The Menstrual Cycle: How your period effects your training
It's not you, it's your physiology
Hey Gents, this article might be addressed to people who get periods but there are a few things in this series that might be interesting to learn about. This does effect half the population afterall... let me know what you think!
You know that feeling when you just feel slow and cumbersome? And you manage to drag yourself to the gym but for some reason everything just seems so much harder than last week?
It's not you. It's not your fitness. It's your physiology.
Just because you can't lift heavy one week, doesn't mean your strength or fitness has gone down. It might just be where you're at in your cycle. And guess what? It's ok not to do a bootcamp or your hardest session when you feel like that.
Your cycle throws some seriously weird stuff at your body. Some people can reach higher intensities at certain points in the cycle while others are feeling totally crippled by it. Everyone is different and each cycle might even feel different.
I'm starting a new series on the menstrual cycle and this is the kick off. It's a pretty sensitive subject and there are huge variations in what people experience.
To demonstrate the variations between different people, I've put together a quick survey below (your answers are completely confidential). Jump in and fill out your answers and I'll come back with a summary soon.
In the meantime, we're discussing what each quadrant of your cycle looks like and how it effects your training.
Your cycle and the effects on your training
At the start of your cycle (post period)
In the early stage after your period ends, both oestrogen and progesterone levels can be low. This can be a point where you can go hard as you will probably have higher energy levels. It's a great time to schedule your hardest workouts or even big events (weddings etc) as you'll likely have more energy and a clearer mind.
As your oestrogen levels go up, you might start to feel a little more tired and run down. In this part, you might need a little more sleep and this point is where you're at highest risk of injury due to fatigue.
Once puberty hits, girls are about twice as likely as boys to have an ACL injury, thanks in part to oestrogen levels. While I was at the Aussie 7's women's team, the S&C coach told me that over 60% of the squad had had ACL reconstructions.
The can be a lower instance of injuries for those taking hormonal birth control as it can reduce the intensity of changes in hormone levels.
That foggy brain feeling might be present here and this can effect your reaction time, your speed and accuracy.
This doesn't mean you have to skip your intense workout, just take it a bit easier if you are feeling foggy, maybe de-load a little and just take more care, especially if you're doing very techincal moves.
When I see my clients aren't feeling optimal, I will modify the session and might direct them to a dumbbell squat instead of a back squat.
Pre Menstrual (PMS)
Everyone's favourite time of the month. This can be the week before your period or just a few days. Even if it's quite mild, this is the point where your motivation is likely to be at it's lowest. You might find getting to the gym hardest right here.
This is when your progesterone will begin to increase which means you can be more catabolic. This is can encourage the breaking down of muscle protein (it's the opposite of anabolic which is the building of muscle). It's when we might find that we can't lift as much as usual and your strength feels a little compromised.
If you are training in this period it is really important to be very conscious of your recovery.
This means that nutrition is super important - increase your protein this week, ideally animal protein because it has high levels of leucine. And as we are losing more sodium during this time, add that pinch of salt to your water.
While motivation will be tricky and you might not feel as strong, when you do get to the gym and get started, it can make you feel a lot better once it's done.
Doing anything is better than doing nothing. This is a good time to buddy up to give you that extra accountability while your motivation is low.
This is the part of your cycle that has the most variation between people. Duration and severity of your period in terms of flow, abdominal or lower back pain and headaches are very dependent on the individual.
This is the time to do a bit of trial and error. Listen to your body. On the worst days, think of something that is restorative and not stressful for your body like a Yin Yoga or light stretching. Once painful symptoms subside a little, try to get back to the gym. De-load.
Importantly, remember that not being able to lift heavy during this time is not about your strength but about your physiology. If you lifted 80kgs one week and can't pick up 60kgs the next week, give yourself a break. It's not weakness!