3 ways your menstrual cycle affects your workout

Are periods a problem for elite sportswomen? Does it affect performance?

British middle-distance runner Jessica Judd says her running times can vary by 15 seconds depending on what stage she is at in her cycle. Paula Radcliffe sometimes used drugs to delay her periods, but then she set her first marathon world record on the first day of her period without no drugs.

So what’s the truth?

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I have learned quite a lot about the menstrual cycle over the years and how that affects a woman’s body in general. From an academic perspective, I had to get very clear on the menstrual cycle in my fertility teaching and in my anthropology degree. Personally, I also track my fertility along with my running, which has allowed me to see for myself how my cycles affect my running performance.

Basically, hormone levels vary throughout the cycle, which various effects your body. Here’s how, along with some tips on how to optimize your workout with those hormonal variations.

Build your muscles in the beginning of your cycle

Several studies have looked at differences in responses to strength training in the follicular phase (the time from your period until ovulation), versus training in the luteal phase (from ovulation until your period). Some research has found that strength training during the follicular phase resulted in higher increases in muscle strength compared to training in the luteal phase. In other words, your strength work pays off more between your period until you ovulate.

TAKEAWAY: Is there a bootcamp you’ve been nervous about trying? Take a chance at it in the first part of your cycle!

Protect yourself from injury when you’re fertile

A recent meta-review of studies looked at how hormonal changes may impact tendon laxity. It found the risk of injury was highest in the days leading up to ovulation, when estrogen is high. The lowest risk occurred after ovulation until menstrual bleeding.

TAKEAWAY: More research is needed, but it's worth doing longer warm-up exercises and not overstretching during your fertile window. It might be a good option to do more yoga at this time.

Give yourself some slack at the end of your cycle

In the second part of your cycle, progesterone rises significantly. This causes your body temperature to shoot up by at least 0.4 degrees celsius, and your temp stays high until menstruation.

As a result, you may find that you don't have as much endurance during your luteal phase. So don't judge yourself too harshly by the results of your training in this phase. Decreased performance is a perfectly normal experience at this point.

TAKEAWAY: You might want to schedule your rest days during your luteal phase. (That doesn't mean you should entirely skip training in this phase, as you'll still improve from a workout no matter what.)

Personal stories

I took a poll on my Instagram to ask how a cycle affected my female followers’ workouts. Here’s what some of them had to say.

“Right before and the day after [my period] starts, I end up feeling too tired and bloated to go running – but then I remember the negative perception society has of women whilst on their cycle, and I force myself to go anyway.”

“I’m more likely to need super frequent breaks in hot yoga when I am within a few days of my period starting because I feel light-headed more quickly even if I up my water intake significantly. I also don’t sleep well around that time which similarly makes working out hard.”

“The struggle is real. I feel sluggish and off when I’m starting my cycle. Midway I feel great.”

Do you track your cycle? Do you notice how it affects your performance? Let me know in the comments below!