Sitting down to write this piece on “women’s health and training” I quickly became aware that it’s not one single topic, but more a series of different periods (pun, sort of, intended) we progress through during our lives, that each effect the way we exercise.
So, this is the first of three blogs, starting with the most obvious topic “menstruation”.
Based on a 28-day cycle (a normal cycle can be anywhere from 28-35 days or there abouts) unaffected by hormonal contraception, our bodies go through immense changes. How aware we are, with regard to our training schedule and these changes, can make the difference between having a great session, or feeling like we’ve wasted our time.
This is a rough guide, based on my own experiences, reading around the subject and the many women I’ve worked with. Best suggestion I can make, is that you are to start tracking your own cycle (some brilliant apps out there to help) and tailor how you are exercising in line with what works best for you.
For most of us, when we stat to bleed, it’s a relief, as any premenstrual symptoms reduce. Your body temperature returns to normal, as does your insulin sensitivity* (see below for definition).
Stress levels are higher than usual, reaction times are slower and general fatigue is common.
Training – Mixed, light conditioning.
During this time Oestrogen levels rise and peak, progesterone levels are low. This the time to train hard, focusing on progress and pushing yourself to your limit, as your body has a higher tolerance for pain.
Insulin sensitivity is high – great time to get the carbs in!
Training: Early – mixed, light conditioning, some strength.
Mid – conditioning.
Late – Strength, speed.
Oestrogen levels peak. You have approximately an 11% increase in strength. Great time to hit heavy lifting. It’s important to note though, that neuromuscular control and response times during ovulation (and luteal phase) are reduced, so listening to any niggles that you have is important to avoid injury.
You will probably feel hungrier, however your Insulin sensitivity is reduced, so less carbs (so unfair but true).
Training – Strength.
Progesterone increases and peaks around day 21, making you feel tired, moody and temperamental. Boosting your Serotonin can help, getting more sleep or swapping a gym session for some Yoga or Pilates or getting outside for a walk/run.
Training might feel like a massive effort, even if you’re not doing as much as you would usually. For me, I know that there’s a couple of days around this time, when I pat myself on the back just for putting my trainers on and completing the warm up without crying!
Again, reaction times will be reduced in the later part of this phase. Good news is your Metabolism is approx. 7% higher.
Training: Early/mid phase – Moderate intensity cardio and strength.
Late (days 24-28) Higher volume, lower intensity, active recovery, rest.
Everyone is different and this is just a brief outline of what’s going on in our bodies. I know that for myself, getting in tune with my cycle has allowed me to not only train more efficiently, but to also give myself a break on the days when it just isn’t going how I want it to.
*Insulin sensitivity refers to how sensitive the body’s cells are in response to insulin. Doctors generally consider a high insulin sensitivity to be healthy. Some lifestyle and dietary changes may help improve this sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that helps control the amount of sugar, or glucose, in the blood.