When you’re training, you often have a goal in mind, and you’ll be set on achieving this goal as soon as possible. Whether that's to meet the criteria to be accepted to the ADF, losing a certain amount of weight, strengthening a particular area of your body, lifting heavier or improving your running technique, speed and time, it’s important to remember that rushing forward isn’t always the best approach.
In fact, it can hinder you, putting off the results you want or even causing you harm in the process. Instead, you would like to make sure that you understand your body, how it works, what it needs, and the best way to go about training it towards the end point of your aims and ambitions in the most appropriate manner possible.
There are different factors that you’ll need to draw into consideration when it comes to your fitness and strength, but if you are a woman, you are likely to have to bear one particular factor in mind when it comes to getting the most out of your exercise regime - your period.
Many trainers and even clients don't realise how much our hormones affect our ability to perform certain activities and our performance. The Barracks Gym has been helping women since its launch to achieve their goal of passing the PFA for the Australian Defence Force. Understanding how the female hormonal cycle affects training, motivation, performance and even injury risks is important to keep in the back of your mind. In this article, we will discuss the distinctive phases of your cycle, and what you need to do to train effectively around your period to gain optimum results.
Phases of the Female Hormonal Cycle
When women talk about training around their period, they generally consider the week or so that they are actually on their period. They’ll consider accommodating for pain or discomfort and whether they should or shouldn’t push themselves during this notable week. But you need to bear in mind that your menstrual cycle expands beyond the blood loss, period cramps and mood swings. It is a cycle that your body is repeatedly going through and should be taken into consideration at all times. Here are the different phases and how you can use exercise to get the best results during each.
The Follicular Phase (Days 1 - 14)
The first phase of the menstrual cycle is the follicular phase. This generally starts on one of the early days of your cycle and can go as long as day 14. The follicular phase begins during your period each month. During the following fourteen days, your hormones will be less active than usual, your body isn’t producing progesterone, but your body begins to produce more oestrogen increasingly as the days go by.
It is generally argued that your body can deal with more pain during the rest of the follicular phase though and once the period blues are over, you'll feel an immediate increase in your strength, motivation and endurance.
As you can imagine, this is a great time to really hit the gym, increase the intensity of your workouts and start aiming for heavier lifts if strength gains are on your list. As you exercise harder, your body will be able to cope, and potentially need higher carbohydrate intake to fuel your activity levels. Make sure that you are eating plenty of complex carbs, however, if you also have body composition goals, keep an eye on your calorie intake.
The Ovulation (Around Day 14)
Most women notice a significant difference in their mood as they enter the ovulation phase. How long it lasts will be very individual, but you will have a few days either end where you may feel a little iffy. Controversially, this is the phase when your strength levels peak, so you might want to consider hitting the gym even harder during ovulation. One crucial aspect to keep in mind is not slacking in the warm-up and mobility work, because sadly this is also the phase when your body is more prone to injuries, as your oestrogen levels will suddenly peak.
The Luteal Phase (Days 14 - 28)
During the luteal phase, your hormones can go a little awol. Your progesterone will rise, and your oestrogen will decline, then rise again. You’re likely to find yourself feeling a little hungrier and wanting to snack more frequently, so keep an eye on what you decide to snack on.
Try to make it healthy rather than junk food. Avoid overdoing carbs, as your carb tolerance can drop in this phase. I hear you saying that's not fair and I totally get it. Obviously, carbs are the worst for women when they tend to crave them the most, so really focus on sufficient protein and healthy fat intake to keep your cravings at bay.
Regarding exercise, try to focus on workouts traditionally considered "fat burning" regimes during this time. This could include long steady cardio sessions (as opposed to high-intensity cardio) and a drop in weight and increase in repetition in the free weights area. Even if you think that recruits of the Forces should always push hard, look at the bigger picture; listening to your body and using this information to help you perform at an optimum level all times while looking after your long-term health is more important. Sometimes you need to accept what is best for your body during different stages of the female hormonal cycle and prioritise your well-being.
The Transition Period
The transition period is when your body resets. During this time, take things easy. The day before and the first few days of the period are different for all women; some will fly through it with hardly any symptoms, while others may suffer for a few days.
During those fragile days, the best is to focus on activities that relax your body and your mind. Long walks, hiking, jogging or other forms of light cardio combined with gentle stretching and mobility workouts on these few days will go a long way.
As you can see, the female hormonal cycle can have a significant impact on how your workouts impact your performance. You really do need to get to know your body, how it works, and how to work your regime to your advantage. If you have any questions on the above or need more pointers, feel free to get in touch with the team.
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