Updated: September 6th, 2021
Women training on your menstrual cycle: A comprehensive week-by-week running guide.

You know that agonising feeling when you reflect on each of your run stats?
How can you possibly be getting slower? Faster? Supremely inconsistent?! Wracking your brain to understand why, because nothing has changed, right?

Your nutrition is good, you’re super motivated, it was a flat course, your training has been solid, yet the numbers don’t lie. (whyyyy?!) Whilst we often put it down to the likes of work stress, lack of sleep, hydration, sports bra support, what if I told you it was something far simpler?
What if it was literally your own body and its’ pesky little hormones taking their turn to run you havoc?

tired woman asleep in bed

Stay with me, I’ll explain it all.

Unbeknown to most, your menstrual cycle is split into two halves (or phases) and within them, there’s an opportune time to rest, push for that PB, and manipulate your training style to optimise training results:

  • Follicular phase
  • – starting the first day of your period until the last day you ovulate. (first half of your cycle) where generally speaking it’s an energetic time to push attentively.

  • Luteal phase
  • – starting the day after you ovulate until the first day of your period (second half of your cycle) where it is commonly a time to rein back the intensity, perse.

  • Don’t forget to check our always up-to-date guide to the best running shoes for women.
  • To start, let’s break down an average 28-day cycle:

    • Follicular phase starts at day 1 of period.
    • Menstruation phase (within the follicular phase) ends day 4/5.
    • Follicular phase then continues until ovulation.
    • Ovulation occurring day 14/15 of your cycle.
    • Ovulation is the transition from follicular into the luteal phase.
    • Luteal phase takes us all the way through PMS and voila! We’re back to day 1 of the next cycle.

    Its as easy as that! So start mapping out those dates (can also use apps like Flo, Clue to help).

    How is this affecting my running?

    morning jogger female

    I am so glad you asked. Depending on wherever you are within your cycle, different hormones are taking charge to sail the ship.

    • Day 1 of 28 is ‘the curse’ (or the menstrual portion of the follicular phase) when all hormones are low level, your body is busy stimulating follicle growth and shedding uterine lining to care about your running demands. But hold on, be patient because towards day 5, the hormone Oestrogen is building substantial momentum, in the latter follicular phase, oestrogen is top-dog and thus a perfect time to optimise muscle repair.
    • We then move into ovulation phase around day 14 out of 28 – the day that an egg is released. Throughout this phase, the hormone testosterone is taking over the top spot, an ideal time for muscle building, pushing to your maximum and aiming for a PB!
      Be quick! Because looming closely alongside is a rising body temperature; we’re talking a considerable 0.5 degree Fahrenheit increase which occurs the day after ovulation (and your PB window!)
      And an increased body temperature will affect how quickly you fatigue, (fatiguing far quicker than you’d like) your body will want to keep you cool so less intensity is the key here. It’s often when you notice your run times slow down and frustration kicks in.
    • Finally, the rest of the luteal phase; progesterone peaks after ovulation and has the audacity to inhibit the brains’ ability to stimulate muscles. It is also considered a block to testosterone, so you might put any muscle-building exercise time to better use.
      Because of progesterone, your body is actually struggling to keep up, it’s hotter than a few weeks back, it’s getting less able to move as effortlessly, so fatigue is hitting hard towards day 24 wards.

    line chart
    A simplistic visual of which hormone is boss at which time in your cycle.

    *Please note below is a guide based on average 28day cycle. There are 4 weekly phases so it’s a bit easier to digest and incorporate into your own running schedule– of course adjust and customise to your own needs (for eg: not everyone ovulates on day 15, so shift as appropriate).

    • Week1: day 4-10.
      This ‘start’ begins at the point menstruation reduces. As we know this is the first half of your follicular phase. During this time your body temperature is lower so you can increase the intensity of your training – start lifting heavy and/or short sharp interval workouts. Remember, oestrogen is building up here, so we can repair muscle tears better preparing us for next week – You are effectively using this week to ‘warm up for next week’ preparing your body for maximal effort in week 2. *Keep in mind to warm up, very important as you’re coming off a ‘down time’ week.
    • Week 2: day 11-17
      This week is the second half of your follicular phase overlapping into ovulation phase. Right around now, your energy is at its peak. Make the most of this schedule in several workouts with maximum efforts. Short all-out sprints, or hill intervals are perfect for this week, hey let’s aim for a PB!
      Remember, testosterone is peaking here, so hitting the gym is beneficial here too, build girl build!
    • Week 3: day 18-24
      Okay so we’re following the ovulation phase into the luteal phase. You’d be better off with aerobic training here; manageable loads for a longer period of time (remember why?) Your body temperature has increased so fatigue is more prominent. Progesterone is leading, blocking muscle building so strength training benefits are more difficult. So, get out for a hike, bike ride, or nice gentle jog, and decrease towards the end of the week according to how your body is feeling – likely to experience PMS symptoms and a lack in energy.
    • Week 4: day 25-3
      Girl you’ve earned time off. Your PMS is often in full storm and menstruation in full flow. Your body needs some down time in order to come back into week one bounding with energy. So either take some time off, swap it for a gentle yoga session (Yin yoga is great) go for an easy swim or walk your favourite run routes?

    women finishing run race lay on run track exhausted

    Bear In Mind that you are not a robot, nor are we men who can train week in week out with the same intensity.Because frankly their hormones don’t fluctuate like ours do. Its not that we have to train more or less to stay in shape, or smash your fitness goals… it’s just about training smart with nature, with your cycle.

    And truthfully, I have found running much more enjoyable because of it.

    Adjust your own running schedule, and see how you get on, best of luck!

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