Cycle based training
Theresia • 02. February 2022 • 7 Min.
Competitive sports and the female cycle are often associated with negative experiences. But with a few adjustments in your training, you can also use your period to your advantage. Since my training is adapted to my cycle, I train with a better feeling and accept that on some days I simply can’t perform as well. I’ve also learned that being open about the topic has been a key factor for me in feeling better in training. I now take my “superwoman days” especially hard. But what is it like to have your period on competition day?
I have been racing mountain bikes since I was five years old. What was still an intense hobby as a child has become more and more professional over the past few years. Since I was allowed to start at my first UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in 2016 (at that time still U23), I have been able to start at the European World Cups every year since then. I compete in the Cross-Country Olympic (XCO) discipline, which is a physically and technically demanding discipline. We ride a circuit of about 3-4.5 km and 30-150 meters of altitude so often that we have about 1.5 hours of racing time at the finish.
The training includes a variety of endurance, intensive shorter units (intervals), strength and technique. It is a big challenge to find the right balance between the different demands of my sport. I have been training with Philipp Seipp and Kick Ass Sports for about 1.5 years. Since then, in addition to all the demands, my training has been adapted to my cycle. This has changed a lot for me, but only for the better.
Adaptation of the training
It’s actually crazy: I’ve been working on my performance with various trainers for about eight years, and only since my change 1.5 years ago has my female cycle been integrated into the training plan. Before, I simply accepted that this was not taken into account and therefore trained like a man. Often I trained intensive intervals on the first day of my cycle, i.e. the start day of my period, despite severe pain in my abdomen and didn’t listen to the alarm signals at all. In addition, I didn’t feel like I could talk about it, my period was a taboo subject.
Being open with the topic and talking about it as a matter of course had a very positive effect on me. I noticed right away that it can move super much with me if I can talk openly about my period and the accompanying challenges. No sooner said than done and the training was adjusted.
At this point, it’s important to emphasize that I have a natural cycle and don’t take hormonal contraceptives. This is important because when taking hormonal contraceptives (the pill), hormone levels remain constant and natural hormonal processes are suppressed.
In training, it means for me concretely that I can train most intensively in the first half of the cycle, when hormone production is constantly low. This does not mean that I never do intense sessions in the second half of the cycle, but we are very sensitive to my well-being and perceived recovery. Over the years, I have found that most of the time I have abdominal pain, sometimes severe, on the first and third day of my period. Once I have pain, I don’t do any intense sessions. Since exercise can actually alleviate this pain, and since casual cycling does me a lot of good then, I ride foundation sessions on those days. When my training was not yet adapted to my cycle, I often trained intensively on these days anyway. But then during and after the session I never felt good, but I definitely didn’t want to not train because of it. That’s one of the most important things I learned about my cycle-based training: Don’t force anything. When I’m cramping and the body is screaming for rest and relaxation, the last thing that helps is an intense training stimulus. This sounds easier than it is for me now, because saying “no” to a workout wasn’t easy at all for me at first.
Since I’ve been paying more attention to my cycle, I’ve noticed that I don’t regenerate as well in the second half of the cycle as I do in the first, and I’m often more hungry. I don’t completely change my diet depending on the half of the cycle, but there are a few little things that I pay attention to. In the second half of the cycle I eat a little more protein than in the first half, I eat a little more overall, and I try to avoid hunger attacks by eating well before I feel empty. In addition, I have found that caffeine can cause very severe cramping in my abdomen during my period. I found this out because on the first to third day of my period, I would get very severe abdominal pain and cramping half an hour after my morning coffee. Since I switched to decaffeinated coffee, I no longer have these “caffeine cramps”.
In addition to all the unpleasant aspects of the period, I have also learned how to make the period work for me. I always feel especially good in the first half of my cycle, which is why I call it my “superwoman time.” When competitions are in this period, I always feel especially good at the start. This does not mean that I promptly feel bad or unwell in the second half of the cycle, I see the Superwoman time more as a kind of bonus to the normal state. After a race I regenerate faster in the first half of the cycle, so I often don’t have heavy or tired legs the day after the race. But the second half of the cycle is really not bad per se, I’ve done very good races even then. In addition, we must not forget that a race depends on very many factors, the cycle is only one of them.
Competition days with period
But what if a competition is right on the start day of my period? To be honest, that hasn’t happened to me yet, which is certainly no coincidence. A competition is also a state of stress for the body. Although many races have been on the calculated date of my period start, I have always gotten my period a few days after. This is also something very admirable that goes on in our body, as it acts as a kind of self-protection. Of course, it may well be that this is not the case for every woman. Because if there’s one thing we know, it’s that the female cycle is special for every woman.
So the start of my period has never been on a race day, but I’ve had my period on race days more than once. How does that feel? Fortunately, I haven’t had any abdominal cramps during a race yet, however, there have been races where I’ve been a little more powerless because I feel like the body needs a lot of power for the period. Often I feel bloated and heavy then, which is not a nice feeling for race days. When a race is on the fourth or fifth day of my period, I know anything is possible, because those are the days I feel my “superwoman powers” most intensely. But when I’m standing at the starting line and the seconds are counting down, I don’t think about my period or how I feel about it anymore, because then all that matters is the race and demanding the best possible from my body.
Overall, I have learned a lot about my cycle in the past few months and through that I have started to understand myself better. I am much more relaxed and positive about my cycle and have much less negative associations with periods since I have understood more about them and can talk about them openly. With a few adjustments in training and proper nutrition, I have also managed to reduce my cramps and pain. In addition, I know that I can perform at my best even in the second half of the cycle and I perceive my first half of the cycle as a superpower.
It is a pity that there is very little exchange between female athletes about their periods. I would like to see that periods are not a taboo subject, especially for young female athletes. Thanks to Laura Philipp and Philipp Seipp for letting me learn so much from you!