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Tailoring Strength And Conditioning Training Around The Menstrual Cycle

Tailoring S&C Training around Menstrual CycleWomen have a long history of being shamed into silence about their periods and, especially within the sports sector, matters related to menstruation have been largely ignored. Many, in fact, believe that participating in sports during menstruation can harm women’s health, hinder performance and therefore, they should avoid physical activity altogether during this time. However, this could not be further from the truth, so I aim to explain why strength and conditioning (S&C) training can be incredibly beneficial for women and how personal trainers can tailor S&C programmes to better suit an individual’s needs.

Participating in a structured strength and conditioning programme can have profound benefits for women who train, such as improved body composition, enhanced mood and mindset, reduced chance of injury through the strengthening of the skeletal system and associated connective tissue, as well as improvements in circulatory and respiratory efficiency. Our lives are full of rhythmic cycles, such as menstrual, sleep/wake cycle, as well as rhythms that control our digestion and gut activity, so having a greater awareness and understanding of body cycles can help us to achieve the health, fitness and wellness we have all been searching for.

When considering that 26% of the global population is of reproductive age, according to UNICEF, it further emphasises why understanding the menstrual cycle is so important for health and fitness professionals to effectively support their clients.    

Understanding the menstrual cycle

For a textbook example of the menstrual cycle, we will use the 28-day cycle (cycles can range from 21 to 35 days). The cycle is split into the follicular phase (days 1-14) and the luteal phase (days 15-28). Although this isn’t a science lesson, it’s imperative for us to understand what is happening physiologically in order to help our personal training clients to achieve maximum results. Through having a full understanding of the menstrual cycle, your clients will become even more aware of changes in body temperature between phases, perceived time to fatigue between phases, differences in pain tolerance throughout the menstrual cycle and overall exercise performance and prescription. With this increased awareness, the feedback they give you will be invaluable in terms of personalising their training programmes.

Within the above phases, several hormones play a huge role, not just in fertility, but also in how the individual feels, performs and responds to exercise stressors. These are oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and luteinizing. To tailor your clients’ S&C programmes around the menstrual cycle, it’s important to plan around each phase.  

Follicular phase (days 1-14)

Within this phase, your client should be aiming to work at a high intensity alongside some heavy weight training. I would recommend exercises such as sprints, rowing and cycling alongside barbell exercises such as the bench press, squat and deadlift. Within these first 14 days, a female’s body temperature stays consistent, her pain tolerance increases and her ability to digest and utilise carbohydrates is more efficient. So, in other words, go out and shift some steel and hit those PBs within the follicular phase.

An example session might look like this:
  • Warm up – 5 minutes incline walking followed by some dynamic mobility
  • Barbell bench press – 3 sets of 8 repetitions (heavy)
  • Barbell deadlift – 3 sets of 8 repetitions (heavy)
  • Supersets – dumbbell goblet squat and dumbbell straight leg deadlift – 3 sets of 8 repetitions (heavy)
  • Assault bike – 4 sets of 20 calories with 2 minutes rest between intervals
  • Cool down and appropriate stretching
Luteal phase (days 15-28)

Within this phase, your client should be working at a lower intensity than the first two weeks to allow their body to adapt and respond to the stressors previously placed upon it. During the luteal phase, the individual’s core body temperature starts to rise which can increase the early onset of fatigue. Additionally, the female’s pain tolerance is decreased and her ability to digest and utilise carbs efficiently is reduced. Having said this, it does not mean two weeks of no activity. Instead, it’s about tailoring the programme to suit their body’s physiological requirements. To put this into simpler terms, this is the time for walking, swimming and light jogging – really making the most of the endurance capabilities at their disposal. For those Fit Bit fans, this is the time to hit those 10,000 steps per day!

An example session might look like this:
  • Warm up – 5 minutes incline walking followed by some dynamic mobility
  • 15 mins steady cycle on the upright bike
  • Superset lat pull down/shoulder press – 2 sets of 12 reps
  • Superset chest press/seated row – 2 sets of 12 reps
  • Leg press – 3 sets of 12 reps
  • Cool down 10 minutes, steady rowing and appropriate stretching
Tailoring strength and conditioning training around the menstrual cycle banner
Final thoughts


Although you do not need to know the ins and outs of the physiology connected to the menstrual cycle, it’s important to know what exercises to prescribe and at what intensity during the follicular and luteal phases of your clients’ cycles. Within the follicular phase, your client should ideally be working anaerobically at very high intensities, whereas, during the luteal phase, they can take their foot off the gas a little and work more within an aerobic/endurance capacity. As always, it’s key for your clients to listen to their bodies’ internal cues. Designing their programmes around their menstrual cycles will enable your clients to achieve the results they never thought they could! And as a Personal Trainer, you’ll stand out as being someone who truly personalises their programmes for every client.

   
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The Training Room | 04/03/2020 09:00:00

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