Training and The Menstrual Cycle
A Write up provided by Lisa MacDonald, Head of Gym Jones Women’s Program, Salt Lake City, Utah.
There is a lot of talk about training and the menstrual cycle recently. You hear about a raise in
core temperature, sensitivity shifts to insulin and changes in cortisol levels. There are
guidelines for when it’s the right or wrong time to lift or when it’s time to just do cardio. The
truth is there is no scientific evidence showing that training according to your period has any
validation and that the fluctuation in cortisol and insulin sensitivity is so small it has no
significant impact on the body. And the core temperature change? That is really only going to
affect a high level endurance athlete in extreme heat conditions. Keep in mind this doesn’t
mean you don’t feel awful!
How do I feel about training and the menstrual cycle?
I have had training days when I walk into the gym, sit on the rower to warm up and it is
extremely exhausting. Then I begin my specific warm up (air squats) which feels way too hard
to just be the warm up. I get into the actual workout and the weights don’t move. At this point
I am not only frustrated and angry but I also want to cry about it. It is training sessions like
these I know my period is coming. I think through what I have done wrong. Did I eat enough?
Did I sleep enough? Was I not following my program properly? The truth is that there are
hormonal changes going on in the body. Relaxin hormone is released during the menstrual
cycle which does exactly what is sounds like it does. It relaxes your muscles and tendons and
unfortunately it doesn’t only stay in one place. The relaxin hormone can not only make you feel
unstable in your hips and knees but it can affect your intestinal tract too (hello diarrhea) which
causes dehydration and can hinder performance in the gym. It does also increase your risk of
injury which is another reason why it is not a terrible idea to take it easy for a day or two.
Anemia is another cause for women to feel exhausted during their cycle (always get bloodwork
before using supplements). But what I really try and focus on is not beating myself up. There
are real things going on in your body that you cannot control. You did nothing wrong. The
weights feel heavy and going hard feels impossibly hard and IT’S OK! It is not your fault and
remind yourself “this too shall pass” and it will within a few days.
That being said, your period is not an excuse to do nothing. This is especially true if you are a
competitive athlete. Athletes don’t have the option to change the day of their match, game or
competition and they have to perform period or no period. This can be done and has been
done time and time again. Let’s put it this way, the Olympics isn’t going to change the day of
the event due to one of the athlete’s periods. So we know women can compete and set world
records during their period. Your period is not an excuse or an illness. Your period is
something that happens every month (for most) and can also be different month to month! So
the moral of the story is that if you feel terrible and everything in the gym is going wrong, don’t
be too hard on yourself. Your hormones are fluctuating and affecting your performance. If you
are not a competitive athlete (honestly most of us aren’t) maybe take a day of recovery or
choose a little lighter weight or workout that day, maybe lower your expectations. It is a real
thing that’s going on and you can’t control it. But you never know, sometimes when I go to the
gym feeling awful thinking my workout is going to be shit, it turns out to be the best training
session of the week! And last but not least, yes the period is never fun but sitting around and
complaining won’t help or change it. Remember there are lots of women who push and play
through it setting PB’s and world records and you could too.
Head Of Women’s Program at Gym Jones
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