I recently listened to a podcast with Jason Glass and Janet Alexander about training the female athlete. I've always known that the menstrual cycle can cause laxity in the joints and make the female athlete more susceptible to injury, but I didn’t know to what extent and how to we should change our training methods for female athletes. Here are a few pearls that I picked up from the podcast.
- The cycle can last between 28 to 35 days but can vary
- Week 1 refers to the start of mense/ period
- Estrogen, progesterone and relaxin will all fluctuate during the menstrual cycle and can increase ligamentous laxity
- Ligamentous laxity can put athletes at risk of injury
- More hormonal fluctuation with women who are NOT on the pill
- Understanding how hormones can change during the cycle can help coaches pick the most appropriate exercise to help keep the female athelte safe yet effective during their training
How to Tell Your Athletes Apart
Type 1 (high estrogen)
Short, curvy, more estrogen
Optimal work out time: Week 2 and 3 of cycle
Type 2 (low estrogen)
Tall, small breasted, was late getting their period, lean, long limbs
Optimal work out time: Week 1 and 4 of cycle
Type 3 (mixed high/low estrogen)
Stuck in the middle between Type 1 and Type 2
Optimal work out time: Difficulty to determine
Must assess case by case
What does this all mean?
If you or your athlete falls in the Type 1 category , then you should consider training for heavier and bigger lifts (ie. Olympic and power lifts) during week 2-3, and more stability and closed chain exercises during week 1 and 4.
If you trained all your female athletes the same way, you may be putting some of them at risk of injury due to laxity during their cycle or potentially not training them to their highest potential.
Does it Really Matter When you Train During Your Cycle?
During the podcast, Janet mentioned a study that blew me away. There was a study done to compare strength gains while training in either the follicular phase vs the luteal phase . The study had female athletes perform single leg, leg presses at 80% of 1RM, 3 sets to failure, 3x/week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) for 12 weeks during the follicular phase on the right leg. The same parameters were performed but on the left leg during the luteal phase.
There was a 46% increase in strength and a 0.5cm diameter size difference when they lifted during the follicular phase vs the luteal phase. So, I would say that's a pretty huge difference and that it DOES matter when you train during your cycle.
Check out the orginal podcast here on Jason Glass' website or download the podcast off iTunes.
Thanks for reading!
Jessie Wong , Vancouver physiotherapist