How the menstrual cycle can affect climbing performance
The menstrual cycle can have a significant impact on climbers. While everybody is different, there are a few key ways that the menstrual cycle can affect climbing performance and overall wellbeing.
The menstrual cycle is marked by fluctuations in the levels of certain hormones, including oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These hormonal changes can affect energy levels, mood, and physical wellbeing, which can in turn impact climbing performance. Some people may find that they have more energy and feel stronger during certain phases of their cycle, while others may feel more tired or sluggish.
Below is a brief look at how each stage of your cycle may affect your climbing. Of course, this is just a suggestion, you know your body best.
The first stage of your cycle is menstruation (your period). During this time you are likely to be feeling a little more tired, sluggish and irritable than at other times in your cycle. It’s important to listen to your body’s signals and take it easy. Trying to smash out all your latest projects probably isn’t going to make you feel better as your body can often feel heavy and uncoordinated. Instead, try some gentle yoga, or spend your sessions fine-tuning your technique on some easier climbs. Although you may feel tired, it’s important not to write off exercise completely, climbing is a powerful sport that can help boost your happy hormones and make you feel better.
During your follicular phase, oestrogen is the dominant hormone. For most people who menstruate this means more energy and playfulness. Take this time to push yourself – send that project, tackle that next grade up climb, this is where your climbing performance can see an improvement. The follicular phase can bring a willingness to take risks, higher endurance, and better recovery, so take advantage of that low-gravity feeling!
Keep the good times rolling… you should still be feeling pretty good during the ovulation phase of your cycle. Not only should your energy levels still be high but you’re also likely to feel more outgoing and social during this time. Why not take the opportunity to make a new friend at the wall? We have plenty of social climbing groups, like Hangar Women Rock or SPACE, and an all-around friendly community of climbers. This can also help improve climbing performance as you can share advice and beta, and play some games on the wall that will help improve your technique in a fun way.
At this stage in your cycle, progesterone is the dominant hormone. This is where you need to take caution in your climbing. Not only is this the stage where most people who menstruate will experience cramps and other physical discomforts, but it can also be a mentally challenging time. During this phase, exercise is as important as rest. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce symptoms of PMS so resist the urge to sit under a blanket on your sofa! Try climbing enjoyable problems without thinking about what grade they are, and, most importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not sending every problem you try.
This stage has its benefits, it allows for deep thought and reflection to come more naturally to you, take some time to read the route, watch someone else’s beta, and be mindful you can always come back to the problem during your follicular phase.
Overall, it's important to be aware of how your menstrual cycle may affect your climbing performance and wellbeing, and to take steps to manage any potential challenges. This may include adjusting training and climbing schedules, taking breaks as needed, and finding ways to manage physical discomfort or hormonal changes.
Please note, this blog was written based on research found in Maisie Hill’s book Period Power. If you have any concerns regarding your menstrual cycle and exercise levels, speak to your doctor.