How to help Female Clients work with their Hormones
All personal trainers know that hormones get in the way of female fat loss sometimes.
I myself, had hypothyroid syndrome, which is one of the reasons I gained 30 pounds in 3 months (crazy, I know).
If out-of-balance hormones, like thyroid hormone, can cause us women to gain weight. Can well functioning hormones help us women lose weight?
What if there were certain times of the month that female fat loss was enhanced and a time when female muscle healing and gaining potential is enhanced? Considering that female hormones fluctuate throughout the month, the idea is promising.
If you’re not familiar with female hormone fluctuation…it looks like this:
Female Hormone Cycle:
Phase 1: In the beginning of the female hormone cycle, the hormones estrogen, testosterone and progesterone (the 3 important fluctuating hormones in the female body) are all very low. This is referred to as the menstrual phase or early follicular phase. This lasts 3-7 days for most people.
Phase 2: After a person stops bleeding, follicular stimulating hormone is sent from the brain to the ovaries to mature a follicle (or soon-to-be egg). This causes a rise in estrogen. This is referred to as the follicular or mid-follicular phase. This lasts 3-6 days for most people.
Phase 3: Once the follicle is fully matured, it ruptures. The rupture is referred to as ovulation. At this time, estrogen and testosterone are both the highest they will ever be in the female hormone cycle. Remember this! Although ovulation lasts only minutes, the phase that estrogen and testosterone are highest is referred to as the ovulatory phase. The phase lasts 3-4 days for most people.
Phase 4: After ovulation, the shell of the ruptured egg (the corpus luteum) begins to release progesterone. Without a maturing follicle, estrogen and testosterone levels gradually drop again. Once progesterone reaches its lowest level, the period starts again. This phase is referred to as the luteal phase 11-14 days for most people.
How Female Hormones support Fat-Loss and Muscle-Building:
The fluctuation of testosterone, progesterone and estrogen can actually change how fat, glycogen (stored muscle sugar) and protein are used in the female body.
Here’s how it works…
But first, remember periodization from your personal training education? Helping your female clients build muscle and lose fat using her cycling hormones is no different than periodization! In fact, you likely already program design based on periodization. This is just Cyclical Periodization…no pun intended.
This Cyclical Periodization Method is what I teach my students in the Confident Menstrual Cycle Coaching Academy and here is how it works:
Phase 1 | Menstrual Phase : Aerobic workout performance increases in the menstrual phase. If you’re a woman reading this, you know that your energy levels change from day 1 to 5 of your period. So with this, maybe day 1 is light aerobic work, like walking (or even a rest day), while on day 5 you might be able to jog, do high rep weighted workouts or body weight workouts. All this to say: check in on your client’s energy levels especially in this phase.
This 2021 study by Romero Parra et. al showed us that in the menstrual phase, we are more susceptible to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and strength loss. So putting a client under a heavy weight rack might not be supportive to her overall goals.
Phase 2 | Follicular Phase: Strength and aerobic performance increase in this phase, along with the rise in estrogen. Increasing the intensity with longer duration cardio and heavier weights here can help recondition your client and take advantage of her rising hormones.
Phase 3 | Ovulatory Phase: This 2021 study by Charmichael et. al found that the best time to do anaerobic workouts is around the time of ovulation when estrogen is high. Estrogen also has a protective effect on the muscle (Joo et al, 2004). And as you already know, testosterone is also highest in this phase of our cycle, giving us more muscle strength and potentially more capacity to put on muscle tissue as well!
Anaerobic exercise, like doing all-out sprint intervals, helping the client set PRs or doing AMRAP workouts are all perfect for the ovulatory phase. Strength performance also goes up in the ovulatory phase of the cycle too! So, you don’t have to stick to anaerobic workouts, strength workouts (think 5-10 reps of heavy weight exercise) can also take advantage of muscle building testosterone and muscle healing estrogen.
Phase 4 | Luteal Phase: This 2021 study by Hackney et. al shows us that we have greater fat oxidation capacity right after we ovulate, in our early luteal phase. Couple that with the 2021 study by Carmichael et. al., which shows us that aerobic performance is also best in the early part of the luteal phase. Here we can program long duration, low intensity cardio to take advantage of our client’s fat-burning capacity.
In the mid to late luteal phase (about 7-10 days before the period starts), strength performance also goes up too according to this study by Charmichael. But the rise in progesterone is also correlated with a rise in cortisol. Also, in this phase, women tend to be more catabolic. So doing strength workouts that you did in the ovulatory phase, may lead to your client feeling a little out-of-balance. The intensity of strength workouts in this phase can be reduced by increasing the rep range and decreasing the weight.
Cyclical Periodization Overview:
Menstrual (days 1-7ish) - aerobic or recovery based workouts
Follicular (days 8-13ish) - strength training & aerobic workouts
Ovulatory phase (days 14-16ish) - anaerobic & strength workouts
Luteal phase (days 17-28ish)
Early (days 17-21) - aerobic workouts
Mid (22-25) - lighter strength workouts
Late (26-28) - lighter strength workouts
STEP 1: First, ask when your client period is and if her period is pretty predictable. Does it occur around the time of the month, each month?
STEP 2: Secondly, start plotting out when each phase is. The easiest way to do this, is to get clear on when ovulation is (usually 14-days after the day the period starts).
If you want to take this one step further and become a Confident Menstrual Cycle Coach to train your clients to be the most aligned with their cycle so that they can make more progress than ever before in their health journey and feel their best to tackle every area of their lives, book a call to apply for the Confident Menstrual Cycle Coach Academy.
In the Confident Menstrual Cycle Coach Academy you will learn how to assess, address and correct hormonal patterns with research based fitness and nutrition knowledge. Book your call to become a Confident Menstrual Cycle Coach here - https://app.acuityscheduling.com/schedule.php?owner=18481934&appointmentType=28999296