Ladies... Are You Adjusting Your Training for Your Cycle Yet?

Ladies... Are You Adjusting Your Training for Your Cycle Yet?

Ladies... Are You Adjusting Your Training for Your Cycle Yet?

It's possible, maybe likely, that you haven't thought of this as a factor before this very moment. I mean, it's not as if many aspects of day-to-day life take your cycle into consideration, let alone even talk about it openly and directly. Would you be surprised to hear then, that this carries over into the way information is gathered and presented for scientific study? Most studies on effective training programs (or many subjects pertaining to human health and wellness) are performed on men, due in part to their lack of fluctuating hormone levels, making it easier to have a scientifically controlled test subject. However, you may know as you reflect on your own workouts or routines, where you are in your cycle can and does have a huge impact on your performance. You don't have to completely change up your full routine with this information, but you can be better equipped to make informed decisions for you, your body, and your workouts by diving deeper into the details. 

Before we jump in, it's important to note that the information discussed in this blog pertains to women who are not on hormonal birth control, aka women experiencing their natural cycle. Hormonal birth control stops ovulation (that's the point), meaning progesterone production stops, testosterone is lower, and insulin resistance is increased (Lara Briden, Period Repair Manual). This is not a call to stop hormonal birth control if you're on it, just simply note that this blog post is for the specific group of women experiencing their natural cycle. Before we can dive into effective training in tandem with your cycle, let's break down what a normal, healthy cycle, should look like. 

Follicular Phase - the longest phase of your cycle, lasting from day 1 of your period to day 1 of ovulation. Includes menstruation, typically the first 5 (3-7ish) days of the follicular phase. Estrogen increases, leads to ovulation and the start of the luteal phase. The average follicular phase lasts for 16 days, but can range from 11 to 27 days (hence why it's a great idea for you to get into the habit of tracking your cycle). 

Ovulation - occurs between the follicular and luteal phases (some consider ovulation the start of the luteal phase, but for the purposes of this blog, let's think of it as a stop gap between then two phases) 

Luteal Phase - the day after ovulation, lasting until day 1 of your period. Progesterone increases, temperature increases. Once menstruation starts, the cycle repeats. 

Maybe this is news to you, maybe not. Either way, it's good practice to get to know your body and your cycle, even if pregnancy is not a concern or goal. This is, after all, a process your body moves through for 40 years on average. Now that we're on the same page, let's look at how where you are in your cycle can change your training/workout experience, and how you can maximize performance with this awareness. 

Follicular Phase - Consider this an optimal time for higher intensity training. The body has a higher sensitivity to insulin, meaning it can use carbohydrates more efficiently as fuel during this phase. Ironically (maybe frustratingly), this is not the typical time that women tend to crave carbohydrates. This is also not to say to go hard on highly processed sugar bombs, but not a bad idea to increase carb intake specifically around your workouts and get after it in the gym. 

Ovulation - Typically the peak of feeling good, strong, and sexy. Estrogen peaks, performance peaks, hunger peaks. A great time to go for that PR, with one important caveat! Ligaments tend to be looser during ovulation, resulting in an increased likelihood to get injured during this time. The American Journal of Sports Medicine cites that ACL tears are more likely to occur for women during ovulation. Strength and power are also maximal here, maybe you're feeling a little more loose than normal - if this is the case for you, your focus on good movement patterns and form is crucial. 

Luteal phase - Temperature rises, and the body is more apt to using fat as fuel (insulin sensitivity reduces, endurance decreases, serotonin decreases, sugar cravings increase, resting metabolic rate increases). Workouts might feel especially difficult during this phase. You know you can move more weight, more quickly, but your body just wont allow it. As much as sugar really feels like a great idea here, it's a trap! Lower intensity workouts during this phase, taking more time for rest, and increasing healthy fat intake is wise. Take advantage of the increased RMR during this phase.

Menstrual phase (start of follicular phase) - Temperature decreases, metabolism levels out, you start to feel "normal" again. Time to increase workout intensity again, reduce rest periods, and maybe start to increase carbohydrate intake to support higher activity. 

I think this is such valuable information to better optimize your workouts and develop a deeper understanding of how to work with your body to achieve your goals. It has taken me a lot of seeking, researching and sifting through various streams of info to get to a point of basic understanding of one of the most human and relatable biological processes all female bodies experiences. I hope you use this as a stepping stone in your own journey, no matter where you are in that process. Take this info and apply it to your own experience, ask your own questions (to yourself and to trusted others), and move intelligently and intuitively from there. This is just a baseline, and clearly does not apply to everyone. But I hope it can present as a framework that helps you jump to whatever is next and most pertinent to you.


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