It’s well known that the menstrual cycle can have an impact on exercise, and not just during your period. Hormonal fluctuations can influence your energy levels and performance throughout the entire month. Let’s take a look at the different phases of your menstrual cycle and what you can expect…
A “normal” menstrual cycle can be anywhere between 28 and 35 days. It can also differ in length of time, month to month. We highly encourage you to track your cycle so that you gain an understanding of what your ‘normal’ cycle looks like.
There are 4 phases to your menstrual cycle:
1. Menstrual phase
2. Follicular phase
3. Ovulation phase
4. Luteal phase
MENSTRUAL PHASE (DAYS 1-5)
Day one of your period marks the first day of your menstrual cycle. A drop in oestrogen and progesterone causes the lining of the uterus (known as the endometrium) to shed, resulting in a period.
Different women are affected differently by their period, so you should determine what you are capable of doing during this time. Some women feel strong and are able to train at their “normal” intensity or with heavy loads, whereas others will experience low energy levels and require lighter sessions. Rest days may also be required and shouldn’t be something you feel guilty for! Once your period comes to an end, there will be a significant increase in energy and improved mood!
FOLLICULAR PHASE (DAYS 1-13)
The follicular phase occurs between day one (first day of menstruation) and ovulation. It’s the most unpredictable and variable phase of the menstrual cycle. On the first day of a period, a “new” cycle begins as a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) starts to rise. FSH tells the ovaries to get some eggs ready to release. This is called the follicular phase because the eggs grow inside follicles (which are small fluid filled cysts). Toward the end of this phase levels of follicle stimulating hormone begin to decrease and only one dominant follicle continues to develop. The dominant follicle produces oestrogen.
It is late during this phase that oestrogen is at its highest. Oestrogen has a positive effect on mood, energy, and strength so you’re more likely to feel motivated and stronger in your training. In other words, this phase is the best time to be focusing on progressive overload with your training!
OVULATION PHASE (DAYS 13-15)
Rising oestrogen levels during the follicular phase trigger your pituitary gland to release a surge of luteinising hormone (LH). This is what starts the process of ovulation – which is when a mature egg is released from the ovary and travels to the uterus to be fertilised. This is the main event of the menstrual cycle!
This phase of the cycle is when energy and motivation is at all time high. Women often feel their strongest during this phase. For some women, this is the best time to hit some strength PRs!
LUTEAL PHASE (DAYS 15-28)
This is the time between ovulation and menstruation. In this phase the body is preparing for either pregnancy or shedding of the endometrium. If fertilisation of the egg doesn’t occur, the hormones that were helping to sustain the environment for fertilisation drop as they are no longer needed. Both progesterone and oestrogen decline late during this phase, resulting in the endometrium to shed and menstruation to occur. This marks the beginning of a new cycle.
Many women experience low energy, mood changes, fluid retention, bloating and a compromised ability to recover from training during this phase. These symptoms can worsen as you approach day one of your period. As a result, you may need to alter your training to match your energy and mood during this phase. This may mean using lighter weights or doing less reps or sets. It may also mean reducing the number of sessions you complete.
The cycle then starts all over again!
Every woman’s body is different, and we don’t all respond to hormonal fluctuations in the same way. You might find that your energy levels vary depending on where you are in the cycle, or you might feel strong all month long. Your cycle may be longer or shorter than 28 days – and if your periods are irregular, the relationship between your hormones and your workout performance may be harder to track.
The important thing is to tune into how you’re feeling. Simply put, this means easing off if you’re tired and pushing harder if you’re feeling great. Taking a closer look at how our bodies change throughout our cycle can be an incredibly helpful tool. When we understand what’s going on inside us, we can set ourselves up for success in reaching our health and fitness goals.