Kickass Women

Cycle Sensitive Training

KickAss Sports • 12. October 2023 • 8 Min.

The domain of sports training is subject to constant change, always striving to optimize training methods to achieve top performances. In recent years, the symbiosis between sports and science has led to a multitude of new discoveries that customize training to the needs of the body. The focus is not only on performance, but also on the health of the athletes. One approach that is gaining more attention is cycle-based training for women.

This training model has the potential to revolutionize athletic performance and well-being for female athletes by taking into account female physiology and hormonal fluctuations. Not only does it take female physiology into account, but it can also help minimize the risk of relative energy deficit syndrome (RED-S). Increased performance should not come at the expense of one’s health.

Not only professional athletes can take advantage of this knowledge, but also amateur athletes can effectively integrate this into their training. One pioneer in this field is professional triathlete and founder of KickAss Sports Laura Philipp. With a series of YouTube videos, she has addressed the important topic of cycle-based training for the first time and made the essential information accessible in a clear and practical way.

The Concept

The concept of cycle-based training is based on taking into account the hormonal fluctuations that occur during the different phases of the natural menstrual cycle. During the cycle, women go through hormonal changes that can affect their physical performance and energy levels.

Cycle-based or cycle-sensitive training allows the load and intensity to be adjusted during the cycle to take into account the respective physical and hormonal fluctuations. In the phases of the cycle when energy is higher, training intensity can be increased, while in the phases with lower energy, the load is reduced to avoid overload. The menstrual cycle therefore serves as the foundation for training planning in cycle-based training. 

Typically, the concept includes the four main phases of the menstrual cycle: the menstrual phase, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. Each phase brings different hormonal profiles and physical responses with it that can affect the athlete’s training and performance. By taking into account the different hormonal occurrences in each phase, training can be optimized to benefit from the hormonal and physiological changes.

What are the benefits of cycle sensitive training? 

CYCLE-BASED TRAINING FOR RED-S PREVENTION


Cycle-based training is of particular relevance in the context of RED-S. The syndrome is characterized by an energy intake that is too low to meet a person’s needs. In the long term, this can lead to hormonal imbalances, loss of bone density and other health complications, and consequently reduced the individual’s performance. Cycle-based training can help women listen to their bodies more consciously and send them the right signals to avoid overload and lack of energy.

OPTIMISED PERFORMANCE

The female hormonal cycle, especially estrogen and progesterone levels, can affect performance. During the first half of the cycle, the so-called follicular phase, estrogen levels are higher, which can lead to better carbohydrate storage and improved fat burning. This can have a positive effect on endurance performance, as more energy is available. During the luteal phase, the second half of the menstrual cycle, progesterone levels may slightly increase body temperature, potentially affecting thermoregulatory demands during exercise. Adjusting exercise intensity and duration during the different phases of the cycle can optimize performance.

RECOVERY AND INJURY PREVENTION

By specifically integrating recovery phases into their training schedule, women can optimize their ability to regenerate. This is particularly important as they may be more prone to injury during some phases of their menstrual cycle. Cycle-based training helps minimize the risk of overtraining and injury by giving the body time to recover during the appropriate phases.

For instance, during the follicular phase, when estrogen levels are elevated, the body’s sensitivity to insulin may be enhanced. This can help speed up the regeneration of carbohydrate stores in the muscles, which in turn enables faster recovery after intense training sessions. During this phase, recovery time after demanding sessions may be shortened.

In the luteal phase, on the other hand, when progesterone levels rise, adaptations of the body to physical stress can occur more strongly. This can also help improve recovery, as the body can respond more efficiently to the stimuli of exercise.

The female hormonal cycle can also influence the risk of injury. During the luteal phase, women can be more prone to joint pain and muscular problems. By adjusting training volume and intensity during this phase, the risk of injury can be minimized.

HORMONAL BENEFITS

Exercising in a cycle-sensitive manner can have a positive effect on the hormonal system. Research shows that regular exercise can improve hormone balance in women, which helps regulate the menstrual cycle and relieve PMS symptoms.

STRENGTHENING OF SELF-CONFIDENCE 


Cycle-based training can help women develop a better understanding of their bodies and needs during the menstrual cycle. This can lead to increased self-esteem and confidence as women become more aware of their physical abilities and limitations.

IMPROVEMENT OF TRAINING MOTIVATION 


Variation in cycle-based training can help maintain exercise motivation in women. By adjusting their goals and training intensity during the cycle, women may find training less monotonous and more engaging.

SUPPORT FOR SPECIFIC GOALS


Women often have a variety of fitness goals, whether it’s building muscle, losing fat or improving endurance. Cycle-based training can aim to support these specific goals during certain phases of the cycle for optimal results.

REGENERATION AND INTERACTION OF STRESS HORMONES


Another fascinating aspect lies in the relationship between regeneration and interaction of stress hormones with the menstrual cycle. This can be observed in particular in continuous glucose monitoring (CGM). The interaction of these factors is clearly evident in the data collected.

During the second phase of the menstrual cycle, challenges related to regeneration, especially due to stress, can have a significant impact. If women do not regenerate well during this phase, for example due to stress, they may fall into hypoglycemia at night. This negatively impacts sleep by achieving less deep sleep and REM sleep for the same amount of sleep time. As a consequence, they recover more poorly and are significantly more sensitive to fluctuations in blood glucose levels the next day. 

These effects, which build on one another, can negatively reinforce one another, which
leading to a vicious circle. The shortened luteal phase, increased premenstrual symptoms (PMS) and ultimately secondary amenorrhea are possible consequences of these negative interactions.

This process is further promoted by morning training on an empty stomach and a low-carbohydrate diet in the morning. Due to the higher stress hormone levels in the morning, this results in consistently low blood glucose levels throughout the day. This in return can lead to maximum instability in the afternoon and complete hypoglycemia at night, which is the actual problem.

The relationships between regeneration, stress hormones and the menstrual cycle shed light on the complexity of female physiology. These findings illustrate how a holistic approach to cycle-sensitive training can not only optimize athletic performance, but more importantly, promote women’s health and well-being. 

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Implementation of theory in practice

How can the theoretical basis now be implemented in practice? One proven tool for implementation is tracking blood glucose levels, for example using systems such as Supersapiens.

Maintaining stable blood glucose regulation during the second phase of the menstrual cycle or avoiding hypoglycemic states has been shown to be particularly effective in successfully restoring menstrual periods in particular.

All beginnings are difficult. In order to be able to start a cycle-based training, a good documentation is necessary. This will help to identify the days when performance is poor and to plan sensible regeneration phases in advance. It is important to understand that sufficient regeneration is just as important for training success as targeted training. The menstrual cycle provides a natural framework for sensibly setting this regeneration phase, because it generally applies that every 4th to 5th week should be designed to be more regenerative.

Principles: Cycle phases and training intensity

Menstruation (Day 1 to 6) 

  • regenerative and shorter units → keep training volume low
  • less is more, rather skip a unit 
  • enforce sufficient sleep
  • Paying attention to body signals
  • approx. 10 % HIIT training
    • These points are especially important to consider during the first three days.

Folicular phase (Day 7 to 14) 

  • Integrate more strenuous sessions (e.g., intervals)
  • For the time of ovulation the following applies: pay attention to body signals! Many women experience themselves as very powerful here. 
  • But there are also women who become more tired around ovulation. The training should definitely be adapted to this!
  • • HIIT bis auf 20 % erhöhen
    • Pacebereich an Energielevel anpassen 

Luteal phase (Day 15 to 28)  

Mid-luteal phase:

  • Exercise longer and more relaxed 
  • Eat a snack directly after training
    • Increase calorie / protein intake in general
  • Reduce HIIT to max. 10 to 15%.

Late luteal phase:  

  • Reduce HIIT to 5%
    • Perceive body signals and incorporate more rest periods accordingly, if necessary

Expert advice

One piece of expert advice is that when you record your body temperature, keep an eye on the duration of your follicular and luteal phases. If an increase in training intensity leads to a prolongation of the follicular phase or a shortening of the luteal phase, this could be a first sign of overtraining. In such cases, it is advisable to pay special attention to recovery measures and nutrition.

CONCLUSION

Cycle-based training for women has the potential to revolutionize the way women optimize their athletic performance and maintain their well-being. The top priority should always be the health of a female athlete. Individualization of the training plan, taking into account the menstrual cycle, and prevention of RED-S are key elements. While the discussion on this topic has been around for several decades, it is only now, in an era of personalized medicine and individualized training, that cycle-sensitive training for women is coming into focus.

In conclusion, it should be emphasized that not all women experience the same hormonal fluctuations and the body’s response to training may vary individually. Therefore, it is advisable to work with a qualified trainer or professional who has experience with cycle-based training to develop a program tailored to individual needs and goals. Laura Philipp and other trailblazers are laying the groundwork for the establishment of cycle-based and cycle-sensitive training. It is hoped that this knowledge will reach female athletes regardless of their level and increasingly find its way into sports practice. In this way, women can train in harmony with their cycle in the future and not work against it.

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