In the past year, we’ve seen a lot of media time focusing on “girl’s stuff” affecting elite athlete performance, and training leading into competitions. However, it’s not just elite athletes who are affected by menstrual cycles, but all women who are looking to train and maintain physical activity.
It's important that trainers and staff understand the impact of menstrual cycles in training. Here's what you need to know.
How might menstrual cycles impact an individual?
Below are a handful of potential effects that may be seen during the menstrual cycle.
Higher resting heart rate than usual
Lower peak heart rate during exercise
Lower VO2 max – if testing during your cycle
Reduced hydration levels
Lower energy levels
However, it’s important to remember that each woman is unique and some may see none of the above, while others see the majority. Never forget the importance of encouraging open communication with anyone you're training.
Supporting clients during their menstrual cycle
Below are a number of tips for supporting anyone you're working with during their menstrual cycle.
Moderate training volume and stress: They may feel on top of the world and, if so, definitely let keep up the effort! However, with energy levels likely lower, you’re best to keep the intensity and volume of their sessions slightly lower.
Hydration: Ensure that they're drinking plenty of water pre, during, and after their sessions, to replace fluid lost through sweating and menstruation.
Consider lower-impact exercises: Yoga, swimming or Pilates can be a good choice for women during their cycle who need to modify their usual workout routine.
Reduce the weights: Muscle breakdown is higher due to heightened progesterone during the cycle. So programming steady-state exercise, instead of heavy lifting, will aid recovery.
Communicate: It's important they listen to their bodies, so encourage open communication and if they're feeling particularly fatigued or crampy, let them know it's okay to take a break or offer to modify their workout.
A final top tip would be to make the best use of their heart rate monitor – keep an eye on their heart rate zones in every session. This way if they show any anomalies you can use this knowledge to adapt and guide your approach to programming.
Remember that everyone is unique there is no definitive rule book. Empathy and understanding bring the best results.