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Working with the menstrual cycle: Female optimised training coming soon to road.cc

Bleeding once a month doesn’t have to be a negative; here’s how I’m going to learn to use it to my advantage

It’s International Women’s Day, so what better time to let you all know about something I’ve been itching to say is coming up on road.cc…

Female physiology: it’s very different to men’s—so why are we all training like men? Well, for such a long time we haven’t known any different, as research barely touches on training specifically regarding women’s hormones. But that is starting to change, so join me along my journey in discovering how to train with my body and turn tracking my period away from being “oh, is it that time of the month ALREADY”, towards my means of making the most of when I’m at my strongest.

So coming up…

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I’ll be sharing my experiences of completing one menstrual-cycle-long training block where each session is optimised for my body and aligned with my menstrual cycle. I’ll be recording this for a vlog that will appear on road.cc’s YouTube channel—give it a cheeky subscribe here so you don’t miss out…

This upcoming vlog is going to look at how the intensity of the sessions should be varied during each phase of the menstrual cycle—such as which stage it’s best to pack in the hard workouts as this is when the female hormones enable us to be our strongest (looking at both strength and endurance), and when it’s sensible to rein it in a little. All of this will be backed up with links back to the science.

The optimised training block will be prescribed to me based on the symptoms I experience across my natural period cycle, which is usually 29 to 30 days long (not that far off the national average of 28)*, by cycling coach Jasmijn Muller of BE THE EGG Cycle Coaching. She was one of just 50 people to take part in Dr Stacy Sims’ inaugural ‘Women are Not Small Men’ 2019 course, and in August 2020, she was once again one of the guinea pigs for Dr Stacy Sims’ Menopause for Athletes course.

Jasmijn applies all of what she learnt from the courses with Dr Stacy Sims with her female clients but also continues to stay up to date with the latest literature and webinars on the subject of exercise and hormones. I’m so excited to be guided through this new approach to training by someone so across the current research, as well as having practical experience form coaching female clients in this way week in week out.

Why is it important to train like a woman?

“Your physiology, your hormones and your training are all aligned,” Jasmijn says. “Progressive overload followed by a short de-load on a standardised ‘3 weeks on, 1 week off’ pattern frequently applied to men does not permit women to take advantage of optimal training adaptations the way they can if they match their training intensity to their physiology and hormone levels.”

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“In men you only have in-day fluctuations in hormone levels to consider; in women, it differs from day to day.”

“By rejigging your training schedule to do the hard stuff when your hormones allow you to do the hardest stuff, and by backing off a little bit when you’re in a different hormonal environment, you get better results.”

But as well as optimising the training plan to schedule sessions when the hormones empower you to be at your best, Jasmijn also looks at ways to reduce the effect menstrual-related symptoms have on you and your training, providing more flexibility with when you can execute certain sessions and, perhaps more importantly, events and races which are at a fixed date on the calendar.

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“In theory, you may want to schedule a particular training session at a particular time of the month, but in practice, with our hormones we don’t have that luxury so it’s also about learning how we can mitigate for some menstrual symptoms,” Jasmijn says. Yoga, nutrition and hydration can all be utilised…

The natural menstrual cycle is divided into two distinct phases, Jasmijn explains. Day one is when bleeding begins and this first half of the cycle is called the follicular phase. The second half is the luteal phase and in between the two, ovulation takes place.

“Dr Stacy Sims refers to the follicular phase as being the low hormone phase, as progesterone is low throughout and oestrogen-only starts to rise later. While the luteal is the high hormone phase as both progesterone and oestrogen are raised during this phase,” Jasmijn says.

Over the course of the vlog, Jasmijn will guide me through the hormones in each of these phases, the impact and logic of the training sessions she has set, as well as nutritional support and mitigation for performance and recovery.

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Already following Jasmijn’s advice, I’ve been using the Wild.Ai app for the last month to note down when I bled, for how long and how heavy, as well as the symptoms I’ve been experiencing during my menstruation and across other parts of the cycle.

As with all training, by tracking and analysing responses to different sessions over time, more can be done to adapt the plan to further optimise specific symptoms.

While women are not the same as men, not all women are the same as all women, either. This vlog will provide an insight into female physiology, what’s going in each phase of the natural period cycle, and although the lengths of these do vary slightly woman to woman, most of the same principles apply.  

Ribble’s support

It’s all well and good having the optimal training, but having a bike that gives you the confidence to push your limits, as well as the platform to power through to PBs when you’re at your strongest each month, is all part of it.

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Massive thanks to Ribble for kitting me out with the Endurance SL R Disc as ridden by the Drops Le Col team. I'm looking forward to smashing some sessions on it.

Ribble’s approach to women’s bikes has always gelled with my belief about what’s the best approach. It’s also great to see their recent involvement with professional women’s cycling with the Drops Le Col team and I am super pleased to have their support (which has come with lots of enthusiasm) with this project and raising awareness of female optimised training.

Sasha Castling, Head of PR at Ribble says: “We’ve had a long association with pro teams and becoming involved with women’s professional cycling has been discussed at board level for quite some time. When the Drops Le Col supported by Tempur partnership was suggested we jumped at the opportunity.

“It is a key point of difference for us to talk specifically and appeal to women and not to simply ‘shrink and pink’ our range. Experts at our physical retail stores can discuss the specific requirements of our customers including sizing with a personalised bike fitting. Our website also has a one-way video call feature to engage with our experts and gain a greater insight into the bike range and answer any questions. Our Bike Builder tool allows the customer to tailor the specification – all contact points can be changed, from the saddle, bar width to stem and crank lengths etc. We also have the option of Custom Colour – giving the riders the freedom to create their own unique statement design.

“The Drops Le Col partnership has only just begun and we are already in conversations about how we can work together to use the team’s experience and insight to help educate and promote the aspects of the life of a professional cyclist and how this can benefit the lives of all our female customers. We are incredibly proud to support the team and look forward to ways in which we can shine a spotlight on women’s cycling and enrich the wonderful world cycling can offer to women as a whole, together. 

“It's great to be working with Anna and road.cc in supporting this feature and highlighting this subject, launched to align with International Women’s Day, and to follow her journey.”

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While all training is completed to get fitter, I have my sights on racing the cyclo-cross season for the first time** and so the training Jasmijn will be assigning me will work towards improving my fitness for the CX efforts as part of my preparation for some mudfest action.

The CX season doesn’t start until the autumn, so I’m not currently tapering or peaking for an upcoming event. This block is all about optimising a regular month’s training to my natural period cycle to get stronger for cyclo-cross related efforts.

As this learning experience is all centred around when my body decides its time to bleed, I plan to start this training block (and month vlog) on 18 March, and so hopefully the vlog will land at the end of April.

I can quite honestly say that normally when I feel the dreaded slight ache of my lower back that instantly puts me in a foul mood (which is made slightly better by giving in to my craving of eating copious amounts of chocolate—Galaxy, and lots of it) because I know I’m about two days away from mega cramp day, AKA day one of bleeding.

But, in an unexpected turn of events, I’m really quite excited as this won’t just be day one of bleeding, but day one of training with my cycle, and not against it.

Subscribe to the road.cc’s YouTube to find out what training Jasmijn recommends at each phase of the natural menstrual cycle and how I get on following this optimised training…  

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*Just want to put out there that although my menstrual cycle is regular now and close to the average of 28 days, it’s not always been this stable or so ‘average’. Up until two years ago I’d go at least 60 days without one because of issues related to under-eating with training (which is another important subject!). With support, this is something I’ve managed to address, and since then my cycle length has been gradually shortening until it stabilised at the point it is now—it’s been like this for the last year or so. It genuinely was a personal victory for me to be back in a position where my body’s natural processes are functioning more like they should be. With this, I am in a position where I can share my experiences of optimising training around the average length menstrual cycle. But I just wanted to share that although my menstrual cycle may seem close to ‘normal’ or ‘average’, it’s not always been the case for me either and I’m conscious there are lots of other female cyclists for whom my previous situation would actually be more relatable. There’s so much to training with the female physiology, and this vlog is just the beginning of touching on such a large and important subject matter.

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**Some racing background: I’m a roadie through and through when it comes to racing and technical skills have never been my forte. However, it’s always an area I’ve wanted to improve on, and this year with the uncertainty of what will be of the regional and national road season, I see it as the perfect chance to get stuck into the slop (hopefully not that literally). Also, as I’m much more convinced the whole CX season will take place, it feels like a tangible target to focus on.

Anna has been hooked on bikes ever since her youthful beginnings at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit. As an avid road and track racer, she reached the heady heights of a ProCyclingStats profile before leaving for university. Having now completed an MA in Multimedia Journalism, she’s hoping to add some (more successful) results. Although her greatest wish is for the broader acceptance of wearing funky cycling socks over the top of leg warmers.

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