Training Tips: Cycling with your Cycle

Boys Beware! This is about to get knee-deep in girly talk, so consider yourself forewarned!

For years I would periodically worry that, for some unknown reason; all my strength had gone, maybe I was sick, over-trained, or that I was suddenly and mysteriously out of shape. I would FREAK out! Because I’m ‘type A’ and have to fix the energy drain – I would immediately go into a frenzy of compensating for this mysterious lack of strength and played havoc with my riding and racing schedule!

It wasn’t until many, many years later that I realized this ‘mysterious energy low’ was normal during exercise at certain times of the month and it had nothing to do with the full moon or my lack of endurance. Well, almost nothing.

Ever had a competitive even coming up that you’ve trained and prepared for so well – only to find out that it is on the VERY DAY you start your cycle? Isn’t it just devastating, annoying, and aggravating? Noin painw you have to plan to carry feminine hygiene product and pain killers along with everything else – great. You might think: “I am not going to do well” or that it would hinder your performance somehow. My very first race, ever: was on the day I ‘started’. Oh man. The cramps, the discomfort. But, I sucked it up, took a few pain killers (not too many or too harsh!) and did it anyway.

I won.

I thought: “Whuuuuut??” and chalked it up to beginners luck.

Turns out – there’s a reason why I was strong (although miserable) that day and we ladies can use these annoying hormonal swings to our advantage! For those ladies that are taking oral contraceptives: you may not notice much of a benefit as your hormones are ‘normalized’ by birth control chemicals.

Cycling in the Zone:

The Zone starts after you ovulate (the Luteal Phase) and terminates at the end of your menstrual cycle. So, you might be uncomfortable during your cycle, but your strength output is still high.

Our Low Point for optimal output in competitive cycling or strength training is after the menstrual cycle until ovulation (the Follicular Phase). Don’t expect too much from yourself during this time.

Here’s a big ugly, but informative graph:



Training in the Zone:

  • Part I: From late-luteal phase (4-5 days before menstruating) through the menstrual cycle (early follicular phase): expect to benefit from more anaerobic exercise, strength training, and working on your lactic acid thresholds. Remember: this phase includes a weakness in finite muscular control, so stay away from complex movements as it can lead to injury.
  • The Low Point: Go easy with low intensity, high volume work, and longer efforts. Don’t expect punchy power outputs here. Your wattage will be depressed as your body prepares for potential reproduction.
  • Part II: After ovulation, plan to pick up the pace through the early-luteal stages (about 2 weeks from your menstrual cycle) introducing complex movements as desired and continuing with anaerobic work, strength training, and pushing your lactic acid thresholds.
  • Part III: The mid-luteal phase will give you more endurance. Plan to work on long distance, low intensity but high volume efforts. Include more aerobic work here – such as focusing on increasing cadence on the bike. You will have a higher tolerance for heat and stress. This phase lasts until you are about 4-5 days from your menstrual cycle.

I have read varying and complex studies on the subject, but based on my experience, this is a good foundation. If you are very curious, make a log and track your outputs, efforts, results for several months. Everyone is unique and what works for one may need to be tweaked for another.

If you would like to understand more about dieting and general exercise based on your monthly cycle: click here. I haven’t read into it much yet, but there are times of the month that we metabolize more fat than others, which is handy to know if you are planning your diet.

Also useful are a few tips from a long-time cycling advocate: Arleigh Greenwald.

Let me know if you have questions and please feel free to comment!

Cycle on with your Cycle, Chics!