Female-Athlete-Tire-Flip
Source: Pressmaster

Influence of the Menstrual Cycle on Programming for Performance-Based CrossFit Athletes

"Almost no one talks about a mechanism which takes part in every woman’s life: menstruation and how it could potentially affect athletic performance in some women."

The levels of requirement and achievement are rising in almost every sport. Especially in CrossFit, an increasing number of people invest a lot of money in monthly membership fees and even external individual programming. They spend a remarkable amount of hours in their Box, trying to find out how to improve their athletic performance. But almost no one talks about a mechanism which takes part in every woman’s life: menstruation and how it could potentially affect athletic performance in some women.

Therefore, a questionnaire with subjective questions was designed and distributed online to reach competitive CrossFit girls. In the end, 51 women from all over the world, who train more than fifteen hours each week, answered this questionnaire about their general background, regularity of their menstrual cycle and other sport specific questions.

Menstrual Disorders

92% of the athletes always train during menstruation and have to handle the nuisance which comes with the bleeding. The study also shows that only 53% of the subjects menstruate regularly. However, in this cluster there is just a small correlation between the hours they spend in training and the presence of menstrual disorders.

Menstrual Cycle and Performance

Despite the high percentage of menstrual disorders, 65% have the feeling that the menstrual cycle influences their performance. However, only 52% of the athletes in this study have the opportunity to adapt their training plans to their menstrual cycle. This arises the question how optimum training for female competitive athletes should look like. For this reason, athletes were asked during which part of the menstrual cycle they feel strongest, prefer to train high intensity, are most focused to work on their skills and feel that their endurance is best. The majority of athletes responded that they could perform each of these four components best just after menstruation. But other scientific studies don’t support these subjective perceptions.

In general, scientific studies show that the athletic performance is reduced in the luteal phase (Day 15.-28.) because of a higher progesterone level[1].

Strength

This article shows that strength follows the same pattern. Strength is easiest to train during the follicular phase (Day 1.-14.), because of the higher level of oestrogen during this phase in the menstrual cycle.

Moreover, the maximum isometric force is reduced by 23% before ovulation (Day 13.-16.)  and there is an increase in muscle strength and muscle diameter in follicular training phase compared to luteal phase. This due to the higher concentrations of testosterone and free testosterone during the follicular phase[2].

To sum up: the post menstrual phase in which there is an increase in oestrogen and nor-adrenaline levels is associated with performance improvement, which supports the subjective perceptions.

High Intensity

Intensity plays an essential role in CrossFit. Therefore, for most competitive women it is important to know in which part of their menstrual cycle their performance increases.

The time for which exhaustive exercise can be maintained is significantly less in the follicular phase[3]. Lactate levels are higher in the follicular phase, both at the end of heavy exercise and at exhaustion.

To sum up: Performance of high-intensity exercise is improved during luteal phase, because estradiol and progesterone levels are elevated.

Endurance

Before menstruation the core temperature increases, which leads to a higher metabolic rate. During this phase of the cycle the ventilation is higher and this results in a lower respiratory exchange ratio during the luteal phase3.

In contrast during the postmenstrual phase the mean submaximal oxygen uptake[4] increases.

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To sum up: these scientific findings support the subjective sensation of the test persons. The best results in endurance tasks seem to happen after menstruation.

Focus

Because of a higher progesterone level during the luteal phase the psychological performance accelerates. The response speed increases during the luteal phase, with a maximum 2 days before menstruation, and drops quickly over menstruation[5].

To sum up: the luteal phase is the best moment to train movements which require a lot of focus.

Conclusion

For competitive women, it makes sense to get their training plan geared to their menstrual cycle. They should focus on strength and endurance after their menstruation during the late follicular phase. Before their menstruation they should shift towards high skill work which needs lots of focus and high intensity workouts.

But these results don’t fit everybody, because of menstrual disorders or oral contraceptive pills. To maximize performance, be honest about your menstruation with your coach and keep a diary about how you feel during training. This will allow you to improve your performance by basing your training plan on your menstrual cycle with the support from your coach.

Good to know

Ovarian Cycle[6]
Follicular phase

–    Early follicular phase (Day 1. – 7.)

–    Late follicular phase (Day 7. – 14. Tag)

Ovulation (14 ± 2 days)

 

Luteal phase (Day 15. – 28.)

References

  • Creutzfeldt, O. D.; Arnold, P. M.; Becker, D.; Langenstein, S.; Tirsch, W.; Wilhelm, H.; Wuttke, W. (1976): EEG changes during spontaneous and controlled menstrual cycles and their correlation with psychological performance. In: Electroencephalography and clinical neurophysiology 40 (2), S. 113–131.
  • Fox, L. E., Bowers, R. W., & Foss, M. L. (1988). The physiological basis of physical education and athletics, U.S.A. 379-386, 553-569.
  • Jurkowski, J. E.; Jones, N. L.; Toews, C. J.; Sutton, J. R. (1981): Effects of menstrual cycle on blood lactate, O2 delivery, and performance during exercise. In: Journal of applied physiology: respiratory, environmental and exercise physiology 51 (6), S. 1493–1499.
  • Pallavi, L. C.; D Souza, Urban John; Shivaprakash, G. (2017): Assessment of Musculoskeletal Strength and Levels of Fatigue during Different Phases of Menstrual Cycle in Young Adults. In: Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR 11 (2), CC11-CC13. DOI: 10.7860/JCDR/2017/24316.9408.
  • Stauber, Manfred; Weyerstahl, Thomas; Beham, Alexander (2005): Gynäkologie und Geburtshilfe. 213 Tabellen; [mit Video-CD-ROM: Filme zu Spontangeburt und Sectio]. 2., aktualisierte Aufl. mit Video-CD-ROM. Stuttgart: Thieme (Das duale Lehrbuch).
  • Tomasits, Josef; Haber, Paul (2015): Leistungsphysiologie. Lehrbuch für Sport- und Physiotherapeuten und Trainer. 5., erw. überarb. Aufl. 2016. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Online verfügbar unter http://gbv.eblib.com/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=4100784. 

[1] Tomasits & Haber (2015)

[2] Pallavi et al. (2017)

[3] Jurkowski et al. (1981)

[4] Fox et al. (1988)

[5] Creutzfeldt et al. (1976)

[6] Stauber (2005), S.96