. 3-5 days. Hormones are low- Body is more favorable to making strength gains and performance in the gym will be high- Body recovers well in this phase. This would be a good time to set some PR’s and push some sets to failure in the gym
Week 3&4: Luteal Phase- Hormones (estrogen & progesterone) begin to rise and will peak about day 23-28 making it much harder to make muscle and perform optimally in your workouts. Recovery from heavy sessions will be difficult during this week. Take this as a
de-load week. Lower the weight and intensity and focus more on form and technique/ complete more reps with slightly lower load.
I understand that not all cycles are the same so it’s important to tune into your own body and individual physiology and figure out what works best for you. A lot of this will come down to trial and error until you are tuned in to your body and you figure out what works best in regard to training around your cycle. I recommend tracking your cycle and workouts for a couple of months and see does the system above have any positive effect on your performance in your workouts and physique changes.
Thanks again for reading and I hope the above has helped educate you in some way on training around your own unique cycle. I hope to bring out more informative female specific based blogs in the future so watch this space.
As always if you would like to work with me then simply get in contact through firstname.lastname@example.org or www.ladiesintraining.ie
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