Understanding the menstrual cycle, and its impact on sports performance is becoming more widely recognised as an important training consideration. And science is backing it up!
Whilst the cycle phases remain the same, the experience differs from woman to woman. Therefore, if you learn how to work with your cycle, it can become a superpower.
This also means coaches and personal trainers may yield better results from their clients.
So, what are the phases of your cycle? And how can it guide your exercise programming?
Your menstrual cycle is split into different stages.
The menstrual phase- approximately 3-7 days (day 1-7)
This is the first day of your cycle, which will be the first day of your period. Generally, at this time, your hormone and energy levels dip. This is when you’re also more likely to experience typical symptoms of PMS, such as cramping and irritability.
The follicular phase (days 1-14)
This phase also starts on day one of your period and finishes at ovulation, roughly at day 14.
Through the phase, estrogen levels will rise. Mood and energy will begin to improve.
Ovulation phase (day 14)
Luteinizing hormone (LH) levels will increase, responding to the rise of estrogen throughout the follicular phase. It is usually when a woman will feel at her most energised.
Luteal Phase- from ovulation to menstruation
Progesterone and small amounts of estrogen, rise, and then hormone levels drop; PMS symptoms usually return and energy dips.
So, what does this mean for your training schedule?
Recent research concluded that female athletes performing in strength, anaerobic and aerobic sports are unlikely to require adjusting their menstrual cycle¹. Great news!
The study concluded little change to VO2max and hormone fluctuation did not affect ‘muscle contractile characteristics.’
However, if you are looking for a peak time to perform in strength training, a study² into the effects of strength training in the follicular vs luteal stage, found improvement in both muscle strength and fibre diameter, in the follicular stage.
This Suggests that whilst you don’t need to adjust, the follicular phase might be the secret to hitting those PB’s.
For endurance training, prolonged moderate exercise should be avoided in the luteal phase, due to reported ‘higher cardiovascular strain.’³
A further study⁴ into endurance capacity concluded that pre-exercise heart rates were significantly higher in the luteal phase of the cycle. This means you’re more likely to max out earlier.
Conclusion? Steer endurance-based exercise away from your luteal phase, where your heart rate and body temperature are on the up. Stick to lower tempo and recovery.
The move toward (and including) the ovulation phase is when energy and mood levels are peaking. Go get that PB!
The content of this article does not constitute medical advice by a registered healthcare professional. Please consult your physician before starting any new diet, exercise or training programme.
¹ Janse de Jonge XA. Effects of the menstrual cycle on exercise performance. Sports Med. 2003;33(11):833-51. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200333110-00004. PMID: 12959622. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12959622/>
² Sung E, Han A, Hinrichs T, Vorgerd M, Manchado C, Platen P. Effects of follicular versus luteal phase-based strength training in young women. Springerplus. 2014;3:668. Published 2014 Nov 11. doi:10.1186/2193-1801-3-668, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4236309/>
³ Janse de Jonge XA. Effects of the menstrual cycle on exercise performance. Sports Med. 2003;33(11):833-51. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200333110-00004. PMID: 12959622. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12959622/>
⁴ Bandyopadhyay A, Dalui R. ‘Endurance capacity and cardiorespiratory responses in sedentary females during different phases of menstrual cycle.’, Kathmandu Univ Med J (KUMJ). 2012 Oct-Dec;10(40):25-9. doi: 10.3126/kumj.v10i4.10990. PMID: 23575048. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23575048/>