Syncing your training with your cycle
"Women are not small men, so we shouldn't train like them" Dr Stacy Sims (PhD, Global Expert on Female Athlete Physiology)
It’s no secret that your period can influence your training performance. The fluctuating hormones make you feel like the strongest athlete one day, and the next day all you want to do is find your flow with a relaxing yoga session. With the majority of sports science based on male studies, understanding your cycle can help support your training and reach your goals more quickly.
With the support of Andy Turner from ATP Performance Coaching We’ve taken a dive into understanding cycles and how this could help you improve your performance, and leave you feeling stronger, fitter and simply better.
Understanding the different phases
As most of us know, there are 4 core phases to your period; menstruation, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal. Syncing your training to suit each of these phases not only helps to support your training, but also your body. Some research suggests that this can even encourage an anti-inflammatory response, easing any symptoms.
Menstrual phase (Days 1 - 7 +/-)
This is characterised as the first day of the ‘bleed’ phase. This phase varies from body to body, so it is important to listen to your symptoms and what your body is telling you. Most find it beneficial to participate in low-intensity exercise during this phase to help encourage an anti-inflammatory response, relieving discomfort and other symptoms.
Training: During this phase your hormones are at their lowest. If you suffer from discomfort, find your flow and treat your body with kindness with yoga or gentle conditioning. If you’re not experiencing discomfort, opt for sprints of heavy strength training or high intensity intervals.
Follicular phase (Days 7 - 14 +/-)
The Follicular phase is the duration between when menstruation stops and ovulation occurs. During this phase, there will be increased levels of oestrogen, while other hormones remain stable. With this in mind, you should be primed to ride faster, recover faster and generally feel better in comparison to the previous phase. Now would be a good time to push for PBs, and try something new with your training.
Training: Go hard and hit those PBs. Now is the time to lift heavy, and go 100% during the more intense sessions.
Ovulatory phase (Days 14 - 21 +/-)
Ovulation is when the egg is released into the ovaries, and is characterised by oestrogen decreasing slightly, progesterone increasing, a small increase in follicle stimulating hormone and testosterone, and a large spike in luteinising hormone. This phase generally lasts for between 3 and 4 days.
Training: If you feel lethargic during this phase, opt for slower and lower impact exercises. Alternatively, keep the intensity from the Follicular phase.
Luteal phase (Days 21 - 28 +/-)
The Luteal phase is split into 3 sub-phrases. The Early phase sees oestrogen levels drop significantly, while progesterone levels increase more. Both luteinising hormone and follicle stimulating hormone drop and become steady. The Mid phase sees progesterone at its highest level, while oestrogen increases. The Late phase sees both oestrogen and progesterone levels drop to their lowest before the menstrual phase starts over again.
Training: During this phase, concentrate on moderate intensity, steady-state aerobic/endurance exercise before lowering the intensity before your cycle starts again.
When you understand your cycle, it can help you structure your training. Focus on more strength based workouts being conducted during the late Follicular phase along with endurance work, and fast power production and sub-maximal work being done during the Luteal phases. But setting the tougher sessions around when you feel best as an individual is key. If you feel best during the early follicular phase, do key sessions then. If you feel best during the late Luteal phase, do them then. If you feel lethargic around the Ovulatory phase, reduce training intensity and duration, perhaps focus on lower intensity sub-Lactate Threshold 1 riding. Tracking your period along with training data and RPE/perceptions can give you a clearer picture and help identify trends and patterns, and if you feel comfortable doing so, talk with your coach about this.
For more information on syncing your training with your cycle, check out the full article from Andy Turner at ATP Performance coaching.
Disclaimer: This article was published as a guide and is not medical advice. To optimise your training with your cycle, consult with your coach or a registered health professional.