Being female instantly feels like it’s generally seen as a disadvantage when it comes to training. The amount of times I get comments like “you’re strong for a girl” make me roll my eyes and resist the temptation to reply with “well, you’re weak for a bloke”. 

N.B if you’re going to compliment someone for their physical ability, don’t bring their sex into the mix, just tell them they’re strong.

“It’s because you’re female” were words that used to annoy me, as it felt like it was directed as a weakness when it came to training.  However, it’s not gym-bro sexism, it’s simply scientific fact in certain cases.

After training both men and women as part of my job as a personal trainer, I’ve become fascinated with the anatomical and hormonal differences between both sexes. Even more so since becoming Pre + Post Natal qualified.

It makes me wonder why on earth don’t they teach us this stuff in school.

But that’s a rant for another day.

So… back to the original point of the post.

Overall, when it comes to our make up, men, are a little more straightforward than us females, but we knew that already 😉 To learn a little more on the matter, I signed up to KX Edu‘s course on Female Training Considerations where the topics included all the anatomical and hormonal differences, as well as pre & post natal training considerations.

Today I’m going to chat about Periods and what you should be doing at certain times of the month as if you’re female you’ll only know what these are too well but you might not realise the effect they have on you, other than making you want to dive head first into a bag of Cadbury Milk.

Periodise for Periods

This is probably one for your trainer when it comes to planning your sessions, as naturally you’ll probably adapt your training to how you feel in yourself. Certain times of the month you’ll notice you feel completely knackered or completely the opposite end of the scale and able to take on the world.

In short, females have 3 key hormones which play certain roles and effects on the body:

  • Estrogen (the name for a group of 3 similar hormones)
    • Possesses both pro-inflammatory + anti-inflammatory properties – tissue recycling + repair (aka quicker DOMS recovery)
    • Reduces bone reabsorption and increases bone formation
    • Helps regulate the menstrual cycle
  • Progesterone (a steroid hormone)
    • Prepares for pregnancy by thickening the uterine lining to prepare it for receiving a fertilised egg
  • Testosterone – produced in the adrenals + ovaries (so when you’re tired, your adrenals won’t work to produce testosterone)
    • Works for growth, maintenance + repair of female reproductive tissue
    • Bone health
    • Producing new blood cells
    • Follicle stimulating
    • The female libido

These all combine to create the menstrual cycle.

However throughout the month, they fluctuate, which means one day you could be all powerful, feeling highly sexual, whereas the following week you could be more prone to injury and require more recovery time.

With different hormone levels creating different effects on the body, it’s useful to understand these when it comes to exercise, so you understand you’re not getting unfit or weaker, you might just be about to have your period.

So, here’s what the bloody hell is going on at each phase.

Stage 1: Menstruation / Menstrual Phase

What’s going on:

Lasts approx 3-7 days. At this point your oestrogen and progesterone levels have dropped.

This is where the bleeding begins.  NB. the decrease in haemoglobin and iron due to blood loss is not usually significant enough to affect exercise performance (Janse de Jonge, 2003).

How you’ll feel: 

Probably like you want to kill someone or sit on the sofa and do nothing.

What to do:

Believe it or not, but it’s train! Although it may be the last thing on your mind, especially if you suffer from period pains, technically this is the best period (pardon the pun) to train thanks to the level of your hormones. Around day 2, estrogen + progesterone are at their lowest levels so this is the most favourable day.

What not to do:

  1. Undereat. You might want to add an extra 100-300 calories into your day to help with all that’s going on in your body.
  2. Avoid exercise. I’ll say this one with caution as everyone is different but moving a bit if you can bear it may help ease symptoms.


Stage 2: Follicular / Pre-Ovulatory Phase (days 1-14 of the cycle) 

What’s going on:

Lasts approximately 14 days in which the estrogen levels are increasing to peak at day 12 when ovulation occurs. Testosterone peaks at ovulation too.

How you’ll feel:

Amazing. You’ll have a load of energy with increased use of carbs as a fuel, increased responsiveness to strength training so it’s a perfect time to work on building muscles, increased levels of endurance (Fischetto et al, 2013) plus increased recovery rates (Roupas et al, 2011). As your follicular phase progresses though, you may notice a bot of water retention creeping back in.

What to do:

Get that training in (especially in days 6-12). 

It’s a great time to focus on HIIT and strength/power training, so work on increasing your weights, get in your sprint training or a HIIT session.

You should also adjust your macros to increase your carbs as they are your body’s main energy source during this time and insulin sensitivity is higher.

What not to do:

Not a lot you shouldn’t do in this Phase as you’re invincible!


Stage 3: Luteal / Post-Ovulatory Phase (days 15-28 of cycle)

What’s going on: After ovulation, the empty follicle develops into the corpus luteum which secretes progesterone, preparing for a fertilised egg. Without fertilisation, there’s a drop in progesterone around day 22 which causes the lining of the uterus to die and fall away. Then it’s back to menstruation again.

How you’ll feel:

No longer amazing.

You’ll feel like nothing fits any more thanks to water retention being at its highest, that your hard work has gone out of the window and you want all the food.

  • A bit warmer as your core temperature is higher which means you fatigue faster in the gym
  • Potentially more unstable as joint laxity increases
  • You may also find your recovery time is a little longer/DOMS hang around a bit more as your blood is thicker so the slower blood flow means oxygen delivery is reduced and waste removal is slower.

What to do:

Focus on low intensity training activities like yoga, barre or pilates. If strength training, work to 60-70% load with higher reps.

Also, if you really can’t face training, just rest!

What not to do:

(Especially in the mid to late luteal phase) Overtrain, try anything new, do HIIT or anything unstable (i.e jump lunges) as your knee can move 25% more during this phase so you can be more prone to injury.


So, next time you feel exhausted or frustrated that you’ve not been able to hit your numbers in the gym or keep your usual pace in your run, just check in with yourself on where you’re at in terms of your monthly cycle.

It may have been that excuse for getting out of P.E at school, but it really is a genuine one to just sit out use that day for rest or something a little less strenuous.


However, watch this space for more information as the intent is to write up a series of posts on female training because it’s not spoken about enough.


Author empointer

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