Impact of menstrual cycle on athletic performance
Updated: Jul 10
Several athletes are now openly discussing the impact of their menstrual cycle on their athletic performance. Concurrently, scientific research is delving into how hormonal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle can lead to varying outcomes in training.
I've always been passionate about exercise since being a teenager, becoming a group fitness instructor, running in some races, being in bodybuilding competitions on the world stage and also being a personal trainer and rehab specialist.
Here are some guidelines for athletes to maximize strength training, keeping your cycle in consideration.
Don't avoid strength training in the initial part of your cycle. Numerous studies have examined the differences in responses to strength training in the follicular phase (the period from your menstruation until ovulation) versus training in the luteal phase (from ovulation until your menstruation). Some research has discovered that strength training during the follicular phase resulted in higher increases in muscle strength compared to training in the luteal phase. If you start monitoring your cycle phases, you may find your strength training is most effective in your follicular phase. In simpler terms: I NEVER miss leg day before I ovulate!
Be cautious of tendon injuries during fertile days. A surprising statistic for sportspeople is that women are 3 to 6 times more likely than men to suffer injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). A recent meta-review of studies examined how hormonal changes might affect tendon laxity and risk of tendon injury. It found the risk was highest in the days leading up to ovulation, when estrogen is high. The luteal phase was associated with the lowest risk. More research is needed, but it's worth doing longer warm-up exercises and not overstretching during your potential fertile days.
Don't be hard on yourself in the second part of your cycle. In the second part of your cycle, progesterone rises significantly. Your body temperature is also higher during this phase — body temp increases by at least 0.4 degrees celsius after ovulation and stays high until menstruation. Your body is preparing for a potential pregnancy, should an egg have been fertilized at ovulation. As a result, you may find that you don't have as much endurance during your luteal phase. You may not be able to hit max lifts, and may feel worse in training compared to the first part of your cycle.
Take rest days in the second part of your cycle. Based on the info above, 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 strength training in the luteal phase. If you're not sure exactly when you're ovulating, or you want a baseline for how long your average luteal phase tends to be, try taking ovulation tests for a few cycles (ovulation can shift cycle-to-cycle, but it's usually your follicular phase that's getting shorter or longer).