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Period Talk: About the Menstrual Cycle in Women’s Weightlifting

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

Here we go—period talk! The taboo surrounding women menstruating or lifting weights shouldn’t exist anymore. It’s important to understand that the female body goes through complex biological processes while simultaneously functioning on a daily basis. Although we’re used to hearing that exercise can help reduce menstrual pain, female athletes say that their period impacts their training negatively. We have to take into account that every sport is different according to volume, intensity, rules, and even whether it is an individual or team sport.

In weightlifting, athletes undergo a specific type of preparation that can vary on weeks (five or eight, even twelve), objectives, such as developing strength, or conditioning the body in order to lift enough on the competition floor at the end. At first, athletes do many repetitions with low-weights and, as the weeks pass, percentages go up; heavier weights and less repetitions. This means that athletes are lifting weights all days and, in women’s weightlifting, the menstrual cycle affects performance when it comes to certain moments during the training program. For all those athletes, coaches, and anyone else concerned with how periods affect weightlifters who menstruate, here are three reminders to consider before questioning weightlifting female athletes’ mood swings or training execution: 

Menstrual phases

First of all, between men and women, not only is body size is different; strength ratio, and both the nervous and cardiovascular systems vary too. Olympic weightlifter and Ukranian coach Oleksiy Torokhtiy wrote about how the woman’s performance is affected by the duration of menstrual cycle phases. The cycle occurs in between 21-35 days and lasts, for some women, 3-5 days and, for others, 5-7 days. Along with the cycle, the female body goes through five phases: menstrual, postmenstrual, ovulatory, postovulatory, and premenstrual. 

Torokhtiy recommends reducing the load and coordination movements during the ovulatory phase, since it is when women have their lowest performance. The reason he states this is because the nervous system can’t concentrate on too much. In fact, female athletes have better training and results when menstruation ends, and better opportunity to work on strength and flexibility. Torokthiy, as a coach, says that it’ll all depend on the athlete, her body, and how menstruation affects her individually. For him, this means that coaches should consider how they reduce or implement weight and movements in each training session for their female athletes, so they can perform the best at optimal times. 

Lower back pain

It’s normal for the lower back to hurt during menstruation. Hormone changes cause muscular pain in the area and usually cramps too. To relieve this pain, we are used to going for heat or exercise. For women in weightlifting, it can be different. The lower back is trained a lot in this sport to develop core strength and improve stability or posture, for example. This means that the lumbars and the spine are always under stress, and when the menstrual cycle lower back pains meet with it, it’s pretty unpleasant. During this period, lower back pain is going to be higher; coaches need to look for options to balance training and avoid overloading the spine, causing something worse. Some options for athletes can be using heat pads to train, or a training belt during the session, since it mainly helps to reduce stress in the area. 

Normalize it!

Finally, we need to normalize the menstrual cycle’s effects on the woman’s body. Menstruation can cause pain, cramps, mood swings, tiredness, bloating, acne, breast soreness, and much more depending on each body. Menstruation should not be seen as an excuse for female athletes to underperform. Also, coaches should talk about it with their female athletes instead of ignoring the fact that different phases affect performances and push the body, putting it at risk and even more pain. Trainers should be encouraged to obtain the necessary knowledge so they can make the necessary changes to their training, maintain their goals, and encourage their female athletes perform at their best level. 

So, remember to always listen to your body. Before stressing out because it’s not going well during training, take into account what processes your body is going through. Lastly and most importantly, always have a conversation with your coach about when your period is coming or if you are on it, so they can take how you’re feeling into consideration during your training.   

Itzel Rivera is an undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. She's studying Information & Journalism with the purpose of providing people the knowledge they need to educate themselves. Itzel aspires to execute her profession, values and principles in a way that it impacts society. Also, she loves lifting weights, studying and doing anything that will get her closer to her dreams!