Understanding the Menstrual Cycle

This ones specifically for the ladies BUT – men, if you want to learn more about the female body, then feel free to keep reading and listen in. As the more people / athletes become aware that ‘women are not small men’ the better! 😉

I’ve spoken before around the importance of a regular menstrual cycle and how it can impact us as females on a weekly / monthly basis. And you may have read here and there some info around your cycle, and how it can impact your training. I’ve also listened to many podcasts and read books on this topic and know that it can be hard for women to navigate and understand all the technical terms. However I listened to a podcast recently that explained it in CLEAR and understandable terms – so I wanted to share with you this clear and easy way to understand the womens menstrual cycle.

So if you have been struggling to understand / or don’t understand how our menstrual cycle can impact your performance, how structuring our training around your cycle can IMPROVE your performance or simply want to learn more then read on:

As a general outline, the female cycle has 4 phases: 

PHASE 1:Menstrual phase. (the bleed) 
RESTORE: During this phase the body is shedding endometrium lining, and restoring. Ensure sufficient calories and nutrients during this time to to help your body restore. Sessions should be easier / lower intensity  / aerobic based at the start of this phase. (perfect time to include recovery)

PHASE2: Follicular Phase. Increase in energy, preparing for ovulation
RECONNECT: The wonder woman phase! Our energy levels are higher. Perfect time for hard sessions including intensity, strength, VO2 Max . You would generally see your best performances during this time. 

PHASE 3: Ovulation Phase. Release of the egg. Estrogen is at it’s highest, then plummets and progesterone increases (to protect the egg). Some notice symptoms of bloating. 
RENEW: During this phase is the prime time to include more strength, VO2Max, power training. You would generally see strong performances during this time. 

PHASE 4Luteal Phase. Pre menstrual phase (PMS for many) BMR increases, body temperature increases, preparing for menstrual phase. 
RELAX: Take the intensity back lower the final few days leading into Day 1, (this is perfect to include recovery) Allow your body a little extra time to relax and recover in preparation for this. 

SO – even though you may not feel any ‘symptoms’ during specific times of your cycle, there IS a whole lot going on inside your body – and more specifically, with your hormones. So you should be taking this into account in training – and in life! And if you are sometimes left wondering ‘oh not sure why I felt so heavy / tired ./ bloated / lethargic, maybe take a moment to check what phase of your cycle you are in. 🙂 

To learn more, take the time to listen to this podcast – it explains it in the easiest terms i’ve heard anyone explain. You can start at 14min through to ~35min (continue listening though for more!). 

LISTEN NOW

Further reading suggestionStacey Sims: ROAR (also available on kindle)

PS – stay tuned as over the coming weeks I’ll also delve more into pre and post menopausal.

The delicate dance

The whole balancing act of training, being a mum, a wife, a coach, a friend, a sister, a daughter… it is tough at times. I am not going to lie. There is a delicate balancing act happening, and sometimes it feels like something is going to give – and sometimes it does!

As mothers / parents, we have multiple roles and it’s a juggling act. And it can be hard juggling them all. It’s like a delicate dance – trying to dance through the many and varied roles that now come with the title as a mum. Not only are we a mum/parent, but we are nurses, we are sleep experts, nutritionists, psychologists, we’re teachers of our little beings. On top of this, providing endless amounts of nurturing, love and care. This all simply comes as part of the role of being a mother/parent.

BUT- at the same time as we entered motherhood, our other roles in life didn’t just stop. Most of us still have the role of wife/partner, we’re still a daughter, friend, sister…. And not to mention our actual work – the one that pays us and the bills! Add on top of that also wanting to still be an endurance athlete, and suddenly you may just wonder – how is this even possible? Somehow we are meant to fulfill all of these aspects of being a mum while still keeping up with the other roles and demands in our lives.

So the question becomes – how? How do we do the delicate dance? How do we be a mum, manage our personal relationships and life, return to paid employment AND be an endurance athlete? For some this may seem like far too much and so some things are needed to be dropped, and that often means our ‘me time’. Not just being able to take your own time to train, but some even forgoing things like getting a massage, getting their hair done (or even just doing your hair in the morning!), doing a spot of shopping – something purely for us. It can be a real source of angst. And a source of guilt… Doing something for YOU when everyone else wants a piece if you also.

So why is it we find it so hard to put ourselves first? And HOW do we literally find the time to do everything? Especially if you have the innate personality to strive for perfection? How do we distinguish between one role ending and another one starting? How do we balance it all without feeling like we are simply rushing between one to another without being able to take a breath? It can be overwhelming. And even more so now in the times we currently find ourselves in when even more responsibility is put upon us. (home schooling?! gah!) Who of us has the extra time to ‘learn a new skills/craft/art with your spare time‘ that’s been touted on social media??!’. And so, unfortunately for some, the parts we end up putting to the side are ourselves. It’s all give, give, give – to others, not to ourselves. (also sound familiar?)

If you sat down and wrote down your life stressors, what would that list look like? What’s your stress gauge look like? Kids, school work, your own work, financial stress, managing the home/cleaning/cooking, relationships…. that’s before we even add anything else in for ourselves. This can show that for a lot of people right now, that baseline of ‘stress’ can sit quite high, without even trying – or without even realising…

Think of it as holding a cup of coffee. If that cup is nearly full and you are rushing around with it, it doesn’t take much to spill over – and that, mumma, is your stress response. So just like this cup of coffee, when we are in a high stress state, we tend to overreact to certain things, we are less likely to find practical solutions to our daily problems, and therefore we are also less likely to see a way out.

But the good news is – there is a way out. There is a way to find that balance again, for motherhood to be manageable and most importantly – fulfilling and FUN! You want to either find a bigger cup (ie allow more room) or reduce the amount of coffee (reduce the stress) so that you can deal with stress far better so that ‘dance’ is an enjoyable one. Here are some practical tips that can help – even if you aren’t a mother / parent!

FIRST UP– acknowledge what it means to be a mum / dad / parent. Don’t undervalue the importance of this role and what it entails. I find if we start to minimise it, we can fail to see that we might actually need some help and/or support. “ohh I should be able to do it all” you may even tell yourself. Do you remember when you got that new job, or promotion, big deal hey! It can be hard learning something new, but we give ourselves some leeway (and so do our bosses) as we are learning something new. We ask questions, we ask for help, so we can learn and get through. Well guess what, motherhood / parenthood is no different. We are always learning something new! So think of yourself as getting a promotion every year, (heck every month!) and be kind and allow yourself to adjust to your new and all important role. So when you are finding it draining or challenging, be kind to yourself so you don’t become overwhelmed. And show yourself some kindness and compassion – you deserve it.

SECOND – lets start to manage our own expectations and stop striving for perfection. Of course we all want to be the best mum we can be, but that doesn’t mean being the ‘perfect’ mum. It is inevitable that we will make mistakes, there is no right or wrong way of doing this ‘job’. You are creating your own path for your family. So to do this, it’s time to stop the comparisons. It’s totally human to compare ourselves to others, but at times it can be really unhelpful. What you are seeing on social media is NOT an accurate portrayal of reality. Far from it. And deep down you know it. We all do it, we show the ‘good bits’, the snippets where the kids are playing happily together, when they are sleeping peacefully, taking their first steps, or painting the most adorable picture. But remember the behind the scenes? The fighting, the crying, the wake ups at night, the tantrums in getting dressed… So make sure you realise that if you are ‘filtering’, then others are doing the same too.

Also consider your own social media use. do you feel uplifted when you scroll online? If not, maybe consider who it is you are following. Only follow those that make you feel good. Or maybe consider getting rid of it for a while – no you will NOT miss out on ANYTHING important. Trust me! 😉 And don’t forget – someone else success does not invariably mean your failure. If someone else is having a parenting or life ‘win’ or hitting a PB, or nailed a key session, that is great! But it doesn’t mean that you are failing.

THIRD– prioritise. What do you really need to get done. (as compared to want). Spend some time on your weekends to make a list of your priorities for the week and rate from 1-5. When considering the importance of the task, ask yourself – will this make a difference to OUR WELLBEING? Is it important / needed to be done this week? Like, REALLY?Remember – making time for yourself and your own physical and mental health should always score a 5. 😉 Now, set about planning out your week with your priorities listed first and foremost. Oh and a little note: productivity is NOT the same as time management. Productivity is about doing the right/valuable things with the available time you have.

FOURTH – once you have established your priorities for the week, and you still can’t see how you will fit the ‘key priorities in’ then ask for help. Outsource. Delegate. Not everything has to be done by you. You are not a machine. You do not need to do it all. Stop trying to be a ‘super-mum’ and you most definitely do not need to be perfect. Be realistic. Empower others to help take the reins. Can someone else come and do some cleaning or washing? Can you buy in some pre made meals? Does your hubby/partner need to take some slack? Every part of our lives can be outsourced if we see value in doing it. That does NOT mean you are failing. The most successful people delegate and outsource…

FIFTH– be flexible. Have a plan. But be flexible with it. Have some wiggle room. Don’t be so rigid that if things don’t go to plan, or you don’t get that one thing done that all hell breaks loose. Schedule in the training, the YOU time, the down time (these are so important!) And go down your list, get rid of or move the ‘should do’s and only schedule the ‘must do’s. The rest can wait.

SIXTH – quality over quantity. Just as we say in training. Don’t just do something for the sake of it. Have a purpose and meaning behind it. The same goes with parenting. When you are engaged with our kids, make it meaningful. When you are engaged in your training, make it purposeful. So keep this in mind when setting your weekly routine, you do not always have to be physically present, but when you do schedule in family time or training time, put away the phone. Have meaningful and purposeful engagement with the task at hand – especially with your little ones. This will help with the dreaded ‘mum guilt’ when you need to engage in other ‘non child’ related tasks – including your training.

FINALLY – take the time to enjoy the ‘dance’. When we are always rushing around from one thing to another, when we have our head down, bogged down, striving for perfection, we forget to have FUN! We forget to simply ENJOY. And we often lose sight of what is really important. And by now, we should all really know what is important in life – you don’t need me to remind you. 😉

So once we learn to let go of unrealistic expectations, we realise that we cannot (and shouldn’t!) do it all. That delegating or outsourcing is not failing, that social media is not ‘whole’ life, that flexibility is ok… everything inadvertently becomes easier.
Soo… what do you need to prioritise and what do you need to let go of so you can enjoy the dance?….

REMEMBER: You can DO anything, but not EVERYTHING.

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If this resonated with you, you may also like to read some of my other blogs:
The juggle and real life struggle of a working triathlete mum
My I DON’T list
The added challenge of racing as a triathlete MUM

Training Phases – the build is on !

PHASE: Build Phase – Pre Competition
PERIOD: July – September
DURATION: 6-12 weeks
FOCUS: Strength & Speed, Race Skills

This phase of your program is developed and structured around consolidating the endurance and strength gains you have developed over your previous base preparation phase, while building another layer on top by adding the element of strength endurance threshold work that will really get you READY for competition/racing.

This phase will focus on a continued build in fitness, resilience as well as READINESS to become race ready. It doesn’t mean we jump straight into a ‘race phase’ – far from it, think of it more like pre-competition. We aren’t looking to accelerate straight to our race, we’re aiming to patiently develop and create a platform that will allow us to become race ready WHEN we need it. Whether that be 6 weeks away or 20 weeks away – every athlete is different in the timing of their racing, as well as their training history, how consistent their training has been, and how they absorb their training load, so the length of this phase can differ for everyone, but the purpose and focus remains the same.

The build phase develops specifically and with purpose, the load will accumulate over time and will have some really challenging sessions thrown in, with the objective of this phase to continue to develop your strength endurance and aerobic capacity while pushing your anaerobic threshold to ultimately increase speed – ie your performance! This phase should only be undertaken after a sound preparation of base strength and endurance has been developed.

In the back portion of this phase you will really see things ramp up as you get race ready and you will also start to see more race specific skills come into play before you then head into your race specific / competition phase such as key brick sessions that really work to drive up the fitness.

This phase is challenging (there’s nothing easy about strength endurance threshold work!) , but nothing that is beyond an athletes means – provided you have laid the foundations. And that is the key and why a BASE PREPARATION PHASE is really THE most important phase of a program. The BUILD PHASE is really the layer on top of it, but if you haven’t laid a solid foundation, the house can only be built so big! So don’t ever be afraid to extend a base preparation phase before heading into a build phase.

Are you a self aware athlete?

I recently wrote an article on Recovery and how it can be the key to your success. I received lots of comments and feedback that it was very well timed, and a good reminder for all endurance athletes (well really any athlete!) to ensure they take a step back and allow the body to actually recover and adapt so it can grow and become stronger.

This lead me thinking to conversations I have had with a few athletes over the past couple of weeks and there seemed to be a common theme that was starting to pop up. A comment or conversation that had the same underlying thought pattern. “I feel like I didn’t quite nail the session“, “I didn’t hit the numbers on that session” some even included the word failed!

And so it got me thinking, what was leading these athletes to think this way? Because they didn’t hit a particular number in a session, that they had failed at that session… That even though the intent was there, and the effort was there, but because they didn’t hit a particular number that they had ‘failed’.

So when I delved deeper into these conversations, almost all of them came back to how flexible, adaptable and self aware an athlete was (or in these cases weren’t).

So what does does that all mean, and how can you become more flexible, adaptable and self aware to ultimately become a better athlete?

Well if you look up these words in the dictionary you will find something along these lines…

Adaptable: “able to adjust to new conditions
So being an adaptable person / athlete means “being capable of being adapted. able to adjust oneself readily to different conditions
Flexible: “able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances. ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances.”
Self Aware:knowing and understanding yourself, surroundings, sensations and thoughts“.

How does that relate to you as an athlete? And how do these traits lead to either your success or your potential demise as an athlete?

Firstly I will put it into context to see if you are LACKING in these traits.

Scenario #1 You review your program at the start of the week, plan your week accordingly, down to the day and time you will complete your session. But something comes up, you are running overtime at work, an unforeseen issue comes up and you can’t get out the door when you had planned. You get a little angry, maybe start to take it out on others, or resent the person or situation that caused your plans to be changed.

Scenario #2 You head out for a key run interval session. You know what paces you can hold for this session as you have done it before. So you head out in good spirits. But right from the first step you feel heavy and lethargic. ‘I’ll get through the warm up and see’ but you still don’t feel it. And then you start to feel a little twinge in the hammy. You know your form is off, you know you are feeling tired, and the hammy isn’t happy, but ‘I have to do this session as planned’. So you push through it, unhappy with how you performed, and finished with a sore hammy as a result. You now feel frustrated and annoyed.

Scenario #3 You plug your bike session into zwift, a key session you really want to nail. Your computer tells you the power number you ‘need’ to hit, but you have had a stressful week at work, sleep has been below par and you are feeling tired. ‘But I’m going to nail this session no matter what’ you tell yourself. But you don’t. Your body wasn’t having any of it, but you keep trying. A zone 3 effort feeling like a Zone 4. You are working way harder for the effort you should be doing but you soldier on regardless… But you finish the session feeling worse than when you started AND you feel like you failed the session because you didn’t hit the numbers you planned.

Scenario #4 You just got the kids down for a nap, everything is set up and you are ready to hit a session on the bike. You are excited! But 20min into the session your youngest wakes up – gah noooo. You get angry at him. Why do you have to wake up now you curse to yourself. You try to ignore the cries, but know you have to get off. So you tend to him, get him back to sleep and jump back on the trainer. Only to have 10min later another interruption. Really?! Not again! arghhhh. You have a 1.5hour session planned and only 30min in and already you have been interrupted twice. You are annoyed and frustrated at your child. You get off and let the session go, but you remain angry for the rest of the day.

Scenario #5 You can’t swim due to pool restrictions (sounds familiar?) 😉 So you first get annoyed, but then you soon forget about swimming and just think you will worry about it when you can swim again. So you don’t plan anything else into your program that can supplement your swimming, you simply stop.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? You could replace any session or any scenario, or any disruption in the above and I’m sure you will bound to find one that you can relate to. The key message in these was that the athlete in each scenario didn’t allow flexibility or adaptability into their planning and/or sessions and let this carry through into the remainder of their day (maybe even more than one day!) either in life, in their session or in their program as a whole.

It can be hard I get it. Particularly for athletes that love structure, routine, following a program, not missing a session, ‘doing as the coach told me‘. These type of athletes are fantastic, they will always get the work done. They don’t search for excuses, or the easy way out, they grit their teeth and get the work done. BUT at the same time, this COULD be their undoing.

If things don’t go your way, you need enough self awareness to acknowledge this, but not let it get to you. If you are tired, become adaptable enough to change, if your time availability changes, have enough flexibility to work around it and not let it get to you.
THESE are key qualities that can really help an athlete achieve their full potential. Not just an athlete that can hit every session prescribed or every number planned.

So how can you draw from and develop tools for self awareness and self management from unexpected fatigue or unexpected situations?

Understand what successful training is: Being consistent is first and foremost. So to be consistent is not going too hard on easy sessions / days. It’s not taking on too much in terms of your training load in the context of your life as a whole. Sometimes training needs to take a little backseat and that is OK. We can plan around that. That isn’t failure. That is life! Sessions are designed to challenge you, but they aren’t designed to break you – physically OR mentally. Fatigue is ok. Yes. Some sessions should be really hard. Yes. But you should still feel accomplished overall.

Give a little: Don’t always go chasing a set power, pace or speed in your sessions without having the ability to shift these on a particular given day. If you don’t have that flexibility you WILL see it as a failure, even when it’s not. So don’t lose the ability to be intuitive, to know what it ‘feels’ like. What does zone 3 ‘feel’ like. What does Ironman pace ‘feel’ like. Data, watches and programs tend to take away the feel if you rely too heavily on them – listen and learn from your body. THAT is your greatest measurement.

Use your program as a guide: Your program is a guide. I program with intention, with purpose and with your goals in mind, but it is up to you as the athlete to listen to your body, train with intent, ask questions, adapt and be flexible within the realms of the program.
Not every day will be a great training day. Some days you head out for a hard interval session and your body just does not want to respond. This is the time you need to listen to your body and understand whether it is best to continue with the session, or change it. Athletes who tap into their intuition and understand their bodies will ultimately become better athletes as they manage a more consistent training base. Successful athlete’s don’t just train for the sake of training, every session has a purpose – even when that purpose may change for the greater good of the overall training plan.

Don’t feel like you have to hit EVERY session: I include a mixture of key sessions and supporting sessions into athletes programs so they know which sessions to focus on, and which session support those key sessions. If an athlete can complete them all AWESOME. But if in a given week they can’t, that is ok. Remember, we train and compete in our sport because we enjoy it. Our training shouldn’t control our lives. Our training should mould around and integrate into it, not the other way around. We are aiming for consistency over the long term, not short term.

Have scalability: I used to coach with really detailed metrics in training peaks, but I have now moved the other direction. Providing scalability within sessions based on how an athlete may be feeling. So without guessing, if an athlete had a key session planned, but they ended up running short on time, or they are feeling super fatigued due to late work nights, or a harder than planned session the day before, then they have prescribed scalability within their sessions. So if they can’t obtain X, then then can do Y, or even Z. So regardless if they completed the session as X or Z, they still completed the session with it’s purpose in tact and with adaptability around their life. Hows that hey!
So don’t feel like you have to hang on to a particular number or metric EVERY single session. Give a little when it’s needed.

Have the courage to recover: If you are feeling the accumulation of fatigue. GREAT that is from your hard work. Job well done! So in saying that, without any guilt or hesitation, step back and allow the recovery. Growth comes from when the body is allowed to recover and adapt. So don’t be afraid (or feel guilty) if you are feeling fatigued, to take it easier for a day, or two, or three! Really give your body a chance to absorb the training, trust me, you will come back fresher AND stronger.

Change your mindset: Learning to be adaptable really comes down to your mindset. The simpliest way to build adaptability is to practice in life as well as training. Become self-aware of your thoughts, and shifting them. For example. You miss an exit driving down the freeway and you feel angry at the situation. Instead, how can you look at this an opportunity? Maybe you can learn a new route to where you were getting to….
If you look at your program and you have a 1.5hour long run plan, but work / family only allows for 1 hour today, instead of being annoyed at your work / family situation think of it as you will be fresher for your session tomorrow! Literally anything you do on a daily is an opportunity to practice your adaptability. Give it a go! 🙂

ADAPTABILITY COMBINES FLEXIBILITY WITH VERSATILITY. FLEXIBILITY IS YOUR WILLINGNESS TO ADAPT. IT’S YOUR ATTITUDE. VERSATILITY IS YOUR ABILITY TO ADAPT. IT’S YOUR APTITUDE. ~Dr. Michael O’Connor

So there’s a challenge for you. How can you become more adaptable, flexible and more self aware? When things don’t go your way, what can you do with the new situation? Does it create new possibilities? Can it potentially be an opportunity? Can it actually lead you to be a more sustainable, robust, successful and ultimately happier athlete…. I’ll let you decide. 🙂

Recovery during high volume training

High volume training such a a long weekend training spike, or training camp generally means a higher volume than your ‘normal’ training week looks like – essentially a ‘spike’ in your training, overloading your body above where it has been training, with the aim to reap the benefits in the coming weeks. BUT – yes there is a but, recovery is just as important ats the training itself during this time (well anytime really!)

We should all know by now, that recovery can be the key to success BUT how many are really taking the time to recover properly? During a high volume weekend such as the one many of our athletes are taking on over this Queens Birthday Weekend as part of our Ironman Challenge, the emphasis on recovery really needs to be ramped up so you can ensure you recover well and in preparation for your next session/s AND reap the rewards in the weeks to come.

So I share my post training recovery routine to help you gain the most from your training spike.

EXAMPLE OF A POST TRAINING RECOVERY ROUTINE:

This example is based around a high volume training focus such as this weekend or even key long brick sessions. It is not intended to be completed after every session, every day of the week (although if you are a pro, you probably are!) 😉 but you can certainly take elements from this and adapt to your daily routine. 

SNACK: Finish your long / key session and grab a recovery drink or snack to have as soon as you can post session. An example could be a smoothie with a form of protein, good fats and carbohydrates. (think banana peanut butter, chia seeds, protein smoothie…) A pancake or two, yoghurt and berries etc 

LEGS UP: Set yourself in ‘legs up the wall‘ pose to start the recovery process while you cool down. 

ICE: Take a 10 minute ice-bath or cold river / ocean / body of water soak. Ideally include some slow movement/walking in the water rather than just standing / sitting still. Keep upper body warm with clothing/towel. 

WARM UP: Have a warm (not super hot!) shower

STRETCH: 10-15 minute stretch / roll, and / or our follow along to our purposefully designed
post session flow designed to downregulate the body.

REST: Sneak in a 30 minute nap – (we can all dream hey?!) 😉 or a relax on the couch with the legs up now or even later in the day. 

EAT: Consume a meal with a combination of quality protein, carbohydrates and good fats (think eggs, sweet potato / sourdough, avocado, greens – all the good stuff!) 😉 Even easier is a pre-made vegetable quiche, throw with a side salad and you are done. Just make sure your meal is balanced with a combination of each macronutrients. 

SLEEP: Go to bed with enough time to get ~8 hours of quality sleep Eat well, sleep well and recover fast – your body will thank you for it, and your training will benefit !