Training for a triathlon comes with many challenges. 5am wake up calls, sore muscles, squeezing in workouts, wet hair after swimming (ugh... the worst), endless laundry, oh... and periods. As women, we have an added challenge when it comes to triathlon training. Our hormones fluctuate throughout our cycle causing changes in energy levels, mood shifts, and physical changes.
In case you don’t already know, I’m going to give you a little lesson on the menstrual cycle. I’m not a doctor. So, you know the drill. If you have questions, seek a professional. The knowledge I have on this subject came from a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Tony Weschler. I highly recommend it if you want to dive a little deeper into this subject because we all know sex education and health class didn’t teach us much. I digress...
Typically, a female’s menstrual cycle is 24-36 days, and it consists of 4 phases: The Follicular Phase (from the time your period begins until ovulation), Ovulation, the Luteal Phase (from the time of ovulation until the start of your period), and Menstruation.
Each phase comes with benefits and challenges.
Throughout the Follicular Phase you could notice the following:
- High energy
- Good mood
- Increased motivation
- Craving healthy foods
A boost in energy makes this a great time to focus on speed and intensity. I asked my friend and certified running coach, Holly Cipriani, to share some workouts that would be beneficial during the Follicular Phase. She shared the following:
“Build it up!" This is a great time to increase the weights, add in speed work, or add a sample “race pace” run/bike/swim into the mix. If your body is feeling good and strong, harness that energy and try out this strength training for runners plan. Already strength training? Try gradually increasing your weights. Example workouts:
Short race pace brick workout: (training for a 70.3? Try a 25 mile bike ride and 10k run at race pace...Olympic: 15 mile bike ride and 5k run...Sprint: 8 mile bike ride and 2 mile run)
Strength Training: Do 3 rounds of the following: 8-10 squats, 8-10 lunges (each leg), 8-10 side lunges (each leg), 8-10 calf raises (each leg), 8-10 monster walks (resistance band required), 8-10 deadlifts (if weights available), 45 second planks (center, right, left), 8-10 push-ups (knees or full), 8-10 Russian twists (tap each side 10 times)
- If you’re already strength training add weights
- If you don’t have weights, get creative! I squat holding my pup…. he wiggles a lot so added bonus of a core workout! (but be safe!)
Strides: On an easy long run, bike ride, or swim add 15 second bursts of energy 3-4 times in the second half of the workout. Allow 2-3 minutes (or full recovery back at easy pace) before each one.
Throughout the Luteal Phase you may notice the following:
- Decreased energy
- Bloating, weight gain
- Increased core temp
- Decreased libido
- Salty / sweet cravings
Due to the decrease in energy and increase in core temp, this is a great time to focus on endurance training, rather than intensity. Holly provided us with the following workouts for the Luteal Phase:
“Maintain don’t gain!" Last week you added strength, intensity, repetitions, etc. Let this week be a week for your body to adjust. Swap out a tempo run for an easy run if you’re feeling the fatigue from the week before. Still feeling good? Keep the tempo in but don’t plan to add additional work. Example workouts:
• LSD: Long, Slow, Distances: This is the time to keep up with your endurance training! Your base has been established so allow yourself time to gradually build. Get in a long bike ride, run, or swim (or all three!). Keeping in mind that during this time, there is NO SUCH THING AS TOO SLOW! Keep the heart rate down and focus on the distance not the intensity. Our bodies build more capillaries, allowing us to go faster and longer over time, but this doesn’t happen when we’re constantly stressing our muscles like in the build phase.
• Strength training: Keep up the work in strength training but decrease the weights and increase the reps. So instead of 8-10 reps of each do 10-12 but use lighter weights or no weights at all.
Now for the fun phase... menstruation! Yes, that’s sarcasm.
During Menstruation you could experience the following:
- Back pain
- Breast tenderness
During this phase, it would be beneficial to rest, but I know who I’m talking to here. Triathletes don’t have time for more than one rest day when training, so here’s what Holly gave us for this phase:
Drop it like it’s hot! It’s time for that drop week! I literally plan my mesocycles around my menstrual cycle. It’s great to stick to a plan, but it’s even better to know when to listen to your body (which is always). If your body needs rest, give it that! Use this time as your drop week. Decrease intensity, frequency, and/or distance. Be patient with yourself and kind to yourself. You are NOT losing fitness during a drop week and are in fact setting yourself up for a more successful build phase if you’re truly recovered. Example workouts:
- Strength Training: Swap out the weights for a yoga mat. Introduce different, more gentle types of movement. Keeping your body moving is a very good thing but it does not need to be the intensity of a weight lifting session.
- Buddy Runs: Forget about the miles you “have” to get in for a minute and take a week for the miles you *want* to get in. Call up a friend, go for an EASY jog together and catch up on life.
- Ice Cream Workout: Rest and eat ice cream (or your preferred snack of choice)...that is all. :)
- Rest: Truly take a day of rest. Cut out a speed work day for a day of relaxation and to get caught up on other areas of your life that may feel stressed. Listen to what your body and mind need.”
Thanks, Holly! How did you know the Ice Cream Workout is my favorite? Follow Holly on Instagram @cip_running
But wait... the challenge doesn’t end there!
We can’t choose when menstruation begins. (Yes, hormonal birth control may make it easier to predict, but that comes with a whole other laundry list of side effects. I will not be getting into that. Again, check out the book I mentioned previously if you wish to learn more on that subject).
Menstruation could take place the week we have lots of swim workouts on the schedule, a long brick, or (gasp) the day of a race!
What are our options?!
- Menstrual cups
- Menstrual discs
- Period underwear
Of course tampons are our most convenient menstrual product, especially for triathletes, but I want to talk about my experience with the menstrual cup.
A few years ago I decided to take the plunge, and switch to a menstrual cup. Although it requires a learning process and some patience, I would suggest it to anyone who’s been considering the menstrual cup, especially triathletes. Personally, I noticed reduced cramping, lighter periods, and it’s certainly more cost effective. I have done endless amounts of swimming, biking, and running while using a menstrual cup, and I’ve never felt discomfort or had any leakage. This is coming from someone with a pretty heavy period, for reference. (Side note, if you can feel a menstrual cup or experience leakage, the cup is either misplaced or it’s the wrong size. Keep trying!) I have even… wait for it… completed a half marathon AND an Olympic distance triathlon while on my period, and guess what? I survived! As an added bonus, I never had to stress about leakage or change a tampon during a race. If you think it may be right for you, give it a try!
Periods may be an unconventional subject, but I think it’s time we open up a bit more about the challenges we face regarding our periods. Women are amazing! Women can grow humans, women can live through monthly menstrual cycles, and women can train for triathlons while doing both of those things!
Written By: Desirae Eisenman, Tri Sirena Siren Luminary
Follow Desirae on Instagram @thisisdesirae
What’s your biggest period challenge, and how do you work through it?
Comment below and let us know!
This blog was created for informational purposes only. It's content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or online.