exercise menstrual cycle

How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Resistance Training

Ladies – Do you notice fluctuations in your strength each month when you are resistance training? Well, it could have a lot to do with your cycle. Research shows that due to constantly changing hormone levels, women’s strength may be influenced by their menstruation cycle. Consider your own resistance training habits… Have you noticed there are particular weeks when you really struggle with weights that were previously easy? If so, you might want to think about changing your training to match your cycle. Read on!

What is the Menstrual Cycle?

Let’s start with a review of the menstruation cycle. Your cycle is a monthly process to prepare for a possible pregnancy. It’s controlled by various hormones, including:

  • Oestrogen – the primary sex hormone in women;
  • Progesterone – helps thicken the lining of the uterus; when levels drop, your period begins.
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone – helps follicles (which hold the eggs) in the ovaries mature
  • Luteinising hormone – stimulates ovulation

 

There’s evidence to show that due to the fluctuating nature of these hormones (particularly oestrogen and progesterone) throughout your cycle, your maximal strength, muscle mass and performance may vary over the month. It’s not just your muscle tissue that’s physiologically affected, your mood and energy levels are impacted too!

It’s worth noting that some studies have indicated that fluctuating hormones don’t have an influence on a women’s performance or strength. These conflicting results may be due to the variability of hormone levels and each individual woman’s responses to them, the time of day the studies were conducted and the specific muscles that were tested.

stretching exercise

How Do Stages of My Cycle Impact My Training?

So, let’s walk through the different stages of your cycle, what you can expect during each and how you can optimise your workouts! The information provided is based on an average cycle duration of 28 days.

Follicular Phase – Days 1 to 14

At day 1, your period will begin and at day 14 (depending on the individual) ovulation occurs. Throughout this phase your oestrogen levels are starting to increase and your progesterone levels are low. Your energy levels are starting to increase and your mood is improving!

Some studies suggest, resistance training during your follicular phase will result in more strength gains than just training in the luteal phase2. For you, this means focusing on increasing the repetitions, sets, or weight for the exercises in your program (known as progressive overload). Try:

  • Increasing the number of days per week you do resistance training.
  • Incorporating exercises like squats, deadlifts and chest press, which will challenge groups of muscles, all at once. If you are unfamiliar with these types of exercises, please consult an accredited Exercise Scientist or Exercise Physiologist.
  • Aiming to use this 2 week “window of opportunity” to optimise muscle growth and strength

Immediately before ovulation occurs (which ends the follicular phase and begins the luteal phase), oestrogen levels have peaked. This means that a few days before ovulation, you may find you’re able to achieve some personal records during your resistance workouts!

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Luteal Phase – Days 15 – 28

Your egg is released from the corpus luteum in the ovary. During the luteal phase the corpus luteum produces and causes a rise in progesterone. Oestrogen levels dropped dramatically after ovulation, but will slowly rise again over the next 14 days.

You may experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) during these two weeks. This can include changes in mood, fatigue, and increased water retention and constipation (leading to bloating), among other symptoms. Some studies suggest that women may experience decreased performance during this phase.

For you, this means you can reduce your training load by:

  • Decreasing the weight used or number of repetitions or sets
  • Reducing the number of resistance sessions you do per week
  • Focusing on cardiovascular training

Don’t try to fight your physiology. If you’re feeling fatigued or unmotivated, try a different kind of movement! That way you won’t feel defeated when you’re not achieving the same results you were two weeks ago! Any movement is better than none.

More research is needed find out exactly how hormones affect women’s training. Researchers have previously shied away from using women in exercise and sport research due to the nature of their complex physiology. However, using the evidence we have so far and based on your personal experiences, you can see if modifying your training around your cycle works for you!

Three Tips Before You Go

1. Your hormones can still have an impact, even on birth control

If you are on tri-phasic birth control (contains three different doses of hormones) and believe your training varies over the month you may see benefits of changing your training as suggested above, due to the nature of your still fluctuating hormones.

2. If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor

If you experience changes in regularity of your period, cessation of your period, spotting throughout your cycle or pain with your period, or anything related to your period and/or sexual health, please speak to your GP or OB/GYN.

3. Don’t be scared to ask for help

If you need help in creating an exercise program, consider finding an Accredited Exercise Scientist (AES) to help you. If you’ve got health concerns, chat to an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) to assist with creating a safe program for you. To find an either an AES or AEP near you, click here.

Julianna Dreger Accredited Exercise Physiologist

Julianna is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and research assistant who is passionate about women’s health.