Bloat, weight gain, raging hormones causing mood swings and stomach pain are just some of the symptoms associated with the ‘time of the month!’
Strength training may be the last thing on your mind during your period right?! But training at the right time during your cycle can be more important than you think;)
Being mindful of your menstrual cycle when strength training can totally transform your results. The ebb and flow of oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone can improve (or inhibit) strength, hand-eye coordination, endurance and muscle growth, but using your mood as a measure of how hard you train could be stopping you from getting strong gains 💪
This is why I ask all my clients to track their cycle as by doing so you can get the best out of your workouts and also improve your nutritional needs during this time.
Let’s go through a brief summary of your cycle and give an understanding as to what is happening to your body:
The menstrual cycle is roughly 21-38 days where the level of various hormones within a woman’s body will increase and decrease, generally in a predictable manner.
The average is considered to be 28 days so for this purpose we will use this figure. However, the number of days can fluctuate even with the same individual.
DAYS 1-5 (MENSTRUATION)
Day 1 (or thereabouts) of your cycle marks the start of your period and the time when most of you will want to curl up into a ball and hibernate, but the right kinds of exercise can be beneficial.
During this time, progesterone and oestrogen are both LOW.
Research has shown the following about Oestrogen and Progesterone:
Oestrogen seems to:
Aid muscle growth and repair
Increase glucose availability and uptake into type 1 (fast twitch) muscle fibres
Increase glucose storage capacity in muscles
Suppress muscle catabolism
Progesterone on the other hand:
Undoes much of what Oestrogen does for muscle growth and repair
Reduces the muscle developing effects of testosterone
Marginally increases metabolic rate and core temperature
Your metabolism and cortisol levels spike around this time, and overstressing the body may activate fat storage.
How to train during this time?
When you’re probably feeling at your weakest, try to avoid anything too taxing and opt for walking, mobility, pilates or yoga as a means to make strength training progress without running the risk of burnout or injury.
Less strenuous exercises will likely seem more appealing than trying to gear yourself up for intense workouts, too. With strength reduced, looking to perform at a high level is likely to be a wasted endeavour.
Fatigue may come as your iron levels drop through blood loss, so training with a heavy period could be detrimental if form subconsciously falls to the wayside.
Consider dropping your usual rep per set target in favour of nailing your technique.
Foods for optimum physical performance:
Increase your intake of healthy fats such as salmon and avocado to stabilise your mood and cortisol levels or regularly take an Omega 3 supplement.
You may also feel much hungrier during this time so increasing your calories by a couple of hundred may be beneficial through proteins and fats since your metabolism will be higher.
Taking a Magnesium supplement has also shown to really help with managing moods for women as hormones fluctuate. See Previous Article on this.
DAYS 6-14 (FOLLICULAR PHASE)
Things are on the up as oestrogen starts a steady climb to prepare the body for pregnancy. Expect motivation to come back as your energy builds.
As bleeding stops, oestrogen starts rising in the absence of progesterone. More energy and better mood means women are often capable of extending the duration of strength training sessions at this time and is a good opportunity to achieve PBs.
After menstruation is done, it’s time for hard, heavy and frequent training for the next 2 weeks 💥💪
Hormones are just one part of the equation.
If nutrition, sleep and stress are balanced you will see progress at this stage with progressive overload and good training techniques.
Foods for optimum physical performance
Focus on lean proteins, steamed vegetables, and light grains which will regulate blood sugar and cortisol levels to avoid inflammation which could hinder muscle growth.
Late follicular phase
Now comes a surge in oestrogen to trigger the luteinising hormone responsible for releasing eggs. This will boost both strength and energy, while studies show that it could also have an 11% increase in both quad and handgrip strength compared to when you’re not ovulating.
If your goal is to gain strength and build muscle, look to lower reps and heavier weights. This will activate a certain type of muscle fibre to promote hypertrophy – muscle growth and an increase in the size of muscle cells.
DAYS 22-28 (LUTEAL PHASE)
By this point, progesterone is at its peak to prepare for fertilisation. A plummet in testosterone and oestrogen, meanwhile, will explain why you may feel lethargic and ‘premenstrual’. But all is not lost.
When we are feeling low with PMS symptoms in the luteal phase, this is a chance to take things slowly and do what makes you happy. Shorten your strength training sessions according to exactly what suits you.
High intensity may fatigue you faster and leave you feeling burnt out.
This is a great time to nail your form and technique and allow for proper recovery and self care in order to really go hard when the time is right.
Going hard everyday when your body is not feeling it can be detrimental to your long term progress.
You may wish to opt for lower weights and higher reps. Remember, strength training isn’t all about load – increased reps will encourage heart rate and endurance.
Foods for optimum physical performance
Look for vitamin B-rich foods to promote production of serotonin for energy and motivation to train. Grains such as quinoa and buckwheat, and cooked cruciferous veggies including cauliflower, broccoli and kale are great.
While this advice will shed some light on your strength training progress, it’s key to note that everything depends on both your specific goals and regularity of your cycle.
Some people may experience all of the above, whilst others may feel stronger on their first day so focus on what is happening to YOUR body.
One of the best tools in a women’s training journal is a cycle tracker. This can be an app or a paper and pen but you should track your
By tracking you can plan your training and nutrition and be on top of the cravings and moods when/if they come.
So in short-
Three days pre menses, the day you ‘start’ and the 3 days following - train lighter.
The following 2 weeks after- train HARD! Smash some PB’s and aim for 4 good training days a week.
The final week after ovulation and prior or pre menses, you may wish to train slightly lighter and add in some additional aerobic training.
Don’t forget to get your zzzz’s in, try to manage your stress levels and don’t forget the protein for muscle building! 😀
Give me a 💗 if this was helpful.