I’m sorry girls, but I am one of the few who rarely experiences menstrual symptoms so it took me several years of coaching female athletes before I started to take women’s cycles and how they affected their training seriously.
Physically, there is no reason why a woman’s body can’t perform as well during her cycle than at any other time of the month. However, it is the mind that comes to the training session in a fatigued state. The brain is exhausted from dealing with the hormone fluctuations, mood swings, bloating and cramps. This lowers the athlete’s tolerance to pain, meaning they will give up earlier than usual or not perform to their best ability due to a higher level of perceived exertion for a lessor effort.
If this happens, my already moody athlete also becomes discouraged from her sudden lack of performance. She will feel like she is working just as hard, if not harder than in past training sessions, but isn’t able to complete the same times or distances that she is accustomed to.
My solution is not to fight mother nature. A training schedule is built with rest weeks which typically occur every 21 days. “Ahhh,” she says with revelation. Most schedules will allow for 3-10 days of recovery after 2 or 3 weeks of increased volume or intensity. If your cycle is regular, your coach can manipulate this recovery time to coincide with your monthly schedule. If your cycle isn’t regular, you can adjust the program by swapping the training week. This may mean that you may get your recovery week a few days early or you may have to push through another week of intensity. This may seem hard at the time but not as hard as doing hill repeats with cramps and bloating.
For those of you who believe in the ‘No Pain No Gain’ way of training or in the thought that sometimes you need to train when tired, I agree with both philosophies and generally use them as principles in my programs. However, the menstrual cycle is not applicable to either rule. Your body is not actually tired. It is your mind that is tired. Your pain receptors are at a lower threshold so everything will feel more difficult than usual. By training in this state, you achieve little to no strength and no endurance benefits, which means you have put yourself through hell for no reason.
If your goal is to perform well in your race or event, you gain more benefits by staying home on the couch with a hot water bottle on your tummy. Don’t worry about feeling guilty (most athletes feel guilty staying home when they aren’t really sick) because you come back the following week feeling rested, full of energy and ready to make up for the lost time!
If you are concerned that Madame Flow will visit you on race day, don’t stress. If this happens, take some Advil in the morning and pack some with you to take during the event. Then allow the endorphin rush of wearing a race number take the pain away. Remember, it is mental! You will forget the pain as soon as the race begins and there is no reason why you can’t perform just as well if your mind is strong!
Follow your body’s natural instincts and perform when you are at your best.
Written by Kristina Bangma