Did you know that during ovulation our hamstrings and handgrip are 11% stronger? Adjusting our training in-line with our menstrual cycle can positively impact performance as well as reduce injury risk.
We sat down with Meg Donnelly, CEO of Jennis Fitness, to discuss her experience with training in-line with her menstrual cycle. Following her journey she put together a brilliant and digestible manual, which you can find here. We're sharing back some of the key learnings from her experience.
Before we start, this advice is based on having a monthly cycle and ovulating. The hormonal changes will be different if you're on hormonal contraception, going through a period of not bleeding, or have PCOS. Please remember it's important to take an individual approach and it may be worth discussing your hormones with a healthcare practitioner.
The Four Stages of the Cycle
Menstrual (4-7 days)
The first day of bleeding is considered day one of your menstrual cycle. Progesterone plunges, which causes the uterine lining to shed, which is "your period".
Follicular (11-17 days)
This phase follows menstruation - it’s called the Follicular phase because your pituitary gland releases a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), which stimulates the follicles in your ovaries to mature. These follicles contain your eggs.
Ovulation (1-3 days)
Ovulation is the culmination of all the hard work your body has been doing over the last couple of weeks. An egg gets released from its follicle in your ovary and will survive for 12-24 hours.
Luteal (11-17 days)
The first 2-3 days of this phase will feel a lot like the ovulatory phase. The second half of this phase can be difficult for many women and is when you may experience traditional ‘PMS’ symptoms such as bloating, headaches, cramps, anxiety, breast tenderness etc.
Your cycle should last anywhere between 26-35 days.
Training and your cycle
Menstrual - keep moving
Train intuitively. Do what feels good for you. During this phase you’re producing less testosterone which can lead to overall feelings of sluggishness. During this phase it's good to ground yourself in nature.
Follicular - feeling good, go get it
Your ability to build muscle increases in this phase so you could focus on strength cycles. You’re also more prone to injury due to an increase in the hormone relaxin, which loosens the ligaments in the joints. Warm up and cool down are important, pay particular attention to your ACL and knees.
Ovulation - feeling strong, go in
This is often a good time to go for PBs. Continue similar training as in follicular stage. For women on hormonal contraception your testosterone levels may be lower so it is extra important to take adequate recovery between strength sessions.
Luteal - reflect and recover
Water retention is common prior to menstruation, so changes to body mass may impact performance. During ovulation and the luteal phase, hormonal changes mean your metabolism actually speeds up and your caloric needs increase by 16% to stay full and energised. An imbalance of estrogen and progesterone can affect your levels of serotonin and bring on strong PMS symptoms.
Tips to get started
- Start tracking your hormones daily, you can do this even if you’re on hormonal contraception. Notice your physical and emotional changes - Clue app is a good place to start and they don’t sell your data.
- Get to know more about your hormones and understand what each one does - Meg’s Manual is a great place to start or The Balance Plan book.
- Embrace conversations with your coach or Personal Trainer about your cycle, share how you’re feeling at each phase and ask questions.
We're continually researching this topic and will keep this resource updated with what we learn.