Do you ever notice there are times in your menstrual cycle where you don’t feel as strong, you feel like you can’t jump as high, or you might even notice you’re more clumsy than usual?
This is not your mind playing tricks on you, this is in fact your hormones.
Your cycle is broken up into 28 days, with 4 distinct weeks.
Week one day one is the start of the shedding of your uterus lining- day one of your period. Women typically bleed for 3 to 7 days depending on a whole host of factors (such as age, stress levels, nutrition, etc). This is also known as week one of your follicular phase. During this week your estrogen and testosterone levels are relatively balanced.
In week two these levels rise to peak at ovulation – approximately day 14/15. Your body releases an egg to be fertilized.
Post ovulation, estrogen and testosterone decrease as progesterone increases (weeks 3 and 4- aka your Luteal Phase), telling your body to thicken the lining of your uterus in anticipation of pregnancy. If the egg does not become fertilized, the cycle begins again.
Hormone fluctuations can have some interesting impacts on the female body.
And if you’re an athlete in a power production sport, such as weight lifting or CrossFit, you may notice these impacts first hand.
- Testosterone can make you more aggressive, with “improved neural activation and motor system function” – this means you can decide what you want to do and make it happen faster.
- On the other hand, increased progesterone can decrease power output by affecting how quickly your brain processes information.
- Estrogen has a positive impact on power production, much like testosterone, it helps your brain be “awake” and in turn increases reaction time.
Below is a graph of how these different hormones fluctuate throughout the month:
You can see why the female body is a challenge for scientific studies.
The other challenging part of this is that no two months are exactly the same. Nutrition, nutrients, cortisol, sleep, age, hydration, exercise itself, even time of year and sun exposure can all play a role in impacting hormones.
In addition, PERCEPTION of performance can impact actual performance. Because of the sedative/relaxing effect of progesterone, while your body might truly be able to jump as high on say day 21 of your period, you might not FEEL as though you can.
What does this mean for you as an athlete?
First, it means you should be tracking your cycle. Including symptoms. Knowing what positively and negatively impacts your cycle, including length of time and amount of bleeding, will help you understand YOUR body.
By tracking, you can also get a grasp of- is it your hormones that are affecting your strength, or the training you did yesterday or last week?
You can go a step further with tracking and pay attention to sleep, nutrition, and life factors and see how they all play a role.
We’re holistic creatures, meaning that everything affects everything else.
If you’re tired from lack of sleep, combined with undereating the day before, and it’s also your PMS week, this could play a much larger role in missing a heavy lift, versus progesterone production alone.
You can also optimize your training based on the trends you see with your cycle and how you feel.
If you notice that on days 15-20 you feel as though you fly through the air and you’re extra snappy, prioritize your power training during this time. If you can put an extra 5lbs on your clean here, then your baseline strength increases as well (the days of the month when you feel you’re at your weakest).
Lastly, approach this with curiosity.
Don’t decide you can’t max out your snatch because you’re not as powerful based on your hormones. Approach your training with a “I wonder what’s possible” mentality.
By challenging yourself to be the best EVERY day of training, you know you can ride the wave of hormone fluctuations no matter WHERE you are in your cycle!
Want to join a program that navigates hormones around training EVERY DAY? It’s what we DO! Check us out!