Ladies, have you ever felt like you had to work harder than normal during your menstrual cycle to get through a workout?
If so, you can thank your hormones for that.
Research links female hormones and exercise performance — and how this link can lead to injury.
Keep reading to learn more.
Hormone Levels and Injury
Estrogen is a hormone that impacts the structure and function of connective tissues like muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Estrogen has a positive effect on muscle mass and bone function but can have an adverse effect on these connective tissues.
In tendons and ligaments, estrogen decreases stiffness and increases laxity. Because this makes the tendons and ligaments stretchy and weak, it hurts exercise performance and makes women more prone to injury. Higher estrogen levels also decrease energy and performance — leading to injury. (1)
Research shows that women are more at risk for ligament injuries than men.
A recent study indicates that women are three to six times more at risk for ACL injuries than men. (2) When females had elevated levels of estrogen, progesterone, and relaxin, they were more likely to tear their ACL.
How the Menstrual Cycle Affects Exercise
What leads to these fluctuating hormones, you might ask? The female menstrual cycle.
During the first half of the menstrual cycle, the follicular phase, hormone levels are low. During this phase, it’s best to focus on intense exercises like HIIT, running, and strength training.
In the second half of the cycle, the luteal phase, estrogen, and progesterone are higher. This is when women are most prone to injury and certain exercises may be a waste of your time.
Progesterone reduces protein growth and doesn’t allow the muscles to repair. So, strength training during the second half of the cycle is not recommended.
Progesterone also increases breathing and your resting heart rate. This can make you feel like you’re working harder than usual during a workout.
In the second phase of your cycle, opt for low-impact exercises like yoga, Pilates, and walking.
While this topic is still being researched, there is a correlation between hormone levels and injury risk. Timing the right exercises with your cycle can help prevent injuries — and ensure you’re getting the most from your workout.
(1) Chidi-Ogbolu N, Baar K. Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk. Front Physiol. 2019 Jan 15;9:1834. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.01834. PMID: 30697162; PMCID: PMC6341375.
(2) Orthop J Sports Med. 2017 Jul; 5(7): 2325967117718781. Published online 2017 Jul 21. doi: 10.1177/2325967117718781
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