Tailor your training to the different stages of your menstrual cycle

Published on
March 11, 2024

Everyone has a unique cycle. At some points you might feel like a superhuman but at others you’ll want to curl up in bed, so getting in tune with what is going on in your body will help you know where you are and what you need.

Jordan Foster - from our Official Training App, Coopah - explains how you can level up your training by understanding the different stages of your menstrual cycle.

If you are reading this as someone who menstruates, I am sure you will have experienced your cycle having an impact on your running. Your period might have started unexpectedly on a run, or maybe cramps might have stopped you running.

The sooner you learn how to listen to your body and what it is trying to tell you, the sooner you will be able to make the most of those times when you feel your best.

The menstrual cycle lasts from the first day of your period until the first day of your next period. The average cycle is about 28 days, but yours might be closer to the 23 to 35-day mark. During your Training Plan, you will be experiencing a lot of hormonal and, potentially, physical changes. It might sound daunting, especially if you have heavy periods, but here is how to work with your cycle rather than against it.

Your period might even land on Event Day and you can read about what you can do during training to prepare for that here.

There are four main phases to your cycle, let’s look at these and how you can maximise your training for each phase.

Menstrual Phase

The cycle starts with getting your period. As an egg has not been fertilised, your hormone levels drop and the lining of your uterus, which has thickened to support a potential pregnancy, sheds as it is not required. The drop in hormones and blood loss means that you may feel more tired than usual.

Periods last from two to seven days. The NHS says you lose about one to five tablespoons of blood during this time. If you lose more than that amount you might have heavy periods, also called menorrhagia, and it’s a good idea to speak to your GP about your training.

During this phase, it's time to…

1) Pick a low-intensity workout

If you are feeling knackered then walking, easy running, and yoga might be for you. Light exercise can help reduce bloating and pain from cramps. If you feel like you need to take it easy and rest up, that is OK too.

2) Listen to your body

If you regularly strength train, don’t be surprised if your usual load feels a lot heavier, or almost impossible to shift on these days. Due to the extra fatigue you may find it harder to stick to your usual routine, so now would be a great time to switch things up - perhaps focus more on body weight or resistance-based exercise and save the heavy lifting for another time.

Follicular Phase

This is the feel-good phase as your energy levels are on the up and your mood is boosted as a result. After menstruation is over, your oestrogen levels rise as your body prepares to release an egg.

This phase is the longest and can last from 14 to 21 days. It also begins on the first day of your period and continues until the beginning of ovulation, so there is some overlap here.

During this phase, it's time to…

1) Smash your PB

Your body can access stored carbohydrates easier at this time. You can also build and maintain muscle easier and recover from workouts quicker. Now is a great time to push yourself, whether that’s a tough interval run or a HIIT workout. Maybe go for that parkrun PB?

2) Get social

You might be feeling more confident than usual, so if you’ve been thinking about joining a running club or have seen an event you fancy, now is the time.

Ovulation Phase

Ovulation usually happens halfway through your cycle. An egg is released and moves down a fallopian tube for fertilisation. It will break down within 24 hours if it is not fertilised. Similar to the follicular phase, ovulation tends to be a high-energy time.

You might notice a slight rise in your temperature. You can also become bloated or nauseous from the hormone increase. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to head outside to get some fresh air, and stay hydrated.

During this phase, it’s time to…

1) Try something new

During the follicular phase and ovulation, most of us can feel at our best, both physically and mentally. You may be more motivated to try something new. Challenge yourself, it could be as simple as finding a breathwork class to give a go.

2) Go heavier than usual

You also have a small peak in testosterone at this time, making it easier to build lean muscle. If you like to lift, it could be time to go heavier than usual.

Luteal Phase

You’re now into the last phase of your cycle as your body begins to thicken the lining of your uterus, ready to support a pregnancy. The luteal phase happens right after ovulation and typically lasts 12 to 14 days.

During the first part, you will still have energy from ovulation, but this will decrease the closer you get to menstruation. Your hormone levels will begin to drop, and you might experience premenstrual syndrome symptoms, such as mood changes, tender breasts, breakouts, or bloating. During this time, you need to consume more carbs and stay hydrated.

During this phase, it’s time to…

1) Be kind to yourself

Your energy levels are decreasing, so now is not the time to push yourself hard. Switch back to low-intensity exercise that makes you feel good mentally. It could also be a great time to treat yourself to a sports massage.

2) Stay hydrated

Due to increased progesterone levels, your body temperature may be higher than usual. It can impact your running, especially if running for a prolonged period. It doesn’t mean you need to stop, but keep this in mind and know when to ease off, and make sure you stay hydrated.

Do you want a personalised training plan?

Check out London Marathon Events’ Official Training App, Coopah. LME has teamed up with the experts at Coopah to create training plans to help you reach your PB goals. Offering over 500 different workouts, Coopah keeps you motivated and makes running fun for everyone. If you're ready to get started, download the Coopah App now.

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