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Matt Hardy

Lets go cycling!

Welcome to (or back) to my blog.

In this blog I want to talk about something which only roughly 50% of my audience will experience personally but we all know people who may benefit from this information.

The basis of this blog starts in 2018. Whilst I was working for the military (specifically the RAF) the Government changed the rules about women being able to join the infantry of all 3 services. This now meant they were able to be frontline soldiers for the Army, Royal Marines and RAF Regiment. At this point, I was working at the RAF Regiment’s Phase 2 training base in Suffolk. Whilst there, I saw a few female recruits come through but literally all of them ended up in the physiotherapy department with injuries.

So why was this? Let’s face it a 100% strike rate is pretty impressive. Well, there were 2 reasons, 1) they were being treated exactly the same as the male recruits and

2) they were placed in the middle of groups when running as a squad or troop. This meant they had to keep the same stride pattern as the taller male recruits at the front.

How did we try to change this as the rehab team?

Firstly, we had to look at the anatomical differences. Men and women aren’t the same biomechanically. Women are on average shorter, carry less muscles mass, have a higher body fat percentage, have a more complex endocrine (hormone) system that cycles every month, have a wider pelvis that increases the angle of hip and knee and have significantly less testosterone. It turns out women are not just smaller, less hairy men.

What changes did we implement?

The quickest thing we were able to change was where and how the female recruits were positioned when running in groups. We advised they were placed at the front as they could then stride at a length that felt comfortable for them and reduce the risk of over striding which can significantly increase your risk of running when injured.

The second and most important thing was the advice they were given before starting training. There’s data that supports how and when women should train related to their cycle. This advice was also given to the recruits when they were recovering from injury. The idea was to give them a head start and learn what their bodies can and should be doing at different times of the cycle.

What can we learn from this and how should we implement it?

  1. Most important, is to know where you are in your cycle. In my opinion all active women would be tracking their cycle using an app. They’re free and easy to use and it helps you keep on top of where you are and monitor changes and tendencies of your personal cycle.
  2. The first part of the cycle when hormones are fairly balanced and oestrogen is higher than progesterone (relatively) you should be training to increase strength. This is a good time of your cycle for muscle building. Day 1 of your cycle is from the first day of your period.
  3. The next thing to note is as you progress towards ovulation, you get a spike in oestrogen, FSH and LH hormones, which stimulate and release the egg. The 3 days around ovulation are associated with an increase risk of ligament injury as these hormones tend to make your ligaments slightly more lax. I would recommend at this point reducing the amount of impact exercise you do, and reduce twist forces through weight bearing joints.
  4. Post ovulation we see an increase in progesterone. At this point in the cycle it is not uncommon to see swings in body temperature. The literature suggests up to a 4 degree swing per day from high to low. At this stage the metabolism is generally more active and this is a good time to complete more cardio based exercise especially if fat loss is your goal.
  5. The final week of the cycle it is very common to see a drop in energy, both physical and mental. At this stage give yourself more of a break if needed. This stage of the cycle is most correlated with an increase of risk of pain and longer recovery from exercise. This is when our friend DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) will be the most obvious.

For a more bite size summary of what I would advise and when, please see the attached image of a menstrual cycle.

What should I do if I’m using hormonal contraceptives?

Good question. This is a hard question to answer as it depends on what your pill/injection/implant does, as there are many different types. The best thing to do is ask your women’s health professional to give you more information of what your contraceptive does and how the hormone levels change through the course of the month and adapt what you see above accordingly.

Finally, thanks for reading and please share this with anyone you know who could benefit from this information. The menstrual cycle for many is still a taboo subject and as a society we need to get comfortable talking about something that we’re all a product of. No menstrual cycle, no reproduction, bye bye the Human species.

Thanks as always for reading this.

If you do have an ache or a pain please book in for a 1-1 session using this link, I’d love to help

Matt