All too often the impacts of the menstrual cycle on women’s exercise performance and capabilities are overlooked.

 

In today’s blog, Longevity Exercise Physiology Drummoyne, EdgecliffMarrickvilleBella VistaRandwick, PymbleBalmain and Neutral Bay discuss exercise considerations for women during each phase of the menstrual cycle. Whilst this won’t be relevant to everyone, you likely know someone at this stage of life, so keep reading to learn something you can pass on to them!

 

Hormonal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle can have various effects on females such as fluctuating energy levels and exercise performance.

Understanding and considering which phase women are in in their cycle, can help them achieve their goals more quickly and also help to improve consistency with exercise. The menstrual cycle is an interplay between a variety of hormones and includes 4 phases: Menstruation, the Follicular phase, Ovulation, and the Luteal phase.

 

Let’s take a closer look at each phase:

 

Menstrual Phase (~ 1-8 days)

  • This is when hormones estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest.
  • Pain tolerance is higher, fatigue levels are lower and sweat efficiency is high, making it easier to train harder for longer.
  • It can be a good time to push in the gym to increase strength and engage in higher intensity workouts.
  • If fatigue is present during menstruation then rest may be more appropriate, but there are no medical reasons why women can’t exercise during this phase.

 

Follicular Phase (~10-22 days)

  • Oestrogen levels are increasing during this time and evidence shows that females have an increased response to strength training and therefore are more likely to build lean muscle and make strength gains during this time (Reis, Frick, & Schmidtbleicher, 1995).
  • This is also a good time to incorporate some higher intensity exercises as energy levels are higher and resting metabolic rate is lower (i.e. metabolism is slower).

 

Ovulation Phase (~6 days)

  • Oestrogen levels are at their highest and similar to the follicular phase- higher energy levels can be experienced.  
  • Strength training is beneficial, but it is important to focus on good form as overall strength can peak during this phase and injuries are more likely to occur if correct technique is not upheld.

 

Luteal Phase (~9-16 days)

  • High oestrogen and progesterone levels affect the hypothalamus in the brain leading to fatigue, mood swings and increased recovery time.
  • Since energy levels may be lower it is better to focus on low to moderate strength and aerobic training during this phase.
  • Rest and some mind-body exercise such as yoga, Pilates or a restorative walk may be more appropriate.

In general, research suggests higher intensity exercise and greater strength gains can be made in the first half of the cycle and the second half is better suited to maintenance and technique exercises (Wikstrom-Frisen, Boraxbekk, & Henriksson-Larsen, n.d).

 

Tracking cycles using an app can help women get a better idea of which phase they are in and therefore adjust their exercise plan accordingly. There is a one size fits all approach and it is best to continue learning and listening to women’s personal experiences.

 

Our Exercise Physiologists understand there are many factors to consider with female strength and aerobic training during the menstrual cycle and we are here to help!

Call Longevity Exercise Physiology Edgecliff, Pymble, Marrickville, Randwick, Drummoyne, Balmain, Bella Vista and Neutral Bay on 1300 964 002 to enquire today!

 

Written by Courtney Maher

 

 References

  1. Reis, E., Frick, U., & Schmidtbleicher, D. (1995). Frequency Variations of Strength Training Sessions Triggered by the Phases oft he Menstrual Cycle. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 16(08), pp. 545-550.
  2. Wikstrom-Frisen, L., Boraxbekk, C.J., & Henriksson-Larsen, K. (n.d). Effects on power, strength, and lean body mass of menstrual/oral contraceptive cycle based resistance training. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 57, pp. 43-52.