I want to start by saying, this is the simple version. The nuts and bolts, generalized, stereotyped, regular version that will only work for about 15% of your client base! This is because only about 15% of all women have a 28 day cycle.
To further complicate things, all women react to the varying hormone levels differently; some feel amazing at some points, while others will feel downright awful. However, when you get your rhythm right, it’s a game changer for your female clients, and will get them working easier, sticking to diets better, and getting results in a way you always had to fight for before.
So, the first thing to do is start tracking. You want to know about, on any (or every) given day, things like:
- Sleep quality
- Skin changes
and then match your session plans.
After at least 3 cycles (which may or may not be 3 months) you should start to see a pattern. Now, lack of a pattern is a symptom that i think should warrant a visit to the GP, but not just any GP, preferably an integrative one or one who is just passionate about women’s health. There are also Naturopaths out there who specialize in fertility, which is the same thing as hormonal health.
Once you’ve got your client’s pattern, then the way to start matching your training to her cycle is very simple:
- Phase 1 is menstruation. This is when she’s bleeding. It can go anywhere from 3-5 days and shouldn’t be heavier than a super pad to absorb a few hours of blood. Bleeding that is excessively heavy, painful, or longer than 5 days should be referred. Some women will feel excessively tired, which is also a warning sign to get their iron checked, while others will feel released and energised!
- Phase 2 is the follicular phase, or low hormone phase. It is in this phase that women are the most like men, and characterized by a slow increase in Oestrogen, followed by a sharp increase in Luteinizing Hormone right before Ovulation. In this phase it is the most comfortable time for most women to train hard, lift heavy, and diet.
Her testosterone is at it’s highest in this phase, so strength gains are better. Take advantage of this and schedule her muscle building exercise for this phase.
- Ovulation will sometimes be symptomatic for some women, with back or abdominal pain, and others it will pass unnoticed, but either way, she is more at risk of injury during this time, so slow down your reps and cut back the plyometrics where possible.
- Phase 4 is the Luteal Phase, and characterised by a large increase of progesterone. In some ways this hormone is wonderful, helping your female client sleep, but in other ways it can make training less comfortable. Her core temperature will rise, she becomes more sensitive to insulin, her metabolic rate increases. This phase of the cycle is not good for dieting, and calories should be increased by at least 100 per day if she is dieting. Training can still be hard, but she’s more at risk of overheating, so it is a perfect time to lengthen your sessions and work on endurance.
The end of phase 4 is the most common time for athletes to feel down, lethargic, and unmotivated, so go with it and prescribe a week (or so) of light exercise, walking, yoga, and recovery.
Performance is only impaired minimally by the late luteal or menstrual phase, so don’t skip important meets or competitions because of her period.
However starting to sync your intensity and objectives to literally “go with her flow” will make sticking to your program easier for her.