Not taking into account the phases of the menstrual cycle, and above all, how they adapt and influence athletes, is not a taboo, it is simply a lost opportunity to train more efficiently and more effectively at all times. 

The body of a woman in a chidbearing age prepares itself each month to be a mother. This is not a choice, but a biological programming, which is only altered if there is a problem. This process does not stop you from training, neither to generate adaptations, however, in each phase the hormonal predisposition is different and this facilitates some processes, while hindering others. The human body prioritizes, and the more we understand it, the more we can adapt our proposal to the athletes.

Before getting into the phases, let’s go with a quick contextualization:

? The menstrual cycle begins on the first day of the period and ends when the next period begins.

? Menarche is the first menstruation of a woman and menopause the moment where it ends. Within this period a woman is considered biologically fertile for pregnancy.

The cycle is divided into 3 phases, which in practice become 5:

Follicular Phase A – Menstruation: Lasts approximately between 3 and 6 days. It is the most difficult time for sports performance, because iron and hemoglobin losses occur, due to bleeding. The more bleeding, the bigger losses. This affects the oxygenation processes of the muscle and the levels of fatigue increase as a warning signal, through increasing the heart rate. The ideal in this phase would be short sessions with low oxygen demands and if possible at low intensity.

Follicular Phase B – Post Menstruation: Approx. between days 5 and 14 of the cycle. There is a progressive increase in estrogen levels, reaching the maximum on day 14. This situation makes it the best time to increase intensity and duration of the workouts, since it is easier to assimilate the loads, increasing the capacity of work and recovery. This is a good time to build strength and insist on high intensity efforts and short intervals.

Ovulation Phase: It occurs in the middle of the cycle, approx. on day 14 and lasts about 3 days. Initially it is the highest moment of performance and strength because it is when there is the highest concentration of estrogen (which has been progressively increasing in the previous phase), but you have to be careful because in this phase progesterone increases and this can generate imbalances, such as for example, more laxity, affecting the tension and stiffness of muscles and joints.

Luteal Phase: It takes place in the second half of the cycle, between days 16-28. There are two parts, an initial one until the 24th approx. where an adequate level of performance is maintained because there is still estrogen, while progesterone continues to increase. Both hormones can facilitate strength, endurance, and speed. In the second part of the cycle, between days 24 and 28, there may be a decrease in performance because progesterone is in large amounts and estrogen in very low values. Progesterone has the function of preparing the body for fertilization, not for sports performance, so this process can cause fluid retention, increased heart rate and blood pressure, changes in mood (increased apathy and irritability), possible gastric problems, increased temperature (easier for dehydration), increased feeling of fatigue and tiredness. The most appropriate type of effort at this time would be steady, low intensity rhythms.

Summary

Considering all the phases, you might be scared: “Should I workout?”

First of all, not everyone will experience the process with the same duration and intensity, so first of all, it would be good to know how long the phases last, what intensity, peculiarities and regularity they have in your athletes, to know what their reality is.

On the other hand, surely you are considering that the competitive calendar cannot be modified to adapt it to the menstrual cycle.

What you can do is take into account these parameters and the phase your players are in, to modulate training loads, efforts, breaks, recovery, etc. and adapt the work as much as possible, depending on the phase in which they are.

It will always be better to adapt what is possible, even if it is little, than to ignore the existence of the difference phases and not take this into account when planning our proposals, sessions and training loads.

Bibliography

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Märker, K. (1981) Influence of athletic training on the maturity Process in girls. Medicine and Sport, 15: 119-123.

Prior, J.C. (1985). Luteal phase defects and anovulation: adaptative alterations occurring with conditioning exercise. Sem. Reprod. Endocrinol. 3, 27-33.

Marcus, R., Cann, C., Madvig, P., Minkoff, J., Goddard, M., Beyer, M., Martin, M. Gaudiani, L. Haskell, W., and Genant, H. (1985). Menstrual function and bone mass in elite women distance runners: endocrine and metabolic features. Pubmed 102: 158-163.

Guijarro, E., de la Vega, R., del Valle, S. (2009). Ciclo menstrual, rendimiento y percepción del esfuerzo en jugadoras de fútbol de élite. Revista Internacional de Medicina y Ciencias de la Actividad Física y el Deporte vol. 9 (34) pp. 96-104.

Godoy, L.A., Guilarte, Y., Hernández, P., Bonilla, J.L. (2010) Menstruación y rendimiento. Revista Digital EF Deportes, 140 (14).

Aguilar-Macías, A., Ruiz-Sánchez, JM. (2019). El entrenamiento femenino en el mediofondo, ciclo menstrual y necesidades actuales. Ciencia y Deporte. Vol. 4. No. 1, enero – julio, 2019, p.1-18.