Sport & Exercise and the Menstrual Cycle - Women's Health
(Tiffany Weedon - Sport's Rehab Specialist)
Menstrual cycles affect everyone. You either experience them first hand or you know someone who does; your mother, sister, daughter, partner, or friend. Despite this, there is still very limited research into menstrual cycles in general and even less into the effects they have on sports and exercise performance. Only recently, since a number of female athletes have started speaking out, have the much-needed conversations about menstruation and physical activity started.
The average menstrual cycle lasts between 23 – 38 days and consists of three different phases: the follicular, ovulation and luteal phases. During these phases two primary hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, are released in varying quantities. It is the rise and fall in the levels of these two hormones that suggest exercise should be tailored to the phase of the cycle.
Current research has shown oestrogen levels to have the greatest effect on sport and exercise throughout the cycle. During the early follicular phase (when menstruation occurs), elite or competitive athletes are likely to see a decrease in both speed and strength related performance. The ovulation phase produces the most notable effects of oestrogen variation; with levels at their highest, ligament laxity increases, neuromuscular control decreases and fatigue can set in earlier, all of which can contribute to an increased risk of injury.
The peak in progesterone in the luteal phase raises core temperature and increases both resting heart rate and breathing rate. These three factors combined put the body under additional strain making exercise seem much harder than normal.
For those who take part in or compete in endurance-basedactivities, such as running, cycling, football and tennis, current research shows that the best times to push harderwhile training on in games are the week after menstruation and the week after ovulation.
Exercising in hot and/or humid environments, such as hot yoga, a warm gym, or outside on a hot day, during the luteal phase may seem much harder than usual. Don’t try and push for a personal best, rest more and decrease training load to help navigate this phase.
If strength training is your thing, carry on as normal throughout the cycle! There have been no reports of the fluctuation in hormones having a significant effect on muscle strength and fatigue.
It is important to note that menstrual cycles vary from person to person with everyone being affected by symptoms differently. On some occasions it may be wise to have an extra rest day, on others you may be able to push harder no matter what phase of the cycle.
As previously mentioned, research into this topic is limited and advice may be refined as more information becomes available. If you have any concerns, contact your GP.
This article was written by Tiffany Weedon - Sport's Rehab Specialist