Training the female client is very different to training a male and therefore requires a different approach.
Her hormonal cycle, and its’ monthly fluctuations have a dramatic impact upon all systems (as hormones do) and can influence motivation, strength, fuel-system utilisation and overall recovery from training.
As a personal trainer with a female client, understanding her cycle and its’ influences, enables us to program in a way that supports your female client’s body and the changes it is going through, ensuring improved performance and fat loss results overall!
Given the average cycle lasts 28 days, I break my mesocycles up into 4-week blocks for most of my female clients and periodise her training around her cycle, which you can see in my example below.
Remember every women’s cycle timing is different and can change over time. Because of this, I will often use either 3 or 5 week mesocycles depending on the client.
12 WEEK MESOCYCLE OVERVIEW
Overall Goal: Intermediate Fat Loss
|Week||Program Phase||Cycle Phase||Resistance||Cardio||Per week|
|1||General Prep||Follicular||3-4x Full Body||None||2x Sauna|
|2||General Prep||Follicular||3-4x Full Body||None||2x Sauna|
|3||General Prep||Luteal||3-4x Full Body||Walking||2x Sauna, Massage|
|4||General Prep||Luteal||3-4x Full Body deload||Walking||2x Sauna, Yoga|
|5||Hypertrophy||Follicular||4x 2-way split||Strongman/HIIT||2x Sauna|
|6||Hypertrophy||Follicular||4x 2-way split||Strongman/HIIT||2x Sauna|
|7||Hypertrophy||Luteal||4x 2-way split||HIIT/Walking||2x Sauna, Massage|
|8||Hypertrophy||Luteal||4x 2-way split deload||HIIT/Walking||2x Sauna, Yoga|
|9||Strength Endurance||Follicular||4x 2-way split||Strongman/HIIT||2x Sauna|
|10||Strength Endurance||Follicular||4x 2-way split||Strongman/HIIT||2x Sauna|
|11||Strength Endurance||Luteal||4x 2-way split||HIIT/Walking||2x Sauna, Massage|
|12||Strength Endurance||Luteal||4x 2-way split deload||HIIT/Walking||2x Sauna, Yoga|
Starting Out on a High…
I always like to start a new phase or new program for a female client as her cycle resets, with or immediately following menstruation. During this time, Estrogen is on the rise, following a period of Progesterone dominance – meaning your female client is likely to be feeling more motivated, energetic and outgoing. This is a great time for setting new goals, creating strategies to achieve them and implementing new habits.
For many women, however, this can be an uncomfortable time, and you may have to be mindful of this and wait a few days until menstruation has slowed or subsided completely, prior to ramping up intensity too much.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy, the phase of menstruation is regarded as a form of “cleansing” for the system – where the body literally flushes out the old blood and with it, emotional baggage, stresses and all the woes from the previous month, ready to start anew.
Certain foods aid the body in this “flushing” process during this time, and are wise to incorporate into a nutrition plan during this phase; some of these include turmeric, ginger, basil, nutmeg, rosemary, mint, cardamom, cumin, fennel, eggplant, beet, onions, garlic, mustard greens and sprouted grains.
Using Your Hormonal Peak to Your Advantage
Ovulation is a magical time, and developing awareness around your own, and your client’s, ovulating patterns can offer some serious advantages in your training periodisation and nutrition plans.
A surge in Estrogen and Luteinizing Hormone, a mini-surge of FSH, as well as an increase of Testosterone during Ovulation, equips females with better focus, higher pain tolerance, increased mind-muscle connection, force-generation, neuromuscular control, sharper memory recall, brain function and more.
As personal trainers, we can utilize this knowledge and program accordingly to best take advantage of this hormonal peak in a female client’s cycle.
This is the ideal time to ramp up intensity such as with a super accumulation phase, to attempt a new PR or Max Lift, and even learn new skills and motor patterns such as Olympic lifting, Muscle Ups, Turkish Get Ups and other advanced skills that are more demanding upon the nervous system.
The one drawback during this phase, however, and is certainly important to note, is an increased risk of injury due to an increase in the hormone Relaxin which acts upon tendons and ligaments and “loosens” them slightly. It is even more critical during this time to ensure correct form is adhered to, to prevent injury.
Riding the Progesterone Wave
The Luteal phase can be a more challenging time for training, nutrition and fat loss goals; this is where an understanding coach/personal trainer can be the difference between simply coping and coasting through this phase.
During the first half of this phase, progesterone if on the rise, and with it, an increased sense of awareness and anxiety; life seems overwhelmingly hard, scary or dangerous for many. This is likely due to the influence of ‘protective’ hormone Progesterone.
I find moderating intensity and volume during this phase to be most beneficial when it come to longevity with training, as your client’s ability to recover is limited. 85% intensity feels like 110%, and sometimes just getting through the session is a battle.
Teach your clients to respect the hormonal cycle, and understand the changes happening in the body and that it is OK to down-regulate loads, reps or sets where needed to ensure you do not overload the central nervous system during this phase.
This is the time when women break down in the weight room – I have literally had clients who burst into tears mid deadlift set- only to finish the session and proclaim they have no idea where that came from. I’m sure any females reading this can relate!
The second half of this phase, in the final week before your client’s period is due, I will often program as a deload week. This allows the body the additional recovery time when it is most needed.
It is also an optimal time to reset all volume targets and conduct reviews or assessments, as women are more analytical during this phase. Recovery and stress management are often crucial components during this phase, and the inclusion of activities such as massage, float tanks, yoga and walking can help to replete serotonin.
On a more positive note, the body is more prone to burning fat for fuel during this phase, however due to dropping hormone levels, many women experience cravings, especially for things such as fat, salt and sugar – nutrition should be tightly controlled to reap the benefits of the body being primed for fat burning.
A Note on Nutrition
At the Clean Health Fitness Institute, all our client’s nutrition plans are individualized to their own somatotype, body fat %, lean mass and activity levels. In saying that, they are certain macronutrient, food group and caloric modifications I do recommend to maximize fat burning throughout the entire cycle.
Cycle Overview Summary
Week 1: Menstruation/Follicular Phase
- Training: New program/phase/goal setting
- Nutrition: More insulin sensitive – increase carbohydrate intake
- Increase iron consumption – red meat, seafood, pork, chicken, eggs, broccoli and dark leafy greens such as spinach.
Week 2: Follicular Phase/Ovulation
- Training: Peak Week – attempt PR, max lifts, new skills – Increase volume, intensity and frequency
- Nutrition: Calories and Carbs are up
Week 3: Luteal Phase
- Training: Moderate volume and intensity, intuitive training, HIIT is beneficial (if tolerable) as there is an increased afterburn affect, meaning your client will continue to burn more calories post-workout during the Luteal phase than the Follicular
- Nutrition: Cravings for salt, fat, sugar may increase – tightly controlled nutrition is beneficial here
Week 4: Luteal Phase
- Training: Moderate volume and intensity, intuitive training, HIIT (if tolerable) Deload week, reset all volume targets
- Recovery is crucial – good quality food, sleep, massage, yoga, stretching, etc.
- Nutrition: Tightly controlled nutrition and limit egg yolks, dairy, red meat, saturated fat, starch, sugar, sodium and alcohol
- Remember to increase fibre
If you are serious about learning this topic in more depth we highly recommend you look at enrolling in our ongoing education programs for personal trainers.
Yours in health,
Clean Health Fitness Institute