How to continue making gains as a Woman

Taking the “Woman are not small men” course (WANSM) by Dr. Stacy Sims has literally changed my way of thinking and training. 

Therefore I want to share the things with you that have helped me perform and feel better. 

“Women have a specific time in the month where they can hit it super hard (the focus) and recover, then switch it up to a less intensive workload (focus)- so you are continually making gains without smashing yourself. Women have not seen their performance potential yet as they have been following the male model for too long. The goal is to switch up the prevailing mentality and say, hey sweet, we know how to train women to work with physiology to make massive gains, more quickly, without burnout or injury risk!!” ~Dr. Stac.Sims~

Step 1: Understand your cycle

  • How many days is the cycle?
    • Track with an app or do it the old-fashioned way and write it down on a calendar. I use my Garmin app to track. It allows me to add notes on how I feel and add symptoms. 
  • Track at least three cycles to get a clear view.
  • When/if you ovulate? 
    • You can test for an LH surge with an over-the-counter ovulation predictor kit. These five pee sticks will tell you which day you’re ovulating. By knowing this, you will be able to say the length of your follicular phase because this is the one that can be longer or shorter depending on when you ovulate.
  • What phase are you in? 
    • Low hormone (Follicular Phase) VS High hormone (Luteal Phase)?

At first, I thought more about what I’ve learned and noticed the changes in my training, which became apparent after two months of tracking and making notes on how I felt pre, during, and after training sessions. In my first three weeks, I would lift very close to my 1RM and feel like it was nothing. Then on the ovulation day, I would feel bloated and tired. Struggling to hit relatively high numbers that I didn’t miss the weeks before and ignoring pretty much all lifts that were above 85% of my max. Technically nothing was wrong, but it looked like I had loaded the bar with the wrong weights, which I double-checked. That’s how heavy these lifts looked and felt compared to the weeks before.

My cycle, on average, is 35 days. Therefore, my follicular phase gets extended, I now use these three weeks to focus on building strength. I’ll take a day off on ovulation day and do some stretches and (p)rehab work. Followed by two weeks of technical work with light weights not more than 65% of my max. As soon as my cycle starts, the weights get ramped up, and the process starts over.

I’ll share a template that can help you manage your training depending on your cycle length. 

Again, why it’s super important to track it. 

So, If you are serious about making gains, you have to start tracking!

This is a study on follicular phase-based strength training for those how would like to read more about the science behind it.

Training Template:

Step 2: Adjust intensity and volume accordingly
Once I knew what my cycle looked like, I informed my weightlifting coach to adjust our training program.  Before, I would think I was just tired or having a bad day. And sometimes, when I would miss a lift or just not feel that strong, I would get a little depressed and insecure about my training progress.

Now I know it’s like clockwork. In the first three weeks of my cycle, I’ll be strong, and everything comes easy. 

Have a look at the template above once you have done “Step 1.” 
Share this with your coach or adjust your own training.

Step 3: Recovery and nutrition
To optimally function and make gains, what we put in our body and when matters. The bottom line really is timing and fueling for each session. It’s less about the total macro count because your appetite is dynamic, your needs are dynamic, depending on what phase you’re in, what kind of training you’re doing.

So rule number one; fuel for what you’re doing! Remember, you are not only fueling to hit the workout or skill, but you’re also fueling to recover for the next session the next day. We want to develop lean mass. Because we end up being a bit more catabolic than men, especially when progesterone is up at the end of your cycle during the luteal phase, it is super important to hit adequate protein levels. When we are training heavy, we want to get two grams per kilogram of body weight per day in the follicular phase and a little higher in your luteal phase. Your daily carbohydrate and fat intake are dynamic and session-dependent.

If we neglect to fuel correctly for our sessions, we risk Low Energy Availability. In the past, I’ve been through training blocks where I had lost my period due to LEA. To make sure I’m keeping energy levels high, I’ve added an extra breakfast “1 bagel with two boiled eggs” protein and carbs at 6 am instead of only having overnight oats (120g) around 9 am. Training will be around 11 am, and as soon I finish will eat lunch. These two small changes have made such a big difference in my performance and health. 

How to avoid LEA (low energy availability). We know that after exercises, the body gets into a catabolic state. If we stay in this breakdown state for an extended amount of time, our body is not going to recover and repair.  To avoid symptoms of LEA that downturn the thyroid and resting metabolic rate, get menstrual cycle irregularities, a flatlining of the hormones, it is essential for women to eat within a short window of time (30 min) post- exercise. Intake of protein and carbohydrates will shut down that catabolic state.

I hope you Choose To Be Strong and use these three steps to make massive gains all year round!

Please don’t be afraid to message me if you need any help with your strength gains.

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