Embarrassingly, I didn’t start properly tracking my menstrual cycle until quite recently and even then, it was only because my smart watch started doing the work for me. Normally, the only thing I’d be concerned with is when I was likely to come on and then I’d dread the inevitable lead up to the first day of each cycle.
The more I tracked, the more I noticed a very clear pattern of events throughout the cycle. Some days exercise FELT GREAT. I could throw weights around, I could move my body effortlessly and I could probably lift a car if you asked me to. Then, there would be days when I’d ticked every nutrition and hydration box and I wouldn’t even be able to coordinate a bodyweight squat. That’s when I started paying more attention to what my cycle was telling me, and how I could manipulate training to best suit the phases of the cycle.
What has struck me since, is that not many of us really know much about our cycle. Other than we can go roller-skating if we wear the right tampon brand?! For example, there are two phases phases of the menstrual cycle (though sometimes only the follicular and luteal phases are referenced):
· The Follicular phase (days 1-14 of a typical 28-day cycle)
· The Luteal phase (days 14-28 of a typical 28-day cycle)
Menstruation (day 1 onwards)
· The first day of our period is associated with the first day of the menstrual cycle.
· Our hormone levels typically drop during this stage so lighter cardio and weightlifting is recommended during this stage
· (not tennis and roller-skating as I was led to believe)
The follicular phase
This phase starts with the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation.
· Throughout this cycle, there is an anticipatory rise in hormones as you near ovulation. Hence why some days you feel great!
· It should be noted that in the lead up to ovulation, when oestrogen is high, females are more likely to sustain a tendon or ligament injury. A longer warm up, and more attention to coaching is recommended during this part of the phase.
During this phase, your energy levels will likely be high but so will your base body temperature (hence you may experience some sleep disruption).
· The good news is your tolerance for pain is likely higher in this phase, and now is a good time to push harder in training. PB anyone?
The Luteal phase
This is the phase between ovulation, and the start of your next period.
· It’s when we’re most likely to have pre-menstrual symptoms (cravings, acne, sore boobs, etc).
· Our food cravings are likely to change in this phase also.
· We might see a rise in cortisol during this phase. An increase in this stress hormone coupled with a higher body temperature may also disrupt our sleep.
· Now is a good time to be kind to yourself.
· Exercise shouldn’t be avoided but it might not be the right time to expect personal bests. This would be a good time to programme more active recovery exercise.
There are a number of great apps and trackers out there to help guide you during the cycle. By knowing more about your individual response throughout the month, you can take note of when to push hard, and when to avoid judging your performance. A better understanding can also help you harness that period power!