For Women Only

When it comes to training men and women, most coaches believe they should not be trained any differently. I happen to believe the situation is not that simple, as physiological differences between the sexes require different training strategies. The main concern is that of menstruation.

Most coaches fail to consider how a woman’s body responds to resistance training during her 28 day hormonal cycle. To be fair, not all women are affected equally during menstruation. Take for instance, two of my clients, “Lisa” and “Mary.” Both are Division 1 track and field athletes, and their response to their menstruation cycles are as different as night and day. During certain phases of her cycle, Lisa cannot resistance train due to the painful cramps she experiences. At times they can be severe that her doctor prescribes her a mild sedative to ease her discomfort. Mary however, can train throughout her 28 day cycle and rarely experiences any discomfort.

Here’s a graphic I refer to when designing a training program for women:

Each phase of menstruation has unique physiological and psychological characteristics which require specific changes to a training program.
Days 1 to 5
Higher perceived exertion and fatigue
Increased risk of injury due to joint laxity and lack of focus
Increased low back pain

 

Days 6 to 13
Ideal phase for hard strength training sessions
Hardest training sessions of the month should be planned during this period

Day 14
Testosterone peaks, ideal time for a maximum effort training session

Days 15 to 21
Maintain the same high intensity and training volume

Days 22 to 28
Reduction in reaction time, dexterity and agility
Higher perceived exertion and fatigue
Increased risk of injury due to joint laxity and lack of focus

It’s also important to note the changes that occur to body composition, such as water retention. It’s not uncommon for women to gain an additional 5-10 lbs of water during her cycle. This fact is important to remember, as a trainer (male or female) without a solid understanding of female hormonal issues, may believe the weight gain is the client’s fault.

The training programs I design for my elite female clients are dynamic and reflect what’s occurring to their bodies hormonally. To do otherwise, would be denying them the ability to reach their goals safely and in a timely manner.

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  1. johannal
    August 6, 2009 at 12:39

    Jess I take offense to this post. For one- very few women have 28 day cycles. Do you know what length of cycle every female client of your has?Two I try to train for life. Life doesn't care where I am in my cycle when it makes physical demands of me. If my job was military or law enforcement would the demands of the job change depending on the day of the month? No, so in my own training I hope that I train without regard to that. May I miss a PR on a workout one day and realize that it's that time of the month? maybe but does that mean I'm not going to push myself? Not at all.

  2. Jess Banda
    August 6, 2009 at 13:03

    Not trying to offen anyone…you're right, not all women are on a strict 28 day cycle, it's an average. When working with elite female clients, I track their cycle. I stated that not all women are affected the same, some feel extremely fatigued aand others don't. However, as a strength coach, I am paid exptremely well to look after my athletes and to guarantee results. Knowing what is occuring hormonally with a female client, allows me to tweak her program for max results. For instance, knowing when a female has high testosterone, would benefit us when working of absolute/relative strength. It would also be smart of us to choose events/competitions that fall within her cycle when she has high testosterone levels. Remember, my femaale clients are up for scholarships, sponsorship or endorsement money and they have to ensure every aspect of their training is tailored for maximum results/performance. Now, if a female doesn't make a living through athletic performance, then she may need need to train ccording to her cycle…it's her choice. However, when working with "regular Janes" there is a noticeable difference in exercise tolerance levels within their cycle. It would be stupid of me to demand that a female client attempt to lift the same weight when she is tired, fatigued and is experiencing low back pain. My job is to minimize risk.

  3. March 13, 2010 at 01:35

    Funny how a post can be interpreted so differently: I’m also training for life (health and longevity but also performance) and because I love it and I’m not going to aim for an cycle optimized program but still I’m grateful to have this information. I think it may tremendously help to understand my own training and performance at a particular time. I didn’t at all get the feeling that you’d be recommending everyone to do this but you just generously offered your expertise on the subject for us that are not elite trainers. Tho I’d like to think myself as elite 😀

    Anyway, since I’ve always been fascinated by the hormonal system within and thought that there’s still so much we don’t know, I’m happy to receive any new or additional information I can then use the way it feels appropriate. Btw, Jess, you’ve probably read the Lights out? Interesting stuff, just working on getting trough Sex, lies and menopause to be able to better help my female (especially older) trainees.

    • March 13, 2010 at 11:20

      Lights Out is a great book…sleep is extremely underrated for it’s importance in fat loss. Being in the fitness/strength business requires many of the same talents needed for occupational therapy. Both professions require you to look at the “big picture.” Each person and situation is unique…while we all have the same biology, we each require an individualized approach. When dealing with hormones, this gets even more difficult because there are hundreds of factors that can influence how they react or at wht speed these reaction occur. Within the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing how I handles clients with similar issues, using different means.
      Jess Banda

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