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The female running routine: match your cycle

This week, local rehabilitation exercise physiologist Kirra Rankin shares her top tips for helping pre-menopausal women to balance your running training with your menstrual cycle.

Have you turned into a runner since COVID hit our community?

Do you have a running schedule or program?

Do you schedule rest weeks when it’s that time of the month?

Have you noticed there are weeks when you really struggle with your running (energy)?

If that’s the case, you may want to consider changing your running routine to match your cycle. 

A female running program shouldn’t be generic. We need to nurture our hormonal cycle to get the most out of our body. When we run, our hormonal balance is constantly changing due to our menstrual-cycle-induced oscillations in estrogen and progesterone.

A woman’s menstrual cycle is controlled by four main hormones:

• Luteinising hormone 

• Follicle-stimulating hormone 

• Oestrogen hormone – the female primary sex hormone 

• Progesterone hormone – helps thicken the lining of the uterus; when levels drop, your period begins

Firstly, let’s assess if you actually have a hormonal imbalance.  Do you experience any of the following:

• mood swings, irritability, and fatigue

• irregular or heavy periods

• headaches and brain fog

• stomach cramps and food cravings.

If so, let’s modify your running around your cycle. This column is about balancing training and hormones; I’m not delving into nutrition, coffee stress, external stress levels, or sleep hygiene (all very important factors when looking into the female body).

More research is needed to find out exactly how hormones affect women’s physical training, but below will simplify the phases for you. I’ll break up the average 28-day cycle into two stages:

  • Days 1-14 (Follicular Phase)
  • Days 15-28 (Luteal Phase)

Days 1 to 14: Follicular Phase or “ramp up the running phase”! Depending on the individual, your period will begin on day 1, and at day 14 ovulation occurs, which means your oestrogen levels are increasing and your progesterone levels are decreasing. You have a two-week window of opportunity to really go hard, where your oestrogen levels have peaked, before the Luteal Phase kicks in.

Focus on: 

• Increasing volume of runs, and frequency of runs

• Increasing resistance training

• Add hills, plyometrics, fartlek or surges

• Incorporating full range movements like squats, deadlifts, burpees.

Days 15-28: Luteal Phase or “let’s check in and do more self-care phase”! During the Luteal Phase, there is a rise in progesterone and a drop in oestrogen. And yes, you may experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) during these two weeks, with symptoms such as:

  • mood swings
  • inexplicable fatigue.
  • bloating and constipation

The list goes on, depending on how gifted you are.

Focus on: 

• Decreasing volume of runs and decreasing intensity.

• Change resistance training to lighter weights, and higher reps.

• Increasing body mobility training and de-loading joints, such as Pilates, Hydrolates ä (Pilates in the water), Yoga, etc.

• More recovery days – maybe hike instead of run?

• Be extra kind to yourself. 

Running strength workout

Here’s a simple, quick and easy circuit you can do to improve your running strength (at any phase). If you’re in Luteal Phase, drop back the number of repetitions (6 reps). If you’re in Follicular Phase, pop the resistance straps on, grab your weights and increase the repetitions (10-12 reps)!

  • deep lunge
  • single leg (sl) calf raise
  • sl bridge
  • side lying hip abduction
  • mountain climbers

You can print the Canberra Weekly Workout PDF here.

We’re a complex bunch, however, don’t give in to the hormones. Each of the hormones mentioned above has a very specific role to play and affects how successfully your body will respond to your training. Be kind to yourself, and if you’re running low on energy, you may want to consider changing your running routine to match your cycle.

Run happy (for 2 weeks)!

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