Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Am Laura's Uterus

Did I scare off my male readers? Good! I hate you all, and will continue to do so for about 36 more hours.

I am only kidding, of course.

(What, are you still here? Go away and do some burpees or something. I hate you. Nothing personal.)

In all seriousness, if you are a woman or acquainted with one it's not exactly news that as women go through the phases of their menstrual cycle they tend to experience emotional peaks and valleys. What's less well understood is the effect these monthly hormonal fluctuations can have on a woman's athletic performance. Not every woman is affected to the same extent, of course, but generally speaking a woman is strongest right around the time of ovulation (Day 14 of her cycle if she is blessed with metronome-like regularity) and weakest immediately before menstruation (Days 22-28). This is because a woman's testosterone level peaks at the midpoint of her menstrual cycle and after that begin to drop, reaching its low point at the end of the cycle. When her testosterone levels are at their lowest a woman may notice she fatigues more easily, is less agile, has slower reaction times and higher levels of perceived exertion. She may also experience greater joint laxity. She may not be able to focus as well. Her ability to draw on her body's stored fat for fuel increases but her ability to burn glycogen decreases, meaning she is at least as capable as usual of moderate-intensity exercise but will likely struggle with high-intensity exercise.

It's important to bear in mind that not every woman is affected to the same extent. Just as some women do not experience PMS, some will notice no difference in their ability to train hard as they go through the phases of their monthly cycle. I encourage all my premenopausal female clients to keep a diary for at least a month or two so they can become aware of the extent to which their athletic performance is affected by where they are in the menstrual cycle. If appropriate we will plan her training schedule around her cycle, taking advantage of the two midpoint weeks when she is at her strongest to really push the envelope and train hard, and then scheduling a "deload week" of less volume and intensity for the end of the cycle when she is weakest and most prone to fatigue and even injury.

Of course, this is all very well in theory, but not every woman is lucky (?) enough to have a predictable cycle. Mine has never been anything you could set a clock by, and in the last few years it has gone completely haywire. My period may go missing for three months, or it may show up a week and a half before it's due. Having lived in my body for almost 47 years I generally can tell what's going on with it pretty well, but even so, I'm caught by surprise sometimes. It happened this week, actually. My period began yesterday, a little more than a week early. Which completely explains why I didn't make it to 200 snatches in 12 minutes when I attempted it on Monday. Had I known my period was about to start, I would not have made the attempt because, while I am the first to admit I don't always have good judgment, I'm not a complete idiot.

Anyhoo, if you are female and thinking of doing ETK or attempting the Secret Service Snatch Test or anything of that sort, and you happen to have a nice regular 4-week cycle, may I suggest you try to work it so that your test days more or less coincide with the midpoint of your cycle? Also, while I know that volume is supposed to be determined by a roll of the dice when you're doing the ETK Rite of Passage, it might not be a horrible idea to use loaded dice during the last week just to make sure your volume is appropriately low. Or it might be ... I don't know. I realize I'm sort of contradicting what I said the other day about doing ETK exactly as written, but the bottom line is that you never want to adhere to a program--even a genius program--so slavishly that you end up risking an injury.