Menstruation Shapes When and How to Train

Jan 09, 2024

100 Year Athlete Book Club: ROAR, Chapter 2: Demystifying and Mastering Your Menstrual Cycle

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If you joined us last week, you know that this is a podcast discussion between two male strength coaches. Like most strength coaches, we weren’t taught nearly enough about female physiology. We are reading ROAR by Dr. Stacy Sims and to address this blind spot in our education. 

In Chapter 2, Dr. Sims discusses the impact of menstrual cycles on training and performance. Here are our top 5 takeaways:

  • For the purposes of training, we can think of the menstrual cycle in two distinct phases: low hormone and high hormone. The low hormone phase (“follicular”) takes place before ovulation, typically from day 1 to 14 in a 28-day cycle. The high hormone phase (“luteal”)  follows ovulation and spans day 14 to 28. Estrogen and progesterone production ramp up around day 12 and reach peak levels about 5 days before a person’s period begins. 
  • Athletic performance usually peaks during the low hormone phase, but that can vary from person to person. During the low hormone phase, athletes are likely to experience max power, speed, and strength, so it makes sense to program the most intense training sessions during that stretch. That said, women experience hormonal fluctuations differently, and 28 days is only the average for a cycle, which can range from 21 to 35 days. Dr. Sims recommends tracking not just the cycle but how you feel each day using smartphone apps like FitrWoman.
  • Changes in hormonal release may affect perceptions of progress. Imagine that an athlete hits her new back squat PR on day 5 of the cycle but maxes out at a 10% lower weight on day 20. She may worry that she’s getting weaker or not fueling and recovering properly, when it’s just physiological. 
  • VO2 max and lactate threshold remain constant throughout the cycle. That means aerobic and endurance ability doesn’t fall off during the high hormonal phase. Generally, athletes can train endurance without worrying about hormonal impacts on performance.  
  • Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) is not a result of being too lean or training too hard. An athlete with RED-S experiences declining performance and energy levels that can have serious health impacts if left unaddressed. Women and men develop RED-S because they are malnourished, so the best prevention is proper nutrition. Athletes who stop experiencing their period – often a symptom of RED-S – need to address that urgently because of the potential health consequences. ROAR has a detailed guide on how to recover.

Bottom line: Track your cycles to guide training decisions and time your most intense sessions. Prioritize high-intensity strength, speed, and power during the low hormone phase and schedule lower-intensity training for the high hormone phase. 

For more detailed guidance on menstruation and training, read ROAR. If you’d like to change your training cadence based on data from cycle tracking, talk to an OTM coach. We can help.