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Menstrual Cycle and Strength Performance

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The menstrual cycle consists of two main phases the follicular and luteal phase, which are determined by various concentrations of reproductive hormones and changes in basal body temperature.

The Follicular Phase

The follicular phase is divided into two stages: the early follicular phase (EFP) and the late follicular phase (LFP). The EFP is determined by low concentrations of both oestrogen and progesterone, whereas the LFP is identified by its low progesterone levels and high oestrogen (Romero-Moraleda Blanca et al., 2019). During the late follicular phase, a person may feel most energised. This is the greatest opportunity for developing muscular strength. This may be due to the heightened concentrations of oestrogen in comparison to progesterone which has presented an anabolic effect on muscular strength (Sung et al., 2014).

The peak in testosterone concentration along with oestrogen, have also been seen to induce anabolic effects within resistance training, which have led to improved strength performances nearer to ovulation (Fischetto & Sax, 2013). These two hormones enhance muscle glycogen storage, which is required for muscles to work efficiently (Sims & Heather, 2018). This may be the best time in your training to achieve a personal best.

The Luteal Phase

The luteal phase (LP) is identified by higher levels of progesterone than oestrogen, which unlike the follicular phase, presents a catabolic effect to muscular strength during this phase within the menstrual cycle. Subsequently, Oosthuyse & Bosch, (2010) also presented findings that suggested higher levels of progesterone may promote protein degradation. The luteal phase would therefore benefit from lower impact exercise such as yoga or Pilates. This supports that the late follicular phase would be an ideal phase for athletes to gain their potential, regarding muscular strength development, as the levels of oestrogen are higher than the progesterone concentrations (Pallavi, Souza & Shivaprakash, 2017).

The luteal phase has also demonstrated a lack of neuromuscular coordination and reaction time, which may negatively impact performance (Fischetto & Sax, 2013). Many female athletes have suggested that due to the increased basal body temperature within the luteal phase, the prescribed exercises seem to increase the subjective feeling of greater exertion- which may result to a decline in performance (Sims & Heather, 2018).

Therefore, when periodising training, both the athlete and the coach should be aware of the individual menstrual cycle. This will assure that the training plan is periodised correctly regarding strenuous exercises and rest in association with the different menstrual phases (Fischetto & Sax, 2013).

Length of Menstrual Cycle

The first day of the menstrual cycle is determined as the onset of menstruation (Cable & Elliot, 2004). The length of each menstrual phase within the menstrual cycle may vary slightly depending on the individual (Najmabadi et al., 2020). Assuming the female is eumenorrheic, then the follicular phase starts on the first day of an individual’s period and lasts the duration of roughly 16 days up until ovulation (which lasts around 16-32 hours). The luteal phase would on average last 12 days.

However, both phases could vary between 10-15 days; in some cases, up to 17 days (Najmabadi et al., 2020; Cable & Elliot, 2004). Therefore, proposing that each individual experiences slightly different lengths of the menstrual phases. When planning strength training around the athlete’s personal menstrual cycle, progress to muscular strength should be presented (Sung et al., 2014).

Hormonal Fluctuations

Basal body temperature is also increased by 0.3-0.5℃ at ovulation and is sustained throughout the luteal phase; this is one method of determining which phase the individual is experiencing. In addition, a decrease is then presented post menstruation within the follicular phase (Jonge, 2003; Johnson, 2008). The increasing oestrogen levels during the follicular phase triggers the pituitary gland which releases luteinising hormone (LH) resulting to ovulation (Elliot-Sale et al., 2013).

The anterior pituitary gland has a role of secreting the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and LH, which are both used to mediate ovarian steroidogenesis such as, oestrogen and progesterone across the Menstrual Cycle (Elliot-Sale et al., 2013). Oestrogen reaches its peak at ovulation which occurs between days 12-14 (Herzberg et al., 2017). Luteinizing hormone stimulates the ovaries and adrenal glands which produces testosterone. Steroidogenesis such as testosterone has been shown to reach its peak during the late follicular phase and is considerably lower within the luteal phase (Sims & Heather, 2018 Fischetto & Sax, 2013).

Fischetto, G., & Sax, A. (2013). The menstrual cycle and sport performance. Obes Rev, 28(3/4), 57-69.

Herzberg, S., Motu’apuaka, M., Lambert, W., Fu, R., Brady, J., & Guise, J. (2017). [Review of The Effect of Menstrual Cycle and Contraceptives on ACL Injuries and Laxity: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis]. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 5(7), 2325967117718781.

Najmabadi, S., Schliep, K. C., Simonsen, S. E., Porucznik, C. A., Egger, M. J., & Stanford, J. B. (2020). Menstrual bleeding, cycle length, and follicular and luteal phase lengths in women without known subfertility: A pooled analysis of three cohorts. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology.

Oosthuyse, T., & Bosch, A. (2010). The effect of the menstrual cycle on exercise metabolism. Sports Medicine, 40(3), 207-227. doi:10.2165/11317090-000000000-00000

Romero-Moraleda Blanca, Coso, J. D., Gutiérrez-Hellín Jorge, Ruiz-Moreno Carlos, Jozo, G., & Beatriz, L. (2019). The influence of the menstrual cycle on muscle strength and power performance. Journal of Human Kinetics, 68(1), 123-133. doi:10.2478/hukin-2019-0061

Sims, S. T., & Heather, A. K. (2018). Myths and methodologies: Reducing scientific design ambiguity in studies comparing sexes and/or menstrual cycle phases. Experimental Physiology, 103(10), 1309-1317. doi:10.1113/EP086797

Sung, E., Han, A., Hinrichs, T., Vorgerd, M., Manchado, C., & Platen, P. (2014). Effects of follicular versus luteal phase-based strength training in young women. Springerplus, 3(1), 668.